You are here

Behind the stovepipe

The Brunel Institute is the home of the finest deposit of Isambard Kingdom Brunel related material in the UK.


Over 9,000 objects comprise the University of Bristol Brunel Archive. It includes original documents and artefacts from the early days of the Victorian engineer as a young pupil in France, until his final years working vigorously on the Great Eastern steam ship.

The collection is wide and varied and generously offers itself for the study of many different aspects of Brunel’s life, work and personality.

A diary which makes for a fascinating read was recently shown to visitors during our Archive in Five session, 185 years to the day after it was first written. 

An entry from 12 Jan 1828 shows that hours before an incident in the Thames tunnel, Brunel makes some final notes and mentions two men; miners Ball & Collins, who were to lose their lives hours later when part of the tunnel collapses and floods. ‘Water’ is boldly written and underlined before a series of single sentence entries describe Brunel’s ill health and injured leg as a result of his involvement with the incident.

Extract from Brunel's diary

[DM1306/1/3/3/folio 93]

By Courtesy of the Brunel Institute – a collaboration of the ss Great Britain Trust and the University of Bristol

The ss Great Britain Trust continues to enhance the collection through acquisitions of original material. In 2010 a wonderful caricature drawn by IK Brunel in 1833 was among a small but significant group of documents which the Trust managed to acquire at auction.

‘Admiral Sertorius’ bears a curious resemblance to Brunel and demonstrates Brunel’s sense of humour and artistic ability. From a young age and under the guidance of his father, Marc, Brunel learned to observe the world around him and use drawing as a real tool to express his thoughts and ideas.  The joyfulness and frivolity of Sertorius reveal not only his acute observational and drawing skills but also the fun aspect of his personality.

To find out how you can visit the Brunel Institute to find out more about the man IK Brunel himself, get in touch here or pop in during opening hours.

[BRSGB 2010.1741]

Courtesy of the ss Great Britain Trust