Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Rendel, George Wightwick

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1553391Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 3 — Rendel, George Wightwick1912W. F. Spear

RENDEL, GEORGE WIGHTWICK (1833–1902), civil engineer, was the second son in the family or four sons and three daughters of James Meadows Rendel [q. v.] by his wife Catherine Jane Harris. Born at Plymouth on 6 Feb. 1833, he was educated at Harrow. On leaving school he lived for three years with Sir William (afterwards Lord) Armstrong at Newcastle in order to study engineering. He subsequently received his final training as an engineer in his father's office. As an assistant to his father, he was engaged on the building of the superstructure of the large bridges on the East Indian railway across the Ganges and Jmnna at Allahabad. Like his younger brothers Stuart (afterwards Lord Rendel) and Hamilton Owen {d. 1902), George became in 1858 a partner in the firm of Sir William Armstrong & Co. at Elswick, and for twenty-four years, in conjunction with Sir Andrew Noble, he directed the ordnance works there.

During his twenty-four years at Elswick Rendel took a prominent part in the development of the construction and armament of ships of war, especially in the design of gun-mountings. To him is due the hydraulic system of mounting and working heavy guns, which was first tried in the fore-turret of H.M.S. Thunderer when she was re-armed before her completion in 1877. The experiment proved very successful, and about the same time the Temeraire was fitted with a special type of barbette mounting designed by Rendel. Another type was used in the Admiral class of battleships; and, with various improvements suggested by experience, his hydraulic system has been used for all the later warships of the British navy, as well as in some foreign navies. Rendel was one of the first (if not the first) in England to apply forced draught to war-vessels other than torpedo-boats, namely, in two cruisers built for the Chinese and one for the Japanese government in 1879. In 1881-2 he designed for the Chilian and Chinese governments a series of 1350-ton unarmoured 16-knot cruisers, carrying comparatively powerful armaments, protection being afforded by light steel decks and by coal-bunkers. Immediately afterwards he built for the Chilian navy the unarmoured protected cruiser Esmeralda (displacement 3000 tons, speed 18 knots per hour). He thus is responsible for the introduction into the navies of the world of the cruiser class, intermediate between armour-clad men-of-war and the wholly unprotected war vessel. He further designed the twin-screw gunboats of the Staunch class, most of which were built at the Armstrong yard, and numerous similar gunboats for the Chinese navy.

In 1871 Rendel was appointed by the British government a member of the committee on designs of ships of war; and he was also a member of the committee appointed in Aug. 1877 to consider questions relating to the design of the Inflexible.

Rendel was elected a member of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1879, and became vice-president of that society in 1882. He was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1863, and in 1874 he contributed to its ’Proceedings' (xxxviii. 85) a paper on 'Gun-Carriages and Mechanical Appliances for working Heavy Ordnance,' for which he was awarded a Watt medal and Telford premium.

In March 1882 Rendel left the Armstrong firm to become an extra professional civil lord of the admiralty, while Lord Northbrook was first lord. The post was a new one, and the admission of 'a practical man of science' to the admiralty board was generally commended. Rendel resigned the office when Lord Northbrook retired in July 1885, owing to ill-health. In 1887 he rejoined the Armstrong firm. He and Admiral Count Albini became the managing directors in Italy of the Armstrong Pozzuoli Company, and Rendel took up his residence at Posilippo, near Naples. In the winter of 1887 he vainly offered his house there to the Emperor Frederick, who, then stricken by fatal illness, was recommended to try the air of South Italy. The recommendation, which came too late, brought Rendel the close friendship of the Empress, which lasted till her death. At Naples, too, Rendel formed a cordial intimacy with Lord Rosebery.

While he lacked the commercial instinct and had no great gift as an organiser, Rendel combined lucidity of intellect and general sagacity with an exceptionally fertile faculty of invention. He received the Spanish order of Carlos III in 1871, and the order of the Cross of Italy in 1876. He died at Sandown, Isle of Wight, on 9 Oct. 1902, and by his widow's wish, although he was not a member of the Roman catholic church, was buried at Kensal Green Roman catholic cemetery.

He was twice married: (1) on 13 Dec. 1859, at Brighton, to Harriet (1837-1877), third daughter of Joseph Simpson, British vice-consul at Cronstadt; by her he had five sons; (2) on 17 March 1880, at Rome, to Licinia, daughter of Giuseppe Pinelli of Rome, and had issue three sons and a daughter.

A portrait painted by H. Hudson and a bust by Mr. Alfred Gilbert are in the widow's possession. Lord Rendel owns a replica of the bust.

[Men of the Time, 1899; Minutes of Proc. Inst. Civ. Eng. cli. 421; Trans. Inst. Naval Arch. xlv. 332; Engineering, 17 Oct. 1902; information from Lord Rendel.]

W. F. S.