Brunel attended King's College London from 1859–1861, and afterward attained experience in civil engineering through serving out various apprenticeships. He developed an interest in acting as a hobby, becoming a member of the Scientific and Amateur Dramatic Societies, and also contributed to his brother's biography of their father.
Henry is noted for a partnership from 1878 with Sir John Wolfe Barry, with whom he designed the Blackfriars Railway Bridge over the River Thames in central London. Their other works included the docks at Barry in south Wales and the Creagan Bridge, a railway bridge over the narrows of Loch Creran in Scotland (jointly credited to Wolfe Barry, Brunel and E.M. Crutwell). Sir Alexander Gibb was a pupil of Brunel and Wolfe Barry in 1895.
He also designed the SS Chauncy Maples, which was built in Glasgow in 1899 and transported overland to Lake Nyasa in Africa, where it served for more than one hundred years as a mission and hospital clinic.
Brunel is buried with his father, grandfather, and other family members at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
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