The Brunel Family and Devon


Chris Burgoyne

Isambard Kingdom Brunel may be famous for building many of the railways in Devon, but he also has a stronger Devon connection since his mother came from the county. The details given here are taken from "The Greater Genius - A biography of Marc Isambard Brunel", by Harold Bagust (ISBN 9-780711-031753).

Marc Isambard Brunel (25 Apr 1769 - 12 Dec 1849) was as eminent engineer as his more famous son. Indeed, as the title of his biography suggests, he may have been the greater genius, but was born at the wrong time. He was responsible for the first under-water tunnel (the Thames Tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe in London, still used by London Underground to this day), although it was finished by his son. He was also responsible for many bridges, but is most famous for his invention of block-making machinery, which for the first time enabled the blocks used for rigging in the Royal Navy to have standardised and interchangeable parts. This one, apparently minor, technical innovation had a significant impact on the efficiency of the Royal Navy. He was born in Normandy and joined the French Navy, but he was a Royalist sympathiser and fled to America in 1793 to escape the guillotine, but not before he had met Sophie (or Sophia) Kingdom. She was the youngest of 16 children of William Kingdom and Joan Spry, born about 1776. William was a Plymouth naval contractor who died soon after Sophie was born. One of her brothers was her guardian and he sent her in Dec 1792, at the age of 16, to Le Havre to learn French. Royalists were being murdered by republicans at the time, and she would have returned to England, but she was taken ill and remained in France, where she met Marc Brunel shortly before he went to America. Sophie later returned to England. Marc had taken out American citizenship in 1796, and converted to Protestantism, before returning to England in March 1799. He and Sophie were married on 1st Nov 1799 at St Andrews, Holborn, London.

One of Sophie's sisters, Elizabeth, married Thomas Mudge, the son of another Thomas Mudge (1717-1794), who was a famous clockmaker.

The family tree of Sophie thus looks like this:-

Generation 1

WILLIAM KINGDOM married JOAN SPRY. He was a naval contractor at Plymouth and died soon after Sophie was born in 1776.

William and Joan had sixteen children
   - 14 children whose names are not listed
   - ELIZABETH KINGDOM, who married THOMAS MUDGE, son of Thomas Mudge (1717-1794), a famous clockmaker.
   - SOPHIE KINGDOM, of whom more below

Generation 2

SOPHIE KINGDOM, born about 1776, sent to France in 1792 to learn French, where she met MARC ISAMBARD BRUNEL. He fled to the USA to escape the revolution before returning to England in 1799, where he married Sophie on 1st Nov 1799 at St Andrews, Holborn. Marc died 12 Dec 1849 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. Sophia died in 1855.

Marc Brunel and Sophie Kingdom had three children:-
   - SOPHIA BRUNEL (1802 - 1878), who married in 1820 (Sir) BENJAMIN HAWES (1797 - 1862)
   - EMMA BRUNEL (c.1804 - c.1875), who married in 1836 Revd FANK HARRISON
   - ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL (1806 - 1859) of whom more below.

Generation No 3.

ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL (1806 - 1859), engineer, who married in 1836 MARY HORSLEY (1813 - 1881), daughter of William Horsley, musician and music teacher, and Elizabeth Hitchens Callcott.

Isambard Brunel and Mary Horsley had three children:-
   - ISAMBARD BRUNEL (1837 - 1902) married in 1864 GEORGINA NOBLE (1835 - 1911). No issue noted.
   - HENRY MARC BRUNEL (1842 - 1903)
   - FLORENCE BRUNEL (c. 1847 - 1876) married c. 1870 ARTHUR JAMES (1841 - 1921), Housemaster at Eton. Issue one daughter CELIA JAMES.