Isambard Kingdom Brunel, photographed against the launching chains of the Great Eastern at Millwall in 1857.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859), was a mechanical and civil engineer who epitomised the engineering advances and achievements of the Victorian era.

He built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.

Great Western Railway.

Brunel is probably best remembered for his construction of a network of tunnels, bridges, and viaducts for the Great Western Railway, the line that was built to link London to Bristol. In 1833, he was appointed their chief engineer.

Impressive achievements during its construction included the viaducts at Hanwell and Chippenham, the Maidenhead Bridge, the Box Tunnel and Bristol Temple Meads Station. Brunel is noted for introducing the broad gauge in place of the standard gauge on this line. While working on the line from Swindon to Gloucester and South Wales he devised the combination of tubular, suspension, and truss bridge to cross the Wye at Chepstow. This design was further improved in his famous bridge over the Tamar at Saltash near Plymouth.


As well as bridges, tunnels and railways, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was responsible for the design of several famous ships and docks.

  • The ‘Great Western‘, launched in 1837. The first steamship to engage in transatlantic service.
  • The ‘Great Britain‘, launched in 1843. The world’s first iron-hulled, screw propeller-driven, steam-powered passenger liner.
  • The ‘Great Eastern‘, launched in 1859. Designed in cooperation with John Scott Russell, it was the biggest ship ever built up to that time, although not a commercial success.
  • Brunel was also responsible for the redesign and construction of many of Britain’s major docks, including Bristol, Cardiff, Milford Haven and Monkwearmouth.

Further Reading.

Click here to view the Wikipedia entry for Isambard Kingdom Brunel.