Marc Isambard Brunel bigraphy, stories - Engineers

Marc Isambard Brunel : biography

25 April 1769 - 12 December 1849

Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, FRS FRSE (25 April 1769 – 12 December 1849) was a French-born engineer who settled in England. He preferred the name Isambard, but is generally known to history as Marc to avoid confusion with his more famous son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. His most famous achievement was the construction of the Thames Tunnel.

Early life in France

Brunel was the second son of Jean Charles Brunel and Marie Victoire Lefebvre. Jean Charles was a prosperous farmer in Hacqueville, Normandy, and Marc was born on the family farm. It was customary for the first son to inherit the farm and the second son to enter the priesthood. His father therefore started Marc on a classical education, but he showed no liking for Greek or Latin and instead showed himself proficient in drawing and mathematics. He was also very musical from an early age. At the age of eleven he was sent to a seminary in Rouen. The superior of the seminary allowed him to learn carpentry and he soon achieved the standards of a cabinetmaker. He also sketched ships in the local harbour. As he showed no desire to become a priest, his father sent him to stay with relatives in Rouen, where a family friend tutored him on naval matters. In 1786, as a result of this tuition, Marc became a naval cadet on a French frigate and during his service visited the West Indies several times. He made a quadrant for himself of brass and ivory and used it during his service.Bagust, Harold, "The Greater Genius?", 2006, Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 0-7110-3175-4, (pages 11-16)

During Brunel's service abroad, the French Revolution began, in 1789. In January 1792, Brunel's frigate paid off its crew, and Brunel returned to live with his relatives in Rouen. He was a Royalist sympathiser as were most inhabitants of Normandy. In January 1793, whilst visiting Paris during the trial of Louis XVI, Brunel unwisely publicly predicted the demise of Robespierre, one of the leaders of the Revolution. He was lucky to get out of Paris with his life, and returned to Rouen. However it was evident that he would have to leave France. During his stay in Rouen, Brunel had met Sophia Kingdom, a young Englishwoman who was an orphan and was working as a governess. Unfortunately he was forced to leave her behind when he fled to Le Havre and boarded the American ship Liberty, bound for New York.

America

Brunel arrived in New York on 6 September 1793, and he subsequently travelled to Philadelphia and Albany. He got involved in a scheme to link the Hudson River by canal with Lake Champlain, and also submitted a design for the new Capitol building to be built in Washington. The judges were very impressed with the design, but it was not selected.Bagust, Harold, "The Greater Genius?", 2006, Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 0-7110-3175-4, (pages 17-21)

In 1796, after taking American citizenship, Brunel was appointed Chief Engineer of the city of New York. He designed various houses, docks, commercial buildings, an arsenal, and a cannon factory. No official records exist of the projects that he carried out in New York, as it seems likely that the documents were destroyed in the New York Draft Riots of 1863.

In 1798, during a dinner conversation, Brunel learnt of the difficulties that the Royal Navy had in obtaining the 100,000 pulley blocks that it required each year to fit out its ships. Each of these was being made by hand. Brunel quickly produced an outline design of a machine that would automate the production of pulley blocks. He decided to sail to England and put his invention before the Admiralty. He sailed for England on 7 February 1799 with a letter of introduction to the Navy Minister, and on 7 March his ship, the Halifax landed at Falmouth.

Thames Tunnel

In 1805 the Thames Archway Company was formed with the intention of driving a tunnel beneath the Thames between Rotherhithe and Limehouse. Richard Trevithick was engaged by the company to construct the tunnel. He used Cornish miners to work on the tunnel. In 1807 the tunnel encountered quicksand and conditions became difficult and dangerous. Eventually the tunnel was abandoned after more than 1,000 feet had been completed, and expert opinion, led by William Jessop, was that such a tunnel was impracticable.Bagust, Harold, "The Greater Genius?", 2006, Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 0-7110-3175-4, (pages 62-70)

Living octopus

Living octopus

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