Brunel collection discovered

02 April 2019


02 April 2019


The Brunel Institute welcomes a new collection of letters and reports generously donated by the Bristol Port Company.

The Brunel Institute, at the SS Great Britain Trust, welcomes a new collection of letters and reports, generously donated by the Bristol Port Company.

The donation includes a collection of letters and reports relating to the history of the floating harbour and several interesting documents relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

A donation like this spurs a great deal of excitement and anticipation for curators and researchers and before new collection objects are made available to the public, we undertake a lot of work researching, cataloguing and digitising them.

Often items like these won’t have been looked at for years, and there is always the possibility that we are about to discover something new, so that first moment when you sit down to look through a pile of documents can be very exciting!

When we receive documents one of the first things we do is create a list of what we have (known as an inventory) and we then scan and start to transcribe them. In this donation we found that on 31 January 1842 Brunel was not happy. In his report to the Directors of the Part Company he said:

‘the permanent interests of the Port were I cannot but think sacrificed to temporary convenience’

‘The abuses to which I have before called the attention of the Directors of Parties using the Float as a common receptacle for Rubbish have immensely increased.’

‘I am only surprised that so much has been effected with such small means and in opposition to such encreasing [increasing] difficulties’

‘I cannot but feel however that these remedies from the very peculiar circumstances of the case will entail greater expenses than I think ought to be necessary looking at the difficulties merely as engineering difficulties’

Items are first assigned an entry number, so we can formally record its entry into the museum. The Entry Number for this collection is 00759. Once the collection is with us the next step is to make an inventory of what’s we have. Two staff members and a couple of volunteers spent about ten hours in total to create this inventory – it can often take longer than you’d expect!

This information allows us to for the first time see the extent of the collection.

In total there are 15 documents and one book that relate to Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the collection:

Four letters by him – earliest from 1833, latest 1846.

One letter to him – dated 1833.

Five handwritten reports authored by him – earliest 1832, latest 1842.

Four printed copies of reports authored by him – earliest 1842, latest 1844.

Four documents relating to estimates from him for work on the Southern Entrance lock.

One scrap book from 1937 celebrating the 100th anniversary of the launch of the SS Great Western.

We in the Brunel Institute are thrilled with this donation from Bristol Port Company and are pleased to share this with visitors through a series of free special drop-in sessions.

The collection will be on display in the Brunel Institute at Brune’s SS Great Britain from 12:30 – 1.30pm on Wednesday 3 April and Friday 5 April. Entry to the Brunel Institute is free of charge.

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