- This photograph shows Isambard Kingdom Brunel making a final visit to his ship, the SS Great Eastern, on 5 September 1859. It is one of only eight existing photographs of Brunel and is the last photograph taken of him before his death.
- Here, Brunel is holding a walking stick and suffering from ill health. This is a very different image of Brunel when compared to the famous photograph of the engineer standing proudly by the SS Great Eastern’s launch chains; taken two years previously.
- The SS Great Eastern was Brunel’s final project and its construction was full of problems. These problems put Brunel under a great deal of stress and he died just 10 days after this photograph was taken.
- The same photograph has been printed twice here because the photograph has been turned into a stereoscopic card. Cards like this could be viewed through a stereoscopic viewer and transformed into a three-dimensional (3D) image. The stereoscope was a very popular Victorian invention.
Brunel and Photography
By 1859, photography was becoming popular and many more people were having photographs of themselves taken. The public could also buy photographs of famous people, places, landmarks and curiosities. Photographs like this one were widely reproduced due to the Victorian public’s interest in the great engineering projects of the age. Engravings were also made and printed in newspapers, allowing these images to be more widely seen.
Photographs were also reproduced and sold as stereoscopic cards, like this one, that could be viewed through a stereoscopic viewer and transformed into three-dimensional (3D) images.
Photographs like this were often carefully staged to influence the public’s perception of the person shown. Brunel was aware of his reputation and carefully planned how he was presented in photographs that might be seen by the public.
What does this photograph tell you about Brunel?