The Brunel Engine House - the Miner's Life Exhibition

Disasters in the Tunnel - Earth, Wind, Air & Fire

  'Apart from the loss of those six poor fellows the whole affair was well worth the risk…'

Isambard Kingdom Brunel's journal, 22nd of April 1828

Now that tunnels are common it is easy to forget what a novel enterprise the making of Brunel's tunnel was, and what difficulties its makers faced. This first tunnel under a navigable river claimed ten lives, one man's sanity, the health of countless scores of men, and bereaved many women and children.

Marc Brunel had no real idea about the difficulties he would face - he had forecast that the tunnel would be complete in three years. Sixteen years later, as the tunnel reached the Wapping shaft, he wrote to his friend that the project

'…has been one of inconceivable labours, difficulties and dangers…the four elements were at one time particularly against us; Fire from the explosive gases, the same that are fatal in mines; Air…by the influence of which the men most exposed were sometimes removed quite senseless; Earth from the most terrific disruptions of the ground; Water from five irruptions of the river, three of which since the resumption of the work in 1836!'

12 July 1825 - the First fatality.

An old ganger by the name of Painter had been out drinking, after finishing his shift in the Tunnel. On his way home, he climbed the shaft. Due to his drunken state, he lost his balance and fell to the bottom of the 42ft shaft and was killed.



Email the Museum. Page Last Updated on 20 April 2002. Designed by Kevin Flude of Cultural Heritage Resouces