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Where does the collection come from?

Brunel's sketches of the Great Eastern

Curator of Library and Archive, Eleni Papavasileiou, tells us where some of the 67,000 objects in our collection have come from.


The collections of the ss Great Britain Trust have been significantly enhanced by donations, with noted bequests from distinguished maritime historian David MacGregor and maritime author Sir Robert Wall. The MacGregor and Wall material alongside our existing holdings, forms an impressive range of maritime subjects.

Since the opening of the Brunel Institute, we have welcomed some true treasures by members of the public who have generously entrusted us to care for, share and research original objects and documents.

Two examples of such donations are the magnificent Great Eastern Nautilus Shell (below), and also letters and documents of 1852 passenger William Rance.

Great Eastern Nautilus Shell

When material cannot be permanently offered to the Trust, loans allow us to further enhance our understanding of the ss Great Britain and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. We are also able to offer the general public access to objects and documents, quite often for the first time.

One of our most significant long term deposits is that of the University of Bristol Brunel Papers. The collection is made up of over 8,000 individual items and it is the most important collection of Brunel-related material in the world.

The Trust actively monitors and pursues acquisition of material that may come on sale on the internet or at auction houses. Competition can be fierce; the opportunity to apply for and be granted external funding has allowed us to acquire unique material which enhances our collection such as the 1812 drawing of a rocking horse by a 6 year old Brunel.

A sketch of a rocking horse by I.K Brunel

Our team is always astounded by the range and diversity of material that becomes available to us via donations, purchases or loans and we feel grateful and privileged to be able to share the collections with our visitors to the Brunel Institute.