Isambard Kingdom Brunel Biography

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a renowned English civil engineer of the 19th century, was a visionary and innovator in his field. He is best known for his creation of the Great Western Railway, a groundbreaking railway company that connected London to the western part of England. Brunel’s engineering prowess and willingness to explore new ideas led to numerous advancements in British civil engineering. He fearlessly challenged traditional notions and implemented unconventional concepts, such as building a tunnel under a river and developing the first propeller-driven iron ship for naval engineering. Sadly, his life was cut short at the age of 53 due to health issues caused by heavy smoking. Nevertheless, Brunel’s contributions to engineering continue to be celebrated, as evidenced by the numerous monuments erected in his honor. He holds a prominent place in British history, ranking second in a BBC public poll of the ‘100 Greatest Britons’.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In April Died At Age: 53
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Mary Elizabeth Horsley
    • Father: Sir Marc Isambard Brunel
    • Mother: Sophia Kingdom
    • Children: Florence Mary Brunel, Henry Marc Brunel, Isambard Brunel Junior
  • Quotes By Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  • Civil Engineers
  • Died on: September 15, 1859
  • Place of death: London, England
  • City: Portsmouth, England
  • More Facts
  • Education: Lycée Henri-IV, University of Caen

Childhood & Early Life

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born in Hampshire to a French civil engineer, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, and Sophia Kingdom. He had two sisters and had a happy childhood. His father, who was a successful professional, tutored him in drawing and observational techniques, instilling in him a love for civil engineering from a young age. At the age of eight, he was sent to Dr. Morrell’s boarding school in Hove. His father was particular about his education and sent him to the College of Caen in Normandy and then Lycée Henri-IV in Paris. However, his father’s poor financial management led to him being sent to a debtor’s prison, from which he was later released. Isambard tried to get into the famous French engineering school École Polytechnique but was rejected because he was a foreigner. He then became an apprentice under horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet and returned to England in 1822.


Upon returning to England, Isambard Kingdom Brunel started working with his father. In 1825, they began the construction of a tunnel under London’s River Thames, and a couple of years later, Isambard was appointed Resident Engineer on the project. However, a major accident occurred in 1828, resulting in the death of two senior miners and serious injuries to Brunel. The work had to be stopped for several years. In 1831, Brunel won a competition to design a bridge across the Avon river gorge at Clifton in Bristol. This led to the opportunity to design the Clifton Suspension Bridge, but it was not completed within Brunel’s lifetime due to the Queen Square Riots. In 1833, he was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway and implemented a broad gauge of 7 ft for the tracks, which created controversy as most British Railways used standard gauge. The railway started running its first trains in 1838. Brunel also worked as the engineer of the Great Western Steam Ship Company and designed the SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven iron ship and the largest ship of its time when it was launched in 1843. Throughout his career, he designed many bridges, including the Royal Albert Bridge, the Somerset Bridge, the Windsor Railway Bridge, and the Maidenhead Railway Bridge.

Major Works

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is best known as the chief engineer of the Great Western Railway project, which connected London with the west of England and Wales. He implemented many innovations in his design, earning the railway the nickname “God’s Wonderful Railway.”

Awards & Achievements

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1830. The Brunel Museum in England is dedicated to the works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father, Marc.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1836, Isambard Kingdom Brunel married Mary Elizabeth, the daughter of composer Horsley. They had three children, and one of his sons, Henry, also became a successful civil engineer. Brunel was a heavy smoker and suffered a stroke in 1859. He passed away after ten days at the age of 53.


Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the subject of the animated film “Great” directed by Bob Godfrey in 1975.

Leave a Comment