Isambard Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 - 1859)

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Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Born in Portsea, Hampshire, Englandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 5 Jul 1836 in Kensington, London, Englandmap
Descendants descendants
Died in Westminster, London, Englandmap
Profile last modified 27 Feb 2020 | Created 25 Apr 2012
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Launch of the SS Great Britain, Bristol, 1843

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a British civil engineer. He was responsible for numerous innovative designs and constructions which revolutionised engineering and public transport in Britain and beyond.

Birth and Education

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born on 9 April 1806, the son of Marc Isambard Brunel and Sophia Kingdom. He was baptised at St Mary's, Portsea, Hampshire, on 1 November 1806.[1] Brunel's father, Marc, was an engineer, and at the time of Isambard's birth he was working on block-making machinery for the Navy at Portsmouth Docks. [2]

In 1808 the family moved to London,[3] where Brunel's father Marc was engaged on work designing machinery for government mills at Woolwich and other places. [4]

Brunel was educated at boarding school in Hove, and later, at the age of 14 he was sent to France to study at the University of Caen and the Lycée Henri-IV' in Paris. His father wanted him to continue his studies at the prestigious Paris École Polytechnique, which specialised in engineering, but because of his British birth he was ineligible. [3] He then studied for a time with Abraham-Louis Breguet, a famous French horologist, before returning to England in late 1822. [3]

Engineering Career

Brunel's first engineering post was as assistant engineer on his father's Thames Tunnel project. [3] After that, however, he was involved in a multitude of important, innovative and sometimes quite extraordinary projects. These are too numerous to list in full, but included:

Drawing of Weston Junction Station by Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The Clifton Suspension Bridge
  • Transatlantic Shipping:
    • The Great Western, a paddle steam-ship with an oak hull, purpose-built for crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
    • The Great Britain, the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic.
    • The Great Eastern, at her launch in 1858, the largest ship ever built, and capable of carrying 4000 passengers to Australia without refuelling. Later used for laying the first durable transatlantic undersea cable, thus playing a part in the development of telecommunications between Europe and North America.
The Great Eastern

Marriage and Family

On 5 July 1836 Brunel married Mary Elizabeth Horsley in Kensington, Middlesex. [5]

The couple had three children:

The 1841 Census records Brunel as staying in the Lion Hotel, High Street, Bath. His occupation is recorded as Civil Engineer. [6] He was probably there overseeing the new extension of the Great Western Railway from Bristol to Bath. The section which runs through Bath's Sydney Gardens had been started in 1839, and the first train ran on this part of the line on 30 June 1841, [7] just 24 days after the Census had been taken.

In 1851 the Brunel family was living in two houses (numbers 17 and 18) in Duke Street, Westminster, London (The one in St James', not the one in Mayfair). The large household consisted of Brunel, his wife Mary, their 3 children, his mother Lady Sophia Brunel, and 11 household staff including a teacher and a butler.[8]

First name(s)Last nameRelationshipMarital statusSexAgeBirth yearOccupationBirth place
Isambard KBrunelHeadMarriedMale441807Civil EngineerPortsmouth, Hampshire, England
Mary ElizabethBrunelWifeMarriedFemale371814-Hemington, Surrey, England
Lady SophiaBrunelMotherWidowFemale761775LadyWestminster, Middlesex, England
IsambardBrunelSon-Male131838Scholar At HomeWestminster, Middlesex, England
Henry MarkBrunelSon-Male81843Scholar At HomeWestminster, Middlesex, England
Florence MaryBrunelDaughter-Female31848Scholar At HomeWestminster, Middlesex, England
Mary LouisaCannowGovernessUnmarriedFemale311820TeacherScotland
WilliamLawsonServantUnmarriedMale261825ButlerAldgate, Middlesex, England
PenelopeBateServantUnmarriedFemale191832Kitchen Maid-
Mary AnnBateServantUnmarriedFemale211830Ladys Maid-
ElizabethLeggServantUnmarriedFemale441807NurseBristol, Gloucestershire, England
Elizabeth FarrellDayServantUnmarriedFemale231828HousemaidArundel, Sussex, England
Belinda?HonetonServantUnmarriedFemale291822HousemaidMundford, Norfolk, England
JaneVarnonServantUnmarriedFemale291822HousemaidStockbridge, Hampshire, England
EllenDeanServantUnmarriedFemale461805House KeeperEasthampstead, Berkshire, England
Maria?AbrahamServantUnmarriedFemale351816CookShefford, Essex, England

Death and Burial

The Brunel Family Memorial.

Brunel suffered a stroke on 5 September 1859, [9] and died ten days later on 15 September at his home in Duke Street. He was 53. [10][11]

He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in a family plot. [12]

Probate was granted on 10 October 1859. His estate was valued at 'Under £90,000'. [11]

Honours and Legacy

Although, unlike his father, Brunel was never awarded a knighthood (possibly due to his early death), his achievements were recognised and honoured.

In 1830 he was awarded Fellowship of the Royal Society. His proposers included the eminent scientist Michael Faraday and the engineer Richard Zachary Mudge, author of the 1837 publication Observations on Railways, with reference to Utility, Profit, and the Obvious Necessity of a National System. [13]

In 1857, two years before his death, Brunel was honoured by the University of Oxford by being made a Doctor of Civil Law (DCL). [14]

Brunel's legacy lives on, of course, in the numerous engineering accomplishments that are still in use to this day. His achievements have, however, been honoured in many other ways. These are too numerous to list here, but include the following.

In 2002 Brunel was voted second in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons (second only to Winston Churchill), and in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics he was portrayed as a symbol of the Industrial Revolution.

In 2006, the 200th anniversary of his birth, the Royal Mint produced two commemorative £2 coins, and the Post Office issued six commemorative stamps depicting the Royal Albert Bridge, the Box Tunnel, Paddington Station, the Great Eastern, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and the Maidenhead Bridge.

Brunel University, founded in 1966, is named after the engineer.


  1. "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975," database, FamilySearch ( : 11 February 2018, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 09 Apr 1806); citing , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 919,738, 919,739.
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Marc Isambard Brunel," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 18, 2020).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Wikipedia contributors, "Isambard Kingdom Brunel," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 26, 2020).
  4. Wood, Alan Muir, Entry for 'Brunel, Sir (Marc) Isambard' in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 26 Feb 2020
  5. West Middlesex Family History Society Transcription, Record set: Greater London Marriage Index, available at Find My Past (£)
  6. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1841. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA).Class: HO107; Piece: 969; Book: 8; Civil Parish: St Peter and St Paul; County: Somerset; Enumeration District: 5; Folio: 32; Page: 59; Line: 10; GSU roll: 474609. Ancestry Record 8978 #13628628
  7. the website for Bath's Heritage Plaques, Entry for Isambard Kingdom Brunel, accessed online 18 February 2020.
  8. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1851. Class: HO107; Piece: 1480; Folio: 154; Page: 21; GSU roll: 87804-87805. Ancestry Record 8860 #41947
  9. Wikipedia contributors, "Isambard Kingdom Brunel," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 18, 2020).
  10. General Record Office for England and Wales, Index of Deaths, Record for: BRUNEL, ISAMBARD KINGDOM Age 53 GRO Reference: 1859 S Quarter in WESTMINSTER Volume 01A Page 230
  11. 11.0 11.1 "England and Wales, National Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1957," database, FamilySearch ( : 30 August 2018), Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 10 Oct 1859; citing Probate, England, United Kingdom, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, Great Britain.; FHL microfilm .
  12. Square 41, Row 1, Grave 8590 Find A Grave: Memorial #1931
  13. The Royal Society, Fellow Details, Record for Brunel; Isambard Kingdom (1806 - 1859) Accessed online, 18 February 2020
  14. Foster, Joseph. Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 and Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714. Oxford: Parker and Co., 1888-1892. Ancestry Record 8942 #29410

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Currently doing some work on this profile for the England Project Managed Profiles Team.
posted by Sally (Rowe) Douglas

Isambard is 25 degrees from Donald Howard, 15 degrees from Julia Howe and 19 degrees from Henry VIII of England on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.