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. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042477/1833-09-06/ed-1/seq-2/>