Brunel was born in Portsmouth, the son of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1830 at the age of 24. In 1833 he was made chief engineer for the Great Western Railway. He designed the Great Western (1837), the Great Britain (1845) and the Great Eastern (1858) steamships, each of which were the largest in the world at the time of their launch. He died in London on 15 September 1859.