Our columns of Saturday last contained the ordinary record of the death of one of our most eminent engineers, Mr. I. K. Brunel. The loss of a man whose name has now for two generations, from the commencement of this century to the present time, been identified with the progress and the application of mechanical and engineering science, claims the notice due to those who have done the State some service. This country is largely indebted to her many eminent civil engineers for her wealth and strength, and Mr. Brunel will take a high rank among them when the variety and magnitude of his works are considered, and the original genius he displayed in accomplishing them. He was, as it were, born an engineer, about the time his father had completed the block machinery at Portsmouth, then one of the most celebrated and remarkable works of the day, and which remains efficient and useful. Those who recollect him as a boy recollect full well how rapidly, almost intuitively, indeed, he entered into and identified himself with all his father's plans and pursuits. He was very early distinguished for his powers of mental calculation, and not less so for his rapidity and accuracy as a draughtsman. His power in this respect was not confined to professional or mechanical drawings only. He displayed an artist-like feeling for and a love of art, which in later days never deserted him. He enjoyed and promoted it to the last, and the only limits to the delight it afforded him were his engrossing occupations and his failing health.
The bent of his mind when young was clearly seen by his father and by all who knew him. His education was therefore directed to qualify him for that profession in which he afterwards distinguished himself. His father was his first, and, perhaps, his best tutor. When he was about 14 he was sent to Paris, where he was placed under the care of M. Masson, previous to entering the college of Henri Quartre, where he remained two years. He then returned to England, and it may be said that, in fact, he then commenced his professional career under his father, Sir I. Brunel, and in which he rendered him important assistance-devoting himself from that time forward to his profession exclusively and ardently. He displayed even then the resources, not only of a trained and educated mind, but great, original, and inventive power. He possessed the advantage of being able to express or draw clearly and accurately whatever he had matured in his own mind. But not only that; he could work out with his own hands, if he pleased, the models of his own designs, whether in wood or iron. As a mere workman he would have excelled. Even at this early period steam navigation may be said to have occupied his mind, for he made the model of a boat, and worked it with locomotive contrivances of his own. Everything he did, he did with all his might and strength, and he did it well. The same energy, thoughtfulness, and accuracy, the same thorough conception and mastery of whatever he undertook distinguished him in all minor things, whether working as a tyro in his father's office, or as the engineer of the Great Western Railway Company, or, later, in the conception and design in all its details of the Great Eastern. Soon after his return to England his father was occupied, among other things, with plans for the formation of a tunnel under the Thames. In 1825 this work was commenced, and Brunel took an active part in the work under his father. There are many of his fellow labourers now living who well know the energy and ability he displayed in that great scientific struggle against physical difficulties and obstacles of no ordinary magnitude, and it may be said that at this time the anxiety and fatigue he underwent, and an accident he met with, laid the foundation of future weakness and illness. Upon the stoppage of that undertaking by the irruption of the river in 1828, he became employed on his own account upon various works. Docks at Sunderland and Bristol were constructed by him, and when it was proposed to throw a suspension bridge across the Avon at Clifton, his design and plan was approved by Mr. Telford, then one of the most eminent engineers of the day. This work was never completed. He thus became known, however, in Bristol, and when a railway was in contemplation between London and Bristol, and a company formed, he was appointed their engineer. He had previously been employed, however, as a railway engineer in connexion with the Bristol and Gloscestershire and the Merthyr and Cardiff tramways. In these works his mind was first turned to the construction of railways, and when he became engineer of the Great Western Railway Company he recommended and introduced what is popularly called the broad guage, and the battle of the guages began. This is not the place or the time to say one word upon this controversy. No account of Mr. Brunel's labours, however, would be complete without mentioning so important a circumstance in his life. Considering the Great Western Railway as an engineering work alone, it may challenge a comparison with any other railway in the world for the general perfection of its details, and the speed and ease of travelling upon it. Many of its structures, such as the viaduct at Hanwell, the Maidenhead-bridge, which has the flattest arch of such large dimensions ever attempted in brickwork, the Box-tunnel, which, at the date of its construction, was the longest in the world, and the bridges and tunnels between Bath and Bristol deserve the attention of the professional student. They are all more or less remarkable and original works.
In the South Devon and Cornish railways there are also works of great magnitude and importance. The sea wall of the South Devon Railway, and, above all, the bridge over the Tamar, called the Albert-bridge from the interest taken in it by the Prince Consort, deserve to be specially mentioned, together with the bridge over the Wye at Chepstow, as works which do honour to the genius of the engineer and the country too. It was on the South Devon Railway that he adopted the plan which had been previously tried on the London and Croydon line,-viz., of propelling the carriages by atmospheric pressure. This plan failed, but he entertained a strong opinion that this power would be found hereafter capable of adoption for locomotive purposes. It is impossible, in such a rapid sketch as this of his energetic and professional life, to do more than notice, or rather catalogue, his works. It was in connexion with the interests of the Great Western Railway that he first conceived the idea of building a steamship to run between England and America. The Great Western was built accordingly. The power and tonnage of this vessel was about double that of the largest ship afloat at the time of her construction. Subsequently, as the public know, the Great Britain was designed and built under Mr. Brunel's superintendence. This ship, the result, as regards magnitude, of a few years' experience in iron shipbuilding, was not only more than double the tonnage of the Great Western, and by far the largest ship in existence, but she was more than twice as large as the Great Northern, the largest iron ship which at that time had been attempted. While others hesitated about extending the use of iron in the construction of ships, Mr. Brunel saw that it was the only material in which a very great increase of dimensions could safely be attempted. The very accident which befel the Great Britain upon the rocks in Dundrum Bay showed conclusively the skill he had then attained in the adaptation of iron to the purposes of shipbuilding. The means taken under his immediate direction to protect the vessel from the injury of winds and waves attracted at the time much attention, and they proved successful, for the vessel was again floated, and is still afloat.
While noticing these great efforts to improve the art of shipbuilding, it must not be forgotten that Mr. Brunel, we believe, was the first man of eminence in his profession who perceived the capabilities of the screw as a propeller. He was brave enough to stake a great reputation upon the soundness of the reasoning upon which he had based his conclusions. From his experiments on a small scale in the Archimedes he saw his way clearly to the adoption of that method of propulsion which he afterwards adopted in the Great Britain. And in the report to his directors in which he recommended it, he conveyed his views with so much clearness and conclusiveness that when, with their approbation, he submitted it to the Admiralty he succeeded in persuading them to give it a trial in Her Majesty's navy, under his direction. In the progress of this trial he was much thwarted; but the Rattler, the ship which was at length placed at his disposal, and fitted under his direction with engines and screw by Messrs. Maudslay and Field, gave results which justified his expectations under somewhat adverse circumstances. She was the first screw ship which the British navy possessed, and it must be added, to the credit of Brunel, that though she had originally been built for a paddle ship, her performance with a screw was so satisfactory that numerous screw ships have since been added to the navy. Thus prepared by experience and much personal devotion to the subject of steam navigation by means of large ships, he, in the latter part of 1851 and the beginning of 1852, began to work out the idea he had long entertained-that to make long voyages economically and speedily by steam required that the vessels should be large enough to carry the coal for the entire voyage outwards, and, unless the facilities for obtaining coal were very great at the outport, then for the return voyage also; and that vessels much larger than any then built could be navigated with great advantages from the mere effects of size. Hence originated the Great Eastern. The history of this great work is before the public, and its success in a nautical point of view is admitted, as well as the strength and stability of the construction of the vessel. More than this cursory notice of this last memorial of his skill cannot now be given. All the circumstances attending the construction, the launching, the trial of this great ship are before the public. It would hardly be just, however, to the memory of this distinguished engineer if we were to conclude this notice without an allusion to his private character and worth. Few men were more free from that bane of professional life-professional jealousy. He was always ready to assist others, and to do justice to their merits. It is a remarkable circumstance that in the early part of his career he was brought into frequent conflict with Robert Stephenson, as Stephenson was with him, and that, nevertheless, their mutual regard and respect were never impaired. Brunel was ever ready to give his advice and assistance whenever Stephenson desired it, and the public will recollect how earnestly and cordially during the launch of the Great Eastern Stephenson gave his assistance and lent the weight of his authority to his now deceased friend. Such rivalry and such unbroken friendship as theirs are rare, and are honourable to both.
The death of Mr. Brunel was hastened by the fatigue and mental strain caused by his efforts to superintend the completion of the Great Eastern, and in these efforts his last days were spent. But we must not forbear to mention that for several years past Mr. Brunel had been suffering from ill-health brought on by over exertion. Nevertheless he allowed himself no relaxation from his professional labours, and it was during the period of bodily pain and weakness that his greatest difficulties were surmounted and some of his greatest works achieved. Possessing a mind strong in the consciousness of rectitude, he pursued, in single hearted truthfulness, what he believed to be the course of duty, and in his love of and devotion to his profession he accomplished, both at home and abroad, on the continent and in India, works, the history of which will be the best monument to his memory. With an intellect singularly powerful and acute, for nothing escaped his observation in any branch of science which could be made available in his own pursuits, yet it was accompanied by humility and a kindliness of heart which endeared him to all who knew him and enjoyed his friendship. The very boldness and originality of his works, of which he was never known to boast, while it added to his fame added no little to his anxiety, and not unfrequently encompassed him with difficulty-
"Great was the glory, but greater was the strife,"
which told ultimately upon his health and strength, and finally closed his life when he was little more than 53 years of age. We have left unnoticed many of his works, and many that deserve the attention and study of the young engineer. They will find their record in professional works, and in them his works will hereafter be fully described and considered. Mr. Brunel was a member of the Royal Society, having been elected at the early age of 26. In 1857 he was admitted by the University of Oxford to the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws, a distinction of which he was justly proud.Source: The Times [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/] and Microsoft� Encarta� Encyclopedia 2001.