Sir James Brunlees
Sir James Brunlees
EducationUniversity of Edinburgh
SpouseElizabeth Kirkman (1845)
Parent(s)John Brunlees, Margaret Rutherford
Engineering career
InstitutionsFellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Institution of Civil Engineers (president),

Sir James Brunlees FRSE MICE (1816 – 1892) was a Scottish civil engineer. He was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers for 1882-3.[1]

He was born in Kelso in the Scottish Borders in 1816.[2]

Early life

Brunlees was the son of John Brunlees, the gardener of the Duke of Roxburghe's agent, and Margaret Rutherford.

As a youth he assisted the surveyor Alexander Adie in surveying the roads on the Duke's estates and decided to be a civil engineer. He studied at Edinburgh University then worked on the Bolton and Preston Railway under Adie before working on various railways in Scotland and Northern England in a staff of engineers.[3]

Londonderry and Coleraine Railway

In 1850, Brunlees worked on the Londonderry and Coleraine Railway. For this job he was obliged to build an embankment over Rosse’s Bay on the River Foyle, surmounting great difficulties.[4] [5]

Railway across Morecambe Bay

Brunlees was the Construction Engineer for the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway. This was a short but difficult and important railway to link the Furness Railway network to the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway line and thence to all points further south in the British network. The route was planned by McClean and Stileman at 19 miles in length of which ten miles comprised embankments and viaducts across tidal water. Much of this was sand running to a depth of 30 to 70 feet. This made it very challenging to build. In business terms the Manchester-based railway contractors John Brogden and Sons were the prime movers of this railway.

The Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway Act received the Royal Assent on 24 July 1851 but work was not in full progress until September 1853 because workers and accommodation for them were not readily available. McClean and Stileman had resigned as engineers in the previous February so another engineer had to supervise construction. Brunlees was chosen because of his success with the River Foyle project.

The line was opened on 26 August 1857. Brunlees wrote a paper on this project for the Institution of Civil Engineers in which he described the design profile of the embankments and a novel design of drawbridge for the viaducts to withstand the winds and waves.[4] His work on the U&L earned him praise from men like Locke and Hawkshaw.[5] Viaducts were built across the estuaries of the rivers Kent and Leven and these were designed and built by W & J Galloway & Sons of Manchester using a novel piling system involving waterjets. Later on, they worked together on Southport Pier using a similar system.[5][6]

Railway across the Solway Firth

James Brunlees was the engineer of the Solway Junction Railway. This involved a 1 mile 8 chains (1.8 km) cast-iron girder viaduct between Bowness-on-Solway and Annan across the Solway Firth in Scotland. It had 193 spans with 2,892 tons of cast iron for the piles and 1,807 tons of wrought iron. The Act of Parliament was passed in 1864 and the railway was opened in 1869.

Unfortunately in 1875 and 1881 the viaduct was damaged by ice. In 1881 the damage was severe and there was a Board of Trade Inquiry. The inspecting officer said that because of the thickness of ice, the size of the ice-floes, and the absence of wind, it was not surprising that the cast-iron columns had not withstood the shock. This method of construction should be avoided in estuaries where the climate was subject to sudden changes in temperature and to blows from floating ice. He had no objection to rebuilding the viaduct but recommended modifications to prevent a repetition. He did not criticise anyone however, perhaps because this type of engineering was new and everyone was learning.[7]

São Paulo, Brazil

Brunlees became engineer of the São Paulo Railway in 1856, with D. M. Fox as assistant. They used cable haulage on a 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) gauge railway. They used four inclined planes at a gradient of 1 in 9.75 to surmount a 2,650 foot escarpment. The line was completed in 1867.[3][8] In 1873, he was awarded the Order of the Rose.[9]

Other work

Brunlees' grave in Brookwood Cemetery

Brunlees served as a railway engineer in the construction of the Mersey Railway, connecting Liverpool and Birkenhead,[8] and designed bridges such as the Upleatham and Kilton Viaduct's.[10] He also worked in maritime engineering and was responsible for the construction of the docks at Avonmouth and Whitehaven[8] as well as the piers at Southport[5][8] and Southend.[8] He was the engineer of the 3 ft gauge Gorseddau Tramway at Portmadoc.[11]

Brunlees was engineer, as well as one of the leading shareholders and directors, of the Mont Cenis Pass Railway, active mainly during planning and construction, 1864-1868.[3] There is evidence that Brunlees also worked with the Brogdens on their New Zealand projects.[12][13] He served as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers between December 1882 and December 1883.[14]

He was knighted in 1886.[15]

He died at Argyle Lodge in Wimbledon, London on 2 June 1892[1] and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery.


He married Elizabeth Kirkman in 1845.


  1. ^ a b "Former Fellows of The Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783 – 2002" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  2. ^ "Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002" (PDF). Royal Society of Edinburgh. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Ransom, P.J.G. (1999), The Mont Cenis Fell Railway, Twelveheads Press, pp. 20–24
  4. ^ a b Brunlees, James (1855), "On the Construction of the Sea Embankments, across the Estuaries Kent and Leven, In Morecambe Bay, for the Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway", Proc. Inst. Civil Engineers, 14: 239–250
  5. ^ a b c d Marshall, J.D. (1981) [1958], Furness and the Industrial Revolution, Michael Moon, Beckermet, Cumbria, p. 216, ISBN 0-904131-26-2
  6. ^ Richardson, Joseph (1870), Furness Past and Present, vol. 1 of 2, p. 23
  7. ^ Stuart, Edgar; Sinton, John M. (1990). The Solway Junction Railway. Headington, Oxford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-8536-1395-8. OCLC 25654930. page 28
  8. ^ a b c d e "James Brunlees from The Gazetteer for Scotland". Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  9. ^ Beare, Thomas Hudson (1901). "Brunlees, James" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography (1st supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  10. ^ Tomlinson, William Weaver (1915). The North Eastern Railway; its rise and development. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Reid. p. 629. OCLC 8890833.
  11. ^ Captain Henry Whatley Tyler; On the Festiniog Railway for Passengers: as a 2-feet gauge, with sharp curves, and worked by locomotive engines; Institution of Civil Engineers; 11 April 1865 - post-presentation discussion
  12. ^ A search for Brunlees in the Index of New Zealand National Archives gives: "5 September 1877 - Notice of assignment to J Brunlees and J Brogden of contracts between the Governor of New Zealand and Messrs Brogden and Sons" Search made 9 March 2008
  13. ^ Also Appendices to the Journals of the NZ House of Representatives and NZ Papers Past Archived 2012-01-07 at the Wayback Machine contain clear references to work by Brunlees or his associates in New Zealand. Some of these involve Brogdens and some do not.
  14. ^ Watson, Garth (1988), The Civils, London: Thomas Telford Ltd, p. 251, ISBN 0-7277-0392-7
  15. ^ Mike Chrimes, 'Brunlees, Sir James (1816–1892)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 13 Sept 2009

Professional and academic associations Preceded byWilliam George Armstrong President of the Institution of Civil Engineers December 1882 – December 1883 Succeeded byJoseph Bazalgette