Isambard Harrison, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great nephew, was working as an articled clerk for a solicitor in Brighton in 1911, but in September 1918 he turned up in Minnesota City, USA, employed by a farmer. The event was recorded on a Draft registration form he was required to fill in.
Why was he there? If it was a ‘gap’ year, he was somewhat late in doing it since he was 33 years old. And solicitor's clerk to farm-hand? I suggested previously, perhaps a little uncharitably, that he might have been dodging conscription; the USA had come into the war in 1917, but he could have arrived much earlier. By September 1918 it was clear that the allies were going to win the war, so there was little danger that Isambard would be drafted; in any event he was required to register.
His full name appeared on the card – Isambard Joseph Francis Brunel Harrison – but he then proceeded apparently to provide a false next of kin: ‘John Brunel Harrison (Bro[ther]), 87 Kings Road, Windsor, London, England.’
But he didn’t have a brother. His father had noted on the 1911 census return – in which Isambard had been listed – that he had had only had four children, and that they were all alive – three girls and a boy. Also, his father’s name was just ‘John Harrison’ without the Brunel name.
It is possible that the registrar misheard the relationship and it is also just possible that Isambard was under the mistaken impression that his father’s middle name was ‘Brunel’ – like Isambard's sisters. However, in 1911 the family were living in Brighton, and when Isambard’s mother died in 1922, it was in Droxford, near Portsmouth.
Isambard did return at some point. His death at the age of 53 was registered in Builth Wells, Wales, in 1939. His youngest sister, Josephine Brunel Hensleigh Harrison, was granted administration of his estate which amounted to £206 19s 9d.
Isambard Joseph Francis Brunel Harrison remains a mysterious figure about whom I would be fascinated to learn more.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs