A Drawing of a Horse by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 1812

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The object

  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel drew this picture when he was only six years old. His father, Marc, has written Isambard’s name in the top right corner.
  • Isambard’s father was an engineer and wanted Isambard to grow up to become an engineer too. Marc believed that engineers should have good drawing skills and encouraged Isambard to regularly practice drawing.
  • If you look closely, you can see Isambard has learnt to use lines and shadows to make the horse look three dimensional and to bring it more to life.
  • If you look at Isambard’s famous sketches for his later engineering projects, you can see how his drawing skills have improved and how they accurately communicate his ideas.

The Story

The Beginning of Isambard’s Education

Marc Brunel, Isambard’s father, was very interested in Isambard’s education. An engineer himself, Marc wanted his son to become an engineer too. From a young age, Marc gave Isambard a good grounding in the principles of engineering and mathematics, and taught Isambard to draw when he was four years old.

Isambard and Horses

This drawing may be the first time we see evidence of Isambard’s lifelong interest in horses. In the Victorian times, horses in Britain were often over-worked. Isambard often travelled by horse drawn coach and he was concerned about the wellbeing of these powerful animals.

Isambard also liked to ride horses. He spent many hours riding horses to plot the course of the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol. Despite all this practice, Isambard’s diary tells us that he did occasionally fall off his horse!

Continue The Story

Isambard’s Schooling and Apprenticeship

At the age of 14, Isambard went to a French Academy to learn about engineering first hand. Marc believed engineering was taught better in France than in England. Isambard then attended the Lycée Henri-Quatre in Paris, a school renowned for teaching science and mathematics. Then he worked as an apprentice under famous watchmaker, Louis Breguet.

Isambard’s First Job

In 1822, when he was 16 years old, Isambard returned to England. He became an assistant at his father’s engineering business and started working on a wide range of projects. Isambard completed his training by working with his father to begin the construction of the Thames Tunnel. This project gave Isambard his first Resident Engineer position in 1827.

Isambard’s education was very different to most engineers of his day. Usually, engineers spent 4 or 5 years completing an engineering apprenticeship and learning from an experienced engineer before setting up their own business.

Extra Resources

Drawing held at the SS Great Britain Trust / Photography: Adam Gasson.