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George Wightwick Rendel

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1868. Gun boat Staunch.
1870. Carriage and Slide for Heavy Guns.

George Wightwick Rendel (1833-1902), partner in W. G. Armstrong and Co

1833 February 6th. Born the son of James Meadows Rendel and his wife Catherine Jane Harris. He was named after George Wightwick, a lifelong friend of his father.

Educated at Harrow, but ran away in 1849

Working for his father, at first on the Great Grimsby Royal docks, then in company with his elder brother Lewis Rendel on the eastern breakwater and new Admiralty pier at Holyhead, he was well prepared for an apprenticeship to his father's great friend, William Armstrong, at his Elswick engine works. He lived with Armstrong at his house in Jesmond for three years before completing his engineering education at his father's London office.

1856 His father died and the brothers George, Stuart and Hamilton all joined Armstrong's company, while Alexander took over the family business

1859 Sir William Armstrong formed the Elswick Ordnance Co in order to supply guns for the British Army. Armstrong had been appointed as Engineer of Rifled Ordnance to the War Department, and to avoid a conflict of interests, he had no financial interest in the new company. George Rendel was one of three partners in the business, along with George Cruddas and Richard Lambert. Armstrong had been helped in his early career by James Meadows Rendel, and treated his son as a protégé.

1860 December 13th. Married(1) Harriet, daughter of Joseph Simpson, the British vice-consul at Kronstadt. They had five sons before her death in 1878.

1861 George Rendel 28, mechanical engineer in the ordnance works at Elswick, lived in Newcastle upon Tyne, with his wife Harriet Rendel 25; his brother Alexander Meadows Rendel was visiting at the time of the census[1]

1864 the Elswick Ordnance Company was merged with Armstrong’s original company to form Sir W G Armstrong and Company. George Rendel was one of seven partners in the new company, and was in joint charge of the ordnance departments, together with Andrew Noble.

1867 Armstrong signed an agreement with a local shipbuilder, Charles Mitchell, whereby Mitchell’s shipyard would build warships and Armstrong’s company would provide the armaments. George Rendel was put in charge of the new venture and he designed the early ships produced by it. These were the Rendel gunboats (or "flat-iron gunboats" after their physical similarity to a contemporary flat iron) produced for the British Admiralty as well as for Italy, Brazil and Chile. The first of these was HMS Staunch, delivered in 1868.

Armstrong’s Elswick yard became well known for its construction of cruisers, and Rendel designed many of these. He designed a series of 1,350 ton unarmoured 16 knot cruisers for the Chinese (Chaoyong and Yangwei) and Chilean navies.

Following this, together with Armstrong, he designed the world’s first protected cruiser, the prototype being the Esmeralda. The design had an arched steel protective deck running from stem to stern just below the waterline. All of the vital parts of the ship were placed below the protective deck. The ship also had cork-filled cellular compartments to aid with buoyancy. The Esmeralda was built for Chile, but was bought by the Japanese and became the Izumi. The Japanese navy in particular took several Rendel-designed cruisers, with which they defeated the Russian navy at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.

Rendel and Alfred Yarrow pioneered the use of forced-draught fans in boiler rooms, significantly increasing the power of marine steam engines at minimal cost in weight or volume.

Rendel worked on the design of large naval guns, using hydraulics to reduce the number of men required to work the guns and the space required. This was first tried on HMS Thunderer, which was able to have 38-ton guns fitted, instead of the 35-ton guns originally planned. His hydraulic systems were subsequently used in all Royal Navy ships as well as the ships of several foreign navies.

In 1871 Rendel was appointed a member of the British government committee on warship design. He played a major role in the 1877 design of the innovative 11,880 tons displacement HMS Inflexible, which was notable for being the first major warship to depend in part for the protection of her buoyancy by a horizontal armoured deck below the water-line rather than armoured sides along the waterline. She was packed with other new features: her guns weighed 80 tons each; she carried the thickest armour ever to have been carried by a British warship, at 24 inches (61 cm); great attention was paid to her damaged stability to ensure she could absorb damage and remain upright and buoyant.

1880 Married(2) Lucinia Pinelli, and had three sons and a daughter. His son George went on to become the diplomat Sir George William Rendel.

1882 Rendel resigned from Armstrong’s company when Armstrong decided to make Andrew Noble sole manager of the Ordnance Department. Rendel disliked Noble, as did his brothers, who also worked for Armstrong.

1882 He was invited to become an extra-professional Civil Lord of the Admiralty, but retired from this post due to ill-health in 1885

188 He was persuaded to rejoin Armstrongs to manage a new armaments factory, built as a subsidiary, at Pozzuoli, near Naples in Italy.

1900 Armstrong died, and Andrew Noble succeeded him as chairman of the company, now known as Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. After Armstrong’s death, the old acrimony between the Rendels and Andrew Noble came to the fore, with George and his brothers criticising Noble’s management of the company. The dispute between the two sides was not resolved until several years after George’s death.

In 1863 he was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the following year his paper "Gun carriages and mechanical appliances for working of heavy ordnance" was awarded the Watt medal. He was awarded the Spanish Order of Charles III in 1871, and the order of the Cross of Italy in 1876. He was elected as a member of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1879, and became vice-president in 1882.

Rendel retired to "Broadlands", his home in Sandown, Isle of Wight. He used a wheelchair for the last two years of his life.

1902 October 9th. Died at home and, although not a Roman Catholic, was at his own request buried at the St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery at Kensal Green in London

1903 Obituary [2]

GEORGE WIGHTWICH RENDEL, son of the late James Meadows Rendel, Past-President, was born in 1832, and was educated at Harrow and in his father’s office, where he subsequently took an important part in connection with the superstructures of the great bridges on the East Indian Railway across the Ganges and the Jumna at Allahabad.

In 1858 he became a partner in the firm of Sir William Armstrong and Company, and for twenty-four years directed, in conjunction with Sir Andrew Noble, the Elswick Ordnance Works. During that period he took a prominent part in the development of guns and ships of war.

He devised the system of hydraulic machinery for mounting and working heavy guns subsequently adopted in all the later ironclads of the British Navy and in certain vessels of the Italian fleet.

In 1881 he designed and directed the building of the first 'Esmeralda' for the Chilian Government, the swiftest and most powerful unarmoured protected cruiser of her time, which became a type of unarmoured cruisers, and also the gunboat 'Staunch' for the British Government, and the numerous gunboats, of which she was the original, known as the 'alphabetical gunboats' and built on the Tyne for the Chinese Government.

Mr. Rendel was a member of the Committee on Designs of Ships of War, appointed by the British Government in 1871, to settle the types of British ironclads to be constructed, and of the Committee appointed in 1877 to decide on the questions with reference to the design of the “Inflexible” raised by Sir Edward Reed.

In March, 1882, Mr. Rendel severed his connection with the Elswick firm to become professional Civil Lord of the Admiralty, which office, however, he resigned three years later.

In 1887 he again joined the Elswick Company, and he and Admiral Count Albini acted as the directors in Italy of the Armstrong Pozzuoli Company.

Mr. Rendel was elected a Member of the Institution on the 14th April, 1863. In 1874 he contributed to the Proceedings an account of the work which had been done at Elswick in the form of a Paper entitled, “Gun-Carriages and Mechanical Appliances for working Heavy Ordnance.”

Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement

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 and 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.

1902 Obituary [3]

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