1902 Encyclopedia > Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Sir Marc Isambard Brunel
Franco-British engineer

MARC ISAMBARD BRUNEL (1769-1849), was born at Haqueville, in Normandy. His family had for several centuries held a respectable station in the pro-rince, living as farmers and small landowners on the estate on which he was born, and numbering among its members Nicholas Poussin. He was educated at the seminary of St Nicaise at Rouen, with the intention of his enter-ing holy orders; but his predilection for the physical sciences was so strong, and his genius for mathematics and mechanics so decided, that, on the advice of the superior of the establishment, he was removed to follow a more congenial career. His father then destined him for the naval service, which he entered on the appointment of the Marshal de Castries, the minister of marins, and made several voyages to the West Indies. In this position, although only in his seventeenth year, his mechanical talents developed themselves actively on many occasions, and he surprised his captain by the production of a sextant of his manufacture with which he took his observations. On his return to France in 1792, he found the Revolution at its height, and like all who entertained royalist principles, he was compelled to seek safety in emigration. He effected his flight with considerable difficulty, and found refuge in the United States of America, where, driven by necessity to the exercise of his talents as a means of support, he followed the bent of his inclination and became a civil engineer and architect. His first engagement was on the survey of a tract of land near Lake Erie ; he then became engaged in cutting canals, and was employed to erect an arsenal and cannon foundry at New York, where he applied several new and ingenious machines. His highly orna-mental design for the House of Assembly at Washington was rejected, as being inconsistent with the simplicity of a republic; he was, however, engaged to design and superintend the construction of Bowery Theatre, New York, since destroyed by fire, the roof of which was peculiar and original.
The idea of substituting machinery for manual labour in the making of ships' blocks had long occupied his mind; and,, in 1799., having matured his plans, he determined to visit England. Earl St Vincent was at that time at the head of the Admiralty, and after the usual delays and difficulties, which were ultimately overcome chiefly through the powerful influence of his steady friend and patron E-irl Spencer, aided by the recommendation of Brigadier-General Sir Samuel Bentham, who at once perceived and appreciated the merit of the machines and the talent of the inventor, the system was adopted, and the machinery erected. The construction of the machines was entrusted to Mr Henry Maudslay, whom Brunei had selected with true discrimination, and by whom he was ably assisted. The beautiful simplicity of these machines, their perfect adaptation to their various purposes, and, notwithstanding the recent advances in mechanics, their continuing for nearly half a century in active work, without any improve-ments having ever been suggested, must rank them as among the most complete and ingenious pieces of mechanism ever invented.
The block machinery was completed in 1806, and it was estimated that the economy produced by it in the first year was about £24,000, two-thirds of which sum was awarded to the ingenious inventor, who was soon after engaged by the Government to erect extensive saw-mills, on improved principles, at Chatham and Woolwich. He there suggested modifications of the systems of stacking and seasoning timber, which were afterwards carried into effect. Some time previously, he had invented the ingenious little machine for winding cotton-thread into balls, which, simple as it may at first sight appear, has exercised great influence on the extension of the cotton trade.
He found time also to invent an instrument for combin-ing the use of several pens, so as to produce simultaneously a number of copies of a manuscript; a simple and portable copying-machine; and a contrivance for making the small boxes used by druggists, which had been previously imported in large quantities from Holland. A nail-making machine also occupied his attention; and he discovered the system of giving the efflorescent appearance to tinfoil, by which it was fitted for ornamental purposes. Among other more important improvements may be mentioned that of cutting veneers by circular saws of large diameter, to which is mainly due the present extensive application of veneers of wood to ornamental furniture. About the year 1812 he had devised a scheme for making shoes by machinery; and, under the countenance of the duke of York, the shoes so manufactured, in consequence of their strength, cheapness, and durability, were introduced for the use of the army ; but at the peace in 1815, manual labour becoming cheaper, and the demand for military equipments having ceased, the machines were laid aside.
Steam navigation also attracted his attention, and he became deeply interested in establishing the Ramsgate steam vessels, which were among the first that plied success-fully on the River Thames; and on board of them it is believed that the double engines were first used. About this period, after much labour and perseverance, he induced the Admiralty to permit the application of steam for towing vessels to sea, the practicability of which he had strenuously-urged. The experiments were tried chiefly at his own expense ; a small sum in aid had been promised, but it was eventually withdrawn before the completion of the trials, the Admiralty considering the attempt " too chimerical to be seriously entertained." He introduced various improvements in the steam-engine, and for nearly ten j^ears persevered in the attempt to use liquefied gases as the source of motive power, in which he was ably assisted by his son. The necessary experiments were most laborious, and needed all the persevering energy and resources of a mind determined not to be foiled; in spite, however, of his efforts, after a great sacrifice of time and money, the plan was abandoned.
The whole power of his mind, however, was for many years concentrated on one great object, the construction of the tunnel for communication from shore to shore beneath the bed of the River Thames. It is said that the original idea occurred to him, as applied to the Neva at St Peters-burg, in order to avoid the inconvenience arising from the floating ice,—a plan which he offered to the Emperor Alex-ander, on the occasion of his visit to England in 1814. Undismayed by previous signal failures in the attempt

to construct a tun-iel beneath the Thames, Brunei, confident in his own powers, persevered, and in 1824, under the auspices of the duke of Wellington, who always entertained a favourable view of the practicability of the scheme, a company was formed for its execution ; and after numerous accidents and suspensions of the works, this great and novel undertaking was successfully accomplished, and the tunnel opened to the public in the year 1843.
In the prosecution of the work he received great assistance from his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunei, and in a scientific point of view the construction of the tunnel will be regarded as displaying, at the same time, the highest professional ability, an amount of energy and skill rarely exceeded, and a fertility of invention and resources, under what were deemed insurmountable difficulties, which will secure to the memory of Sir Isambard Brunei a high posi-tion among the engineers of England.
He received the order of the Légion d'Honneur in 1829, and the honour of knighthood in 1841. He was a cor-responding member of the French Institute, and a fellow of the Royal Society. He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers in the year 1823, and constantly attended the meetings, took part in the discussions, and promoted the society's interests by every means in his power.
He was unaffected and simple in his habits, and possessed indomitable courage, perseverance, and industry; whilst his benevolence constantly prompted him to kindly and considerate actions. His labours had so seriously impaired his health, that for some years after the completion of the tunnel he was unable to mix in active life. He died on the 12th of December 1849, in his 81st year. (See Richard Beamish, Memoirs of Sir Marc Isambard Brunei, 1862.)
BRUNELLESCHI, FILIPPO, (1377-1446), one of the greatest Italian architects, the reviver in Italy of the Roman or Classic style, was born at Florence in 1377. His father, a notary, had destined him for his own profession, but observing the boy's talent for all sorts of mechanism, placed him in the guild of goldsmiths. Filippo quickly became a skilled workman, and, eagerly desirous to excel, perfected himself in the knowledge of sculpture, perspec-tive, and geometry,—whatever, in short, was useful for the architectural art, to which he found himself attracted. He designed some portions of houses in Florence, and in 1401 he was one of the competitors for the design of the gates of the baptistery of San Giovanni. He was unsuc-cessful, though his work obtained praise, and he soon after-wards set out for Rome. He studied hard, and resolved to do what he could to revive the older classical style, which had died out in Italy. In 1407 he returned to Florence, just at the time when it was resolved to attempt the completion of the cathedral church of Santa Maria del Fiore. Brunelleschi's plan for effecting this by a cupola was approved, but it was not till 1419, and after innumerable disputes, that the work was finally entrusted to him. At first he was hampered by his colleague Ghiberti, of whom he skilfully got rid. He did not live to see the com-pletion of his great work, and the lantern on the summit was put up not altogether in accordance with the instruc-tions and plans left by him. The great cupola, one of the triumphs of architecture, exceeds in some measurements that of St Peter's at Rome, and has a more massive and striking appearance. Besides the masterpiece Brunelleschi executed numerous other works, among the most remarkable of which are the Pitti Palace at Florence, and the churches of San Lorenzo and Spirito Santo, and the still more elegant Capella dei Pazza. He died in 1446, and was buried in the great church of Santa Maria. See AECHITECTUEE, vol. ii. p. 436.
BRUNET, JACQUES CHARLES, the eminent bibliographer, was born at Paris in 1780, and died in 1867. He was the
son of a bookseller, and at an early age began the study which occupied the whole of his after life. In 1802 he printed a supplement to the Dictionnaire Bibliographique of Duclos and Cailleau, and in 1810 there appeared the first edition of his chef-d'œuvre, the Manuel du Libraire. With the exception of a few pamphlets and minor disserta-tions, Brunet published nothing beyond successive editions of his great bibliographical dictionary, which had come to be recognized as the first book of its class in European literature. The last (fifth) edition in six volumes was completed in 1865.
BRUNI, LEONARDO (1369-1444), author of the History of Florence, was an eminent scholar of the 15th century. He was born at Arezzo, and is generally known as L. Aretino. He was secretary to the papal chancery under Innocent VII. and John XXII. From 1427 to his death in 1444 he was chancellor to the republic of Florence. He was buried at the expense of the state in Sta. Croce, where his laurelled statue is still to be seen. His History of Florence comes down to 1404.
BRUNN, the capital of the Austrian margraviate of Moravia, is situated for the most part between two hills at the confluence of the Schwarzawa and the Zwittawa, 69 miles N. of Vienna and 115 W.S.W. of Prague, with both of which it is connected by railway. Lat. 49° 11' 39" N., long. 16° 39' 35" E. On one of the hills known as the Spielberg stands the castle of the same name, which has long been used as a prison, and is famous for its connection with the patriotic Silvio Pellico, who was confined within its walls for about eight years. The old town, which is com-paratively small, still retains some of its fortifications, but most of them have given place to promenades. Its streets are narrow and crooked but well-paved, and it contains many of the most important buildings in the city. Exten-sive suburbs have grown up around it, and since 1849 form portions of the same commune. There are fine public gardens and a large park known as the Augarten, presented to the town by the Emperor Joseph II. The Eathhaus, which dates from 1511, has a fine Gothic portal, and contains several interesting antiquities. The eccle-siastical buildings comprise the cathedral of St Peter's, situated on the lower hill ; the fine Gothic church of St James, built in the 15th century, with its iron tower added in 1845, and a remarkable collection of early typo-graphy ; the church of the Augustine friars, dating from the 14th century; that of the Minorites with its frescoes, its holy stair, and its Loretto-house ; the bishop's palace ; a splendid Jewish synagogue : and several monastic establishments. As the capital of the province Briinn is the seat of the chief legal and military courts, and thus possesses various official edifices, the old Jesuit convent having been turned into barracks. It is also the seat of a Roman Catholic bishop and of a Protestant consistory. Its educational and benevolent institutions comprise a theo-logical seminary, a gymnasium, several academies and schools, an agricultural society, a botanic garden, an infirmary, an orphanage, a blind asylum, a deaf-mute institution, a lunatic asylum, and several hospitals, of which the most important is the great hospital of St Anna. The national museum for Moravia and Silesia, though com paratively poor, must also be mentioned. Briinn is one of the chief seats of the woollen manufacture in the Austrian dominions, and the centre of a large miscellaneous trade. Considerable quantities of silk and cotton goods are manu-factured, as also leather, paper, tobacco, oil, and sugar. There are also steam-flour-mills, engineering works, and breweries. There is a remarkable viaduct in the immediate neighbourhood of the town. Briinn probably dates from the 9th century. In the 11th it was bestowed by Duke Wratislas II. on his son Otto. Briinn is a place of great

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