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Collections

The 67,000 items housed in the Brunel Institute make up one of the world’s leading maritime collections.


It is comprehensive and diverse, from its oldest item, a 1703 book of naval tracts, to original sketches by a young Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The collections include library books, periodicals, ship plans and models, photographs, diaries and letters written by passengers and crew travelling on the SS Great Britain. Approximately 6,500 books and periodicals cover a wide range of maritime topics including passenger liners, naval history, naval architecture, shipbuilding, seamanship, maritime archaeology and ethnographic boats.

The collections include the complete run of Mariner’s Mirror, an almost complete run of Lloyd’s Register, and the logs and diaries of crew members and passengers. The majority of these books were donated by distinguished maritime historian, David MacGregor, for whom the Library in the Brunel Institute is named.

The University of Bristol Brunel Collection

The Collection is on long-term deposit in the Institute, and comprises over 8,000 individual items. It is the most important collection of Brunel-related material in the world, and includes letters, sketch books, large-scale plans, diaries, calculation books, drawings and drawing instruments.

Ship plans

The 7,300 plans all come from the collection of David MacGregor. They vary in condition but many are available to view on request.

Library books and the David MacGregor Library

The David MacGregor Library contains over 6,500 books. Most of these belonged to the maritime historian David MacGregor. The other significant personal collection held in the Library is that of Sir Robert Wall. These two collections are supplemented by books from the SS Great Britain Trust’s collection.

The many rare volumes include an almost complete run of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.

Diaries and letters

There are nearly one hundred diaries and letters written by passengers who travelled on the SS Great Britain. Their descriptions give a fascinating insight into life on board from the food and entertainment to the behaviour of fellow passengers!

Most of the diaries and letters are available to view but a small number are extremely fragile and therefore not always accessible.

Photographs and postcards

The Institute houses around 30,000 photographs and photographic postcards. They cover 19th and 20th century merchant shipping, and include a number of important images such as those supplied by the Nautical Photo Agency.

Photograph albums cover international subjects such as the Suez Canal, as well as personal albums of family holidays.