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Thames Tunnel Sold to East London Railway Company

From The Aegis & Intelligencer, September 03, 1869

The Thames Tunnel — The Thames Tunnel, which was opened on August 2d, 1848, was closed on July 21, having thus been a public footway for a period of twenty-six years, less thirteen days. It has been purchased for £200,000. (one-third of its cost) by the East London Railway Company, which line will be completed as far as Wapping in a short time. The new Thames Subway from Tower Hill to Bermondsey (Mr. Barlow’s scheme) commenced on February 16th of the present year, is proceeding very rapidly, and, if all goes well will be opened for traffic in three months time. Its cost will be under £200,000. The works of the old Thames Tunnel were commenced in 1852. Physical and financial difficulties delayed the opening for eighteen years.

Source: The aegis & intelligencer. [volume] (Bel Air, Md.), 03 Sept. 1869. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Biographical Sketch: Mr. Brunel, FRS

From The Illustrated London News, April 3, 1858, Volume 32, January – June 1858

MR. BRUNEL is the son of the eminent man known to the world as the author of the most marvelous of engineering works – the Thames Tunnel. He was born at Portsmouth, in the year 1806, while his father was engaged in fulfilling a contract with the Government for the construction of a machine, or rather a series of machines, for the manufacture of block pulleys by steam. While quite young the lad, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was taken to France for the purpose of being educated at the Collage of Henry IV, at Caen. At the conclusion of his studies, he underwent a course of training for the duties of an engineer, and returned to England in time to assist in the greatest of his father’s works – the Thames Tunnel. The young man took an active part in the undertaking, and shared in the many disappointments, the personal danger, and the final triumph of that remarkable work. From this time forward young Brunel made progression in his profession. He joined his father in his well-known experiments for the purpose of making a motive power of carbonic gas. To a certain extent the mechanical difficulties were overcome, but the cost of the machinery and difficulties of its use prevented its introduction as a substitute for steam. This investigation was an anxious labor of ten years’ duration, both father and son devoting their abilities to the task. In the meantime the subject of our Sketch was studying railway engineering, the construction of locomotives, and other matters appertaining to steam navigation. In 1888 he was appointed engineer-in-chief of the Great Western Railway, and has remained so ever since. The whole of the tunnels, bridges, and other works on this line, and others in continuation of the western route, were constructed under the immediate superintendence of Mr. Brunel. . Both bridges and tunnels were more than ordinarily difficult, on account of the broad gauge system adopted by the directors. The gauge was recommend by Mr. Brunel, but was stoutly opposed by many eminent and scientific men. The Great Western directors, however, supported their own engineer. In his report of 1838 Mr. Brunel represented that the position of the Great Western line was such that it could have no connection with any other of the man lines of railway; that it had the exclusive command of its special district; that no inconvenience would result from the diversity of gauge. as that district entirely isolated from the others, and further, that no extension of the line towards the north would be required. It was even anticipated by Mr . Brunel that, if other railways were formed, their exclusion from a connection with the Great Western line by the difference of gauge would be of advantage to the company, by securing for it a monopoly of the traffic to and from South Wales and the west of England for all time to come. The Great Western Railway was thus constructed to be independent of all other railways, and to stand apart from them in solitary grandeur. The engineer received the warm encomiums of the directors and proprietors, who considered it a bold and original thing to plant a railway which was to be more than two feet broader than any other, requiring works and plant on corresponding scale, without regard to past example and experience. Provincial patriotism was also evoked in favour of the measure; and it was anticipated that Bristol would rival, if not far outstrip, Liverpool in its railway accommodation and facilities. In Mr. Smiles’ admirable work, “The Life of George Stephenson,” we find an excellent history of this “battle of the gauges,” more especially Mr. Stephenson’s opposition to the views of Mr. Brunel on the subject. He held that the gauge which had already been adopted on the northern lines was amply sufficient for the public accommodation; that it was wide enough to admit of the most effective management of the machinery of the locomotive; that it was much safer to work over when the curves of the railway were at all sharp; that it was far more economical, taking into consideration the paying weight carried in proportion to the dead weight in the shape of rolling stock; that it would cost considerably less to maintain, in consequence of of the less weight to bear and smaller tear and wear of materials – not to mention the much smaller capital that was required to form a line upon the narrow gauge than upon the broad, the latter requiring more land, wider bridges and tunnels, broader embankments and viaducts, heavier rails, chairs, and sleepers, and more expensive engines and carriages. But his principal objection was, that, by forming the Great Western line on an exceptional gauge, the proprietors of the undertaking were virtually closing it against the public traffic from other parts of the kingdom, and rendering it a mere provincial railway or byway instead of a part of a great national system. He would not believe with Mr. Brunel that railways were to be confined to particular districts, but he held that, before long, they must become the universal highroad an well as byroads for both  goods and passengers;  and that any break in the continuity of the system by a difference of gauge would seriously detract from those great public advantages which their general adoption might reasonably be expected to confer. Mr. Stephenson said most emphatically, “It won’t do; it won’t pay: ” and circumstances have proved that he was far from being in the wrong.

However opinions may differ on the value of Mr. Brunel’s scheme with respect to the width of the gauge, they all agree in commending the general engineering works on the Great Western line. Some of the bridges are remarkable for their strength and beauty; among others may be mentioned those at Maidenhead and Chepstow, and especially the splendid construction just thrown across the Tamar.

Mr. Brunel took part in the floating end raising of the Britannia Tubular Bridge, and rendered the same friendly co-operation to Mr. Robert Stephenson in that gigantic undertaking as the latter gentleman did to Mr. Brunel in preparing the works to launch the Leviathan. Mr. Brunel has been engaged on many other works of importance. He has been employed to construct some of the most important docks on the English coast, and has conducted the engineering works of several foreign railways. The Charing-cross Suspension Bridge is a recent work of Mr. Brunel. It crosses the widest part of the Thames above London-bridge, and has the largest span in England. For lightness and elegance it is most deservedly admired.

Mr. Brunel has been F.R.S. since 1830, and member of the Council since 1844. He in Chevalier of the Legion of Honour; Vice-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and of the Society of Arts; and is also a Fellow of the Astronomical, Geological, Geographical, and other learned Societies.

Our Portrait engraved from an admirable photograph taken by Mr. Mayall, and included in that gentleman’s interesting exhibition at the corner of Argyll-place, Regent-street.

engraving of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Report of the Continuation of the Thames Tunnel after an Irruption

From the Morning Herald, October 6, 1837

The Thames Tunnel –  We are glad to learn that the interruption which the progress of this great national undertaking has met with is likely to be of much shorter duration than could have possibly been anticipated. Mr. Brunel has been incessant and indefatigable in his exertions to remedy the damage done, and his success has been so great that hopes, now amounting to certainty, are entertained that the works will be resumed, without danger or inconvenience, in the course of a very short time. On Saturday it was ascertained that the aperture had been completely closed, and on the pumps being applied it was found that little or no water obtained access to the shaft of the tunnel ; but as some danger was apprehended if the water were taken off until the clay newly deposited in the aperture had in some degree became consolidated, the pumping was suspended till the following day. On Sunday the pumping was resumed, and it was very soon that the engine had complete command over the water, which was reduced to nine feet in the shaft. Yesterday the water still was reduced to four fret in the shaft, and there is no doubt but the water could at once be drawn off without difficulty if that were thought desirable. Mr. Brunel, however, with great prudence, postpones the drawing off of the whole of the water till the clay becomes consolidated, and has acquired a proper consistence.

Source: Morning herald. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 06 Oct. 1837. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Report on 1837 Annual Meeting of the Thames Tunnel Company

From the Alexandria Gazette, April 18, 1837

The Thames Tunnel.—At the late annual meeting of the proprietors of the Thames Tunnel, to receive the report, and make choice.of directors, a report was read which gave much satisfaction. During, the last half year. £20,000 had been received from the government and £22,000 had been expended for the works and salaries; Since the last report the work had been advanced a farther distance of 65 feet, under the deepest part of the river, making the present length of the tunnel 725 feet 3 inches – Boston Daily Advertiser.

Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 18 April 1837. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Bets on the Completion of the Thames Tunnel

From the Alexandria Gazette, November 1, 1836

The sporting characters of Boston are taking and offering heavy bets on the completion of the Thames tunnel and the Bunker-hill monument—that is to say, on the question which will be completed first. Odds at present are in favor of the tunnel.

[editor’s note: The Bunker Hill Monument was dedicated on June 17, 1843, the Thames Tunnel opened on March 25, 1843, having proven the bookies correct.]

Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 01 Nov. 1836. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Newspaper account of the Thames Tunnel, 1836

From the Vermont Telegraph, October 12, 1836

The Thames Tunnel – Dr. Humphrey in one of his letters from England, gives the following interesting description of the Thames Tunnel.

This great work was commenced several years ago, about a mile below London Bridge. It is agreed on all hands. I believe, that if the tunnel could be finished, and secured against the irruptions of the superincumbent waters, it would be a public accommodation, as the navigation of the Thames will not permit the erection of any bridge in that part of the city; and the river is so constantly filled and almost choked up, with all kinds of water craft, that to keep any thing like a convenient ferry open is quite impossible. The undertaking has proved much more costly than was anticipated, and for a very considerable time it was entirely suspended for want of funds.But at the last session of Parliament a large grant was made for the prosecution of it. when I was there. in the mouth of May, the arches again resounded with the heavy blows and busy hum of the workmen. A shaft is sunk to the depth of fifty or sixty feet, on the south bank of the river, over which a temporary building has been erected, and you descend into the tunnel by winding staircase. Before it can be opened. it must of course be carried out a great deal further from the river, to get a convenient slope for heavy transportation.

At the bottom of the stairs, the horizontal excavation, under the bed of the river commences. It is ten or twelve feet in height, and wide enough for two Carriage ways. with a row of strong pillars, and arches extending from pillar to pillar, between them. The sides and transverse arches, as you stand at the entrance, and by the help of lamps look down these subterraneous galleries, are built of the most substantial masonry, and have every appearance of being perfectly secure, as far as they are finished, which is about 600 feet, nearly or quite to the middle of the river. Some even now doubt whether the tunnel will ever be finished ; but I see no insuperable difficulty by the way. As I have elsewhere remarked, (I believe.) our English kinsfolk are commonly much less in a hurry than we are ; but they possess the virtue of perseverance in an eminent degree; and I have little doubt that some half dozen years hence they will be passing under the bed of their largest river with is much composure and safety as they now pass over London Bridge. – Whenever that day arrives. the tunnel will be an immense thoroughfare for the lower part of the metropolis.

Source: Vermont telegraph. [volume] (Brandon [Vt.]), 12 Oct. 1836. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Young Brunel in the Thames Tunnel

From the Delaware State Journal, Advertiser and Star, September 06, 1833

The Thames Tunnel has almost ceased to be a wonder; but the conduct of the younger Brunel on the two occasions referred to below can never lose its claim to admiration. The extract is from an article on the tunnel in the Courier & Enquirer, of Saturday : –

The tunnel has been twice inundated, the first time it occurred, the disorder and fright it caused among the workmen was extreme. Neither Mr. Brunel nor his son were there, but one of the superintending engineers, of the name of Griffiths, preserved his presence of mind, rallied the men, and conducted them in safety to the opening before the water had gained the summit of the arch. In a few minutes afterwards, it was filled.

Mr. Brunel being ill, his son, Isambard, was selected to make this examination. As he descended the stair-case, which led to the tunnel, with Mr. Griffith and another sub-engineer who was to accompany him, the workmen evinced the apprehensions they felt for their safety, by frequent exclamations of “God bless you, gentlemen!” At the moment that Isambard was about to enter the boat and was taking leave of his mother, a young man sprang forward and persisted in sharing his danger, which after some difficulty he was allowed to do.

The distance they had to pass was about seven hundred feet. When they reached the buckler, a large excavation was perceived in the upper parts, stopped in part by the tarred sail cloth and clay above alluded to, but still sufficiently open to allow a considerable quantity of water to enter. They took the dimensions of the opening, and were drawing a sketch of it on a piece of wood, when Mr. Griffith stooping down to Isambard  said to him in a whisper, ‘the water gains on us,” “I know it,’ said Isambard ‘we’ll finish and go.’ At the same time the people at the mouth of the tunnel had perceived the water increased. Many of them threw themselves into it swimming, to warn them of their danger. Others were calling to them through speaking trumpets. This noise was heard by the young man who had insisted on accompanying them; perceiving that the distance to the top of the arch was but four feet he sprang up crying “let us go,” and striking his head against the arch, fell down, upsetting the boat and extinguishing the light they had with them.

On coming to the surface, Isambard called to his companions, two answered him, and conjured him to hasten away, as the water continued gaining on them. Isambard plunged repeatedly to the bottom in search of the other, and at last brought him up. His friends again entreated him to think only of himself, but he answered by begging them to assist him in placing his burthen on his shoulders. Animated by the example, they now all carried the body by turns, and at last, with their heads every instant striking against the arch, again saw the light of day. They had not ascended half way up the stair-case when the water reached the top of the arch. The body was then examined. Isambard and his friends had brought out a corpse. The unfortunate young man had fractured his skull.

After this accident, the steam engines soon regained their superiority, and the works were re-commenced. Some months had passed, when a second irruption took place. This time, Isambard was in the tunnel. He had just left the buckler and was half way down one of the passages, when the cry of water! water! struck his ear. He sprung forward, and having noticed the extent of the disaster sufficiently to inform his father of it, he collected as the thought, all the workmen together, and led them to the mouth of the tunnel. There, a glance around him, told him that many were still missing. He reentered the subterranean passage, with the water up to his middle and guided by confused and smothered cries, perceived that a considerable number of the men, instead of taking the ordinary passage to pass out of the tunnel, had taken that one, of which egress was stopped, These poor men, instead of returning in their fright struck against the obstacle which prevented then getting out and which all their exertions could not move. Isambard hastened to them and persuaded them to come back; the first communication between the two passengers was already closed; at the second, they all passed through before him except two, who could not swim, and who begged Isambard to leave them and save himself. Isambard compelled one of them, the father of a family, to get on his shoulders, and he reached the entrance with him. Then, tearing himself away from those who endeavored to retain him, he returned and brought out the second. When near the entrance of the tunnel, he was struck on the head lay a piece of timber which was drifting on the water, but a hundred arms were stretched out to save him, and he was carried senseless to his father’s house, where his wounds confined him for two months to his bed.

Source: Delaware State journal, advertiser and star. [volume] (Wilmington, Del.), 06 Sept. 1833. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

The Monster Great Eastern

From The New York Herald, September 23, 1859, Morning Edition

The Trip Out of the Thames and Arrival in the Nore.



The Voyage Across the Atlantic from Port to Port to be Made in One Week.

All John Bulldom in a Delirium of Excitement,

&c., &c., &c.

Special Correspondence the N.Y. Herald.

Great Eastern, Nore Light, Sept. 8, 1869.

Splendid Performance of the Ship – Her Great Success – Her Great Speed, &c.

The Great Eastern is a success. She left Deptford at 7:80 yesterday, and with the aid of four steamtugs worked round the sharp points of the Thames to Purfleet, below Woolwich, where she lot go a single anchor  one of Trotman’s patent – and swung to her moorings as easily and gracefully as a yacht. At 8 A. M. we weighed anchor, passed Gravesend at 10:30, and at 11 cast off all the tugboats, and steamed up with nine turns of the paddle engines and thirty of the screw engines. She made thirteen knots, exceeding by nearly half a knot the estimate of her builder and engineers, which gives her at full speed nineteen knots an hour. Little doubt is now felt that she will go twenty nautical miles, and keep up long after ordinary ships would have to slow down for bad weather. In every respect the performance of the ship is most satisfactory. She steers as easily as a pilot boat, and parts the water forward as easily as a North river steamboat. Her engines – screw and paddle – work with as much regularity as if they had been at it for months. In short, the ship and machinery seem to be perfect

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The Disaster to the Great Eastern

From The Weekly Pioneer and DemocratOctober 11, 1861

She Breaks her Rudder and Becomes Unmanageable.



She Reaches Cork a Floating Wreck.

Farther Point, Tuesday, Oct. 1.—The following in regard to the disaster to the steamship Great Eastern is taken from the English papers :

The Great Eastern left her moorings in the river Mersey at half past one o’clock on Tuesday, the 10th of September. The pilot boats left her at 4 o’clock. She immediately put on full speed, and all went well with her until 4 o’clock on Thursday, when, a strong breeze prevailing, the aft tackle of one of the forward boats on the port side became unhooked, leaving it suspended by one tackle. The captain endeavored to steady the ship while this was rectified, but found to his surprise that she did not answer the helm. The fact was, though it was not known at the time, the rudder pin was broken. The fore staysail was run up but it was blown away. The paddle engines were now stopped, and the the boat lashings cut away, when the Great Eastern once more started on her course. The passengers then went down to dinner, and from that moment commenced a chaos of breakages which lasted without intermission for three days. Everything breakable was destroyed. Furniture, fittings, services of plate, piano—all were involved in one common ruin. It now became known that the rudder was unmanageable. About six o’clock the vessel had to be stopped again owing to two rolls of sheet lead, weighing several hundred weight each, which were in the engine room, rolling about with every oscillation of the vessel with fearful force. These having been secured, another start was made, when a tremendous grinding was heard under the paddle-boxes. The shaft had become twisted, and the floats were grinding against the side of the ship. The paddles were stopped, and thenceforward the scene is described as fearful in the extreme. The ship rolled so violently that the boats were washed away. The cabin, besides undergoing the dangers arising from the crashes and collisions which were constantly going on, had shipped, probably through the port holes, a great deal of water, and the stores were floating about in utter confusion and ruin. Some of the chandeliers fell down with a crash. A large mirror was smashed into a thousand fragments, rails of banisters, bars, and numerous other fittings, were broken into numberless pieces. Some idea of the roughness of the night may possibly be gathered from the fact that the large chain cables polished themselves quite bright with friction on deck. A spare riding bit gave way on the cabledeck, and knocked a hole through the ship’s side. Two oil tanks, also on the cabledeck, were so much damaged by another concussion that 200 gallons of fish oil contained in them ran into the hold, and caused, during the rest of the unhappy voyage, a most intolerable odor. The luggage of the passengers in the lower after cargo space was lying in two leet of water, and, before the deliverance of the ship was effected, the luggage was literally reduced to rags and pieces of timber. Twenty-five fractures of limbs occurred from the concussions caused by the tremendous lurching of the vessel. Cuts and bruises were innumerable. One of the cooks was cast violently, by one of the lurches, against the paddlebox, by which he sustained fearful bruises on the arms, putting it out of his power to protect himself. Another lurch drove him against one of the stanchions, by which concussion one of the poor fellow’s legs was broken in three places. The baker received injuries of a very terrible character in vital parts ; and one of the most striking incidents of the disaster was this poor, brave man, crawling in his agony to extinguish some portion of the baking gear, which at that moment had caught fire.

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Obituary of John Armstrong

From Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 14, 1855

John Armstrong was born at the village of Ingram, Northumberland, on the 13th of October, 1775; his early years were spent in agricultural pursuits, and he scarcely had any opportunity of acquiring more than the rudiments of education; he then became the apprentice of a millwright, and the first mechanical engagement he received was under the late Mr. Thomas Dodgin, millwright, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by whom he was employed at the White-Lead Works, Bill Quay, where his Brother was the foreman.

About the close of the last century he settled in the neighbourhood of Bath, where he ultimately was engaged in the construction of the Pulteney Bridge, for a portion of which he became the contractor.

In the year 1804 he was employed, under the late Mr. Jessop, in the construction of the Docks, at Bristol, where he remained until their completion; all the lock-gates, swivel-bridges, cranes, steam-engines, pumps, sluices and other machinery being constructed under his immediate directions.

For some years he remained chiefly at Bristol, practising as a Millwright and Engineer, and generally engaged in such works as the lock-gates at Lydney, in the Forest of Dean, the gates and sluices of the Congresbury Drainage, &c.; he was then engaged under Sir Robert Smirke upon the construction of the bridge across the Severn, at Gloucester, and in 1821 his services were secured by Mr. Rennie and subsequently by Mr. Telford, for superintending the construction of the new arch of Rochester Bridge, on the completion of which he undertook the direction of the works for the Grosvenor Canal.

His next engagement was at the Thames Tunnel, under the late Sir Isambard Brunel, from whence his services were transferred to Messrs. Bramah, by whom he was employed, among other works, upon the construction of the lock-gates for the St. Katherine Docks, and subsequently in the direction of their building speculation at Calverley Park, near Tonbridge Wells.

At that period (1831) the post of City Surveyor, at Bristol, becoming vacant, he was unanimously elected to the position by the Paving Commissioners, and fulfilled the duties to their entire satisfaction, until within the last week of his life.

He was a very valuable public officer, and the loss of his services to the city will be felt, not in his own department only, as his general amenity of disposition and impressiveness of manner enabled him to become a mediator in many cases, so as to avoid litigation. He had in the course of his varied practice, during a long life, amassed a great store of useful information, which he knew how to apply with judgement; he was a sound good mechanic and millwright, of the school now fast passing away; his steadiness and punctuality could always be relied upon, and his decease, on the 17th of March, 1854, at the advanced age of seventy-eight years, was acutely felt by his family and a large circle of friends.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in the year 1828, and during his residence in the Metropolis was a constant attendant at the meetings.

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