Isambard Kingdom Brunel


Image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel by the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern by Robert Howlett, 1857

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (born April 9, 1806, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England.—died September 15, 1859, Westminster, London, England) was one of the most influential personalities in the history of engineering. A key figure of the Industrial Revolution, Brunel was certainly one of the greatest engineers of the 19th century and.

Some examples of his most famous structures include the Great Western Railway (GWR), the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and several bridges and tunnels like the Royal Albert Bridge, the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Box Tunnel.

Early childhood

Isambard Kingdom was the son of French civil engineer Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and his English wife, Sophia Kingdom.

Growing up during the reign of George III of England, the young Isambard Brunel displayed very strong arithmetic skills, as well as being fluent in French by the age of eight.

His childhood coincided with the very turbulent period in Europe, especially in France, where anarchy and civil unrest had become the order of the day following the French Revolution.

His father, a staunch royalist, had to flee France and head to the United States. Similarly his mother, Sophia Kingdom, had a difficult time escaping France as she was accused of being an English spy during the Reign of Terror. Ultimately, Sophia and Marc settled in England to start a family.

Isambard Kingdom had two older sisters: Sophia and Emma. At the time of his birth, his father was involved in a block-making machinery project.

At the age of two, he and his family moved to London due to his father’s work. It’s been said that in spite of his family’s financial woes, his parents were still able to provide him a very decent childhood and education.

For some time, his father was sent to a debtors’ prison, where he was to offer his services in a workhouse in order to pay the huge debt that he accumulated in his past endeavors. Luckily, Isambard Brunel Sr. was able to avoid a long stay in the debtors’ prison because the British government offered to clear his debts in exchange for his continuous stay and service to the country. Such was his engineering prowess that the British government feared that Brunel Senior would accept a lucrative offer from the Tsar of Russia.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel – quotes

Education and Apprenticeship

He was home schooled by his father in his early years, learning how to draw as well as get basic observational techniques in building construction.

By the age of eight, Isambard Kingdom Brunel had mastered Euclidean geometry and some basic engineering principles. He could also speak fluent French by that age.

When he was eight, he enrolled at Dr. Morrell’s boarding school in the city of Brighton and Hove. Desiring nothing than to give their son a top notch education, almost similar to the one his father received in his youth, his parents enrolled him at the University of Caen (formerly Lycée Henri-IV) in Caen, France. From there, he took up apprenticeship training under a master renowned clockmaker called Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Sir Marc Isambard Brunel

Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

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