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Memoir of the Life of John Rennie.
MEMOIR OF THE
| rarely to be found without a wheel, or · LIFE OF JOHN RENNIE. ESQ. F. R. S. / some section of one, in his pocket.
On quitting his master, he comWith a Portrait.
menced business on his own account;
but finding that Scotland afforded no There is a tribute of respect due to inviting prospect to a mere practical the memory of every man, who has millwright, his eyes were turned in enriched his country by the efforts of various directions to watch the movehis genius.
ments of science; and his ambition Mr. Jobn Rennie was born near prompted him to seize the first favourLinton, in the county of East Lothian, able opportunity that should present Scotland, in the year 1760. His fa- itself, in which he might display his ther, George Rennie, who was a re- talents, and procure a more ample spectable farmer in that neighbour-reward for his labours, than Scotland hood, and whose family consisted of at that time could promise. tbree sons, of whom John was the Prior to this period his countryman youngest, died when he was about Mr. Watt had formed a connection seven years old, in consequence of with Mr. Bolton, and fame and fortune which his early education devolved on were beginning to reward his ingenubis mother and his elder brother ity with honours and with wealth. In George. After some time, he was 1783, Mr. Rennie having attained his sent to a neighbouring village school, 22d year, on learning that Bolton and where he merely learned the rudi- Watt were applying their steam enments of arithmetic, in connection gines to millwork, and that the Albion with reading and writing, nothing mill, at Blackfriars' Bridge, had been higher being professed by the master. projected, applied to them for employ
Contiguous to Mr. Rennie's farm, | ment; and on being accepted at the was a house, which for many years | fixed salary of one guinea per week, had been occupied by Mr. Andrew he shut up his trade, and immediately Meicle, an ingenious millwright, to repaired to London, to try his fortune whom that branch of machinery is in- under the auspices of Bolton and debted for many important improve- Watt. Shortly after his arrival, the ments. Mr. Meicle, who had long Albion mill was undertaken ; and as been intimate with the family of Ren- his employers were unacquainted with nie, on finding the children deprived its management, and particularly 30 of their father, to evince his attach- with the grinding department, which ment, undertook to instruct the young- | Mr. Rennie perfectly understood, the er son in a knowledge of his profes superintendence of the whole devolved sion. Whether the lad at this time on his integrity, attention, and abilimanifested any dawnings of superior ties; and it was finally completed by genius, which attracted the attention him to the satisfaction of his employers. of Mr. Meicle, we have not been in- Shortly after the Albion mills were formed. Be this, however, as it may, finished, the machinery of Whitthe offer was deemed advantageous, bred's Brewery was undertaken, and as Mr. Meicle was at this time in the finished also under Mr. Rennie's direczenith of his popularity, and was con tion. These works gained him a considered as one of the first practical siderable degree of fame; and as his millwrights that either England or reputation was now becoming someScotland could produce. A bargain what established, he thought this a fabeing made, young Rennie entered vourable moment to commence busion liis employment, and continued ness for himself in the metropolis of with his master about six years, dur- the British empire. ing which time he applied himself: To render this crisis the more invitwith so much assiduity, that on the ing, several circumstances at this time expiration of the term, he was com concurred; among which, the recent pletely master of his trade. In addi death of Mr. Smeaton, the celebrated tion to this, as modelling was taught engineer, was one of much imporby Mr. Meicle, young Rennie had tance, his death having left a vacancy also made a considerable proficiency in this department of science. A new in this branch; and so ardent was his power had also been just discovered, desire to obtain a complete knowledge and applied to machinery; but being of its scientific principles, that he was in its infancy, the extent of its influ
Memoir of the Life of John Rennie.
ence was at present unknown. Mr. | testimony to the greatness of his mind, Repnie was connected with the pa- and to the success of his perseverance, tentee, and under bis immediate pro- in each of which he may be said to tection; he was therefore surrounded have stood without a rival. with the prospect of advantages which If we compare the works of Mr. might never agaia occur, and under Rennie with the greatest exploits of their combined auspices he announced the best French engineers, his fame his intentions to the pablic. It was will acquire new lustre from the comalso much about this time that be parison. What are the Cassoons of formed an acquaintance with Mr. Ro-Cherburg, when placed in competition bert Grazier, by whom he was in- with the breakwater of Plymouth? structed in the canal business, and What is the canal of the Ourke, when taught the method of introducing and measured with any one cut under his carrying through Parliament, bills for direction ? And what is the bridge of the cutting of canals, and the con- Neuilly, when compared with that of structing of bridges.
Waterloo? The decided superiority At the age of twenty-five, Mr. Ren of Mr. Rennie's works is acknowledgnie married a Miss Mackintosh, by ed by every liberal Frenchman. whom, in process of time, he bad It was reserved for the genios of nine children, six of whom have sor- Mr. Repnie to contend with, and to vived their parents, Mrs. Rennie dy-bind in chains, the elements of nature. ing a few years since; and it is proba- The violence of rapid torrents be conble that two of them will succeed their fined within specifie boundaries; the father in his business, and all that violence of the most boisterous seas station in the ranks of public utility, he has subdued; and on the frontiers in which he acquired such distinguish- of harbours, which were previously ed honours.
dangerous, he has planted safety. In the year 1794, Mr. Rennie took Districts of fruitful land he has rescued his stand at the head of the civil engi from the incursions of the ocean ; and neers of this country, which station he by draining bogs, he has driven pesticontinued to occupy until the day of lence from the once stagnant marsh. his death. Daring this interval, He has levelled hills in some places, scarcely any work of magnitude and and in others tied them together by importance was undertaken, in which aqueducts and arches, and thus renhe was not engaged ; and it is to his dered the wild elements of nature subgenius and persevering application servient to the conveniencies of man. that England is indebted for those To the various works in which he scientific labours, in which it claims awas engaged, be applied all his ta. decided superiority over those of other lents; and as his labours were for poscountries. Capals, bridges, barbours, terity, he disdained to avail himself of wet docks, and machines of almost those mean artifices by which too many every description, came within the make dishonourable fortunes, by giv, range of his powers, which at the ing an imposing exterior to his labours same time gave directions to several which the most rigorous scrutiny of workmen who were constantly em the concealed parts would not most ployed in the more immediate line of amply justify. This was the line of his profession, as a mill-wright. conduct which he pursued in all his
Among his public works, Ramsgate private concerns, and on public works harbour, the London docks, Water- wbich were placed ander his direction, loo and Southwark bridges, and the he compelled those whom he employed breakwater at Plymouth, will band his to adhere to the same principle. An name to posterity. But the Bell Rock enforcement of this, in connection with ligbt-house, constructed on the same his various avocations, so fully occuprinciple as the Eddystone Light-pied his time, that on his visiting house by Mr. Smeaton, will, per- France for a short period in the year haps, be considered as the greatest | 1816, he declared it to be the first reeffort of his masterly genius. Although laxation from unremitting labour these works form only a small part of he had taken for nearly thirty years. his labours, they are sufficient monu- Accustomed to rise early, he frements of bis glory, to crown him with quently made appointments at five in immortality among his fellow men. the morning, and it was very rarely Various parts of the kingdom bear that he became disengaged from busi
Memoirs of the Life of John Rennie.
ness until nine at night. In all his un- immediate friends and family connecdertakinys, punctuality, order, and tions, between twenty and thirty indiregularity, were his invariable maxims, viduals, distinguished in the various which were not merely adopted in the walks of science for their illustrious ory, butexemplified in his practice. acquirements and scientific abilities, As a master, he was obeyed by all in attended on the solemn occasion. his employment, from an acknowledg Proceeding to St. Paul's cathedral, ment of his superior talents, and this where the interment took place, the was accompanied with a respect that corpse was taken from the hearse at always enforced submission.
the bottom of the steps, and, followed It has sometimes been said, that in by sixty mourners, was carried into his estimates he was generally too low the little chapel on the north side of the for the gigantic works which he under-church, and finally interred in a vault took and accomplished, especially, as at the east end, and on the south side in the execution of his designs, he of the building, near the tomb of the spared no labour or expense. Some late Lord Collingwood. who have thus blamed him, would Mr. Rennie, in his person, was tall no doubt have pursued a different and well made, possessing an agreemode of conduct, but Mr. Rennie found able countenance and an affable adno occasion to resort to such expedients dress. Advancing in years, this affato amass wealth, for by his own pru- bility settled into a serious habit, but dential maxims, and practical econo- | his native cheerfulness never degene. my, he contrived to realize a consider rated into a gloomy reserve. In all able fortune, which he has left to ap bis dealings, uprightness and integrity accomplished family to enjoy.
marked his conduct ; nor was he ever Engaged in business which allowed known to resort to dishonourable exno intermission, Mr. Rennie had no pedients, to induce his employers to time to devote to literature. He has undertake works of importance. On therefore left no memoirs behind him, such occasions he always set before nor any documents by which his ta- them a full view of the various oblents in the departments of letters may stacles they would have to surmount, be estimated. He was, however, and the difficulties they must encounter. elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, Mr. Rennie cultivated his art with and no doubt, had he been ambitious of the most enthusiastic ardour, but infarther honours, he might easily bave stead of being a mere theorist, he preobtained them, from his talents, and pared himself for practical efficiency commanding connections.
by visiting, and minutely inspecting in Raised from a comparatively hum- every country all works of magnitude ble situation, by his own intrinsic merit that bore any similitude to those in and persevering industry, to the which he was engaged, or might probigbest eminence in the scientific probably be called on to construct. Hence fession which he pursued, he was al- his library abounds in a richer collecways ready to assist by his superior tion of scientific writings, than that of talents every effort of genius strag any other individual. gling with adversity in humble life, As a millwright, society is indebted without betraying those jealousies and to him for showing how the power of suspicions which characterize ignoble water may be most advantageously minds.
applied. He has given an increase of Mr. Rennie, after a long illness, energy to the natural fall of streams from which he bad partially recovered, by their specific gravity, and made his suffering an unexpected relapse, paid mills equal to four-fold the produce of the debt of nature at his house in those, wbich before his time depended Stamford-street, Blackfriars, on the solely on the impetuosity of the cur4th of October, 1821, in his 61st year. rent. His mills of the greatest magni
His funeral was attended with con- tude work as smoothly as clock work, siderable pomp. A hearse drawp by and by the alternate contact of wood six horses, sixteen mourning coaches, J and iron, the machinery is less liable and nineteen private carriages, se- | to take fire from friction. veral of which were drawn by four | Mr. John Rennie may justly be shores, graced the procession. Among ranked among the benefactors of manthose who honoured the funeral with kind ; and as such, his death must be their presence, in addition to his own considered as a national calamity.