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John Pender

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Sir John Pender (1816-1896) textile merchant and telegraph entrepreneur.

1816 September 10th. Born at Bonhill, Dunbartonshire, Scotland, the second child of James Pender, textile merchant of the Vale of Leven, Dunbartonshire, and his wife, Marion.

Educated at the village school, then at Glasgow high school, where he received a gold medal for design.

He followed his father's trade, and by the age of twenty-one was the manager of a Glasgow textile firm, before embarking as a textile trader on his own account.

Established himself in Glasgow, and then in Manchester, soon developed an extensive trade in fabrics to China, India, and the East, which brought him considerable wealth.

1840 He married Marion (d.1841), and they had a son, James.

1851 He married Emma (d.1890) and they had two sons, Henry and John, and two daughters.

1856 When a transatlantic cable was proposed, he was among those who invested in the new Atlantic Telegraph Co, formed in October.

1858 After various failures, a cable was successfully laid in the summer but, although messages were passed, the link soon deteriorated. It failed after a few months, and never carried commercial traffic. Work continued - to improve both the cables and the associated telegraph apparatus, and Pender retained his interest in the affair.

1864 In April, he brought together the firms of Glass, Elliot and Co, cable manufacturers, and the Gutta Percha Co, makers of insulated cable core, to found the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co (TCM), under his chairmanship. Pender and his co-director Daniel Gooch, who was also a director of the Great Western Railway and of the company that owned the ship Great Eastern, raised funds, and made an offer to the Atlantic Telegraph Co to make and lay a new transatlantic cable, chartering the Great Eastern as the only vessel large enough to carry the 2500 nautical miles of cable needed to span the ocean between Ireland and Newfoundland.

1865 Laying commenced in the summer, but was brought to a stop when the cable was lost in deep water. At this critical point, Pender offered his personal guarantee of £250,000 and a new cable was manufactured.

1866 The new cable was successfully laid, much of the lost cable was recovered, and a second crossing completed.

1868 Gooch took over the chairmanship of TCM, leaving Pender to form the group of companies which were to link England with much of the rest of the world.

1868/9 Formed a second telegraph company - the Falmouth, Gibraltar and Malta Telegraph Co. He reorganized the four companies involved in the link to India: the British-Indian Submarine Telegraph Co, the Falmouth, Gibraltar and Malta Telegraph Co, the Marseilles, Algiers and Malta Telegraph Co, and the Anglo-Mediterranean Telegraph Co.

1870 The line to India was completed and celebration was held, in June, at Pender's house in London. The first messages were simply ‘How are you?’, to which came the reply ‘All well’. This exchange took less than five minutes, when communication with India had previously taken several months. Some 700 guests thronged Pender's house and the pavilion erected in his courtyard, ranging in status from the royalty of England and India through assorted European nobility and diplomats, naval officers, and other such people of note.

1872 Formed the Eastern Telegraph Co, which absorbed numerous smaller companies and played an important role in the defence and prosperity of the United Kingdom. He came to preside over companies capitalized to nearly £15 million and operating over 73,000 nautical miles of cable. Eastern ultimately became the largest submarine telegraph company in the world.

The importance of Indian cotton to the mills of the North of England was well known to John Pender, whose company, John Pender and Co, still traded in cotton goods. Hence the number of cables laid over the years. Perim was a coaling station for ships heading to and returning from India, the Far East and Australasia and much telegraphic traffic was generated from there. As ships converted to oil its importance waned.

In his later years he was chairman of the Metropolitan Electric Supply Co, the largest undertaking of its kind, concerned himself with the electric lighting of London.

He sat in parliament as Liberal member for Totnes in 1862–6, but was unseated on petition. In 1868 he unsuccessfully contested Linlithgowshire, but was returned for the Wick burghs, as a Liberal from 1872 to 1885 and as a Liberal Unionist from 1892 to 1896, when he resigned. He unsuccessfully contested the Wick burghs in 1885, the Stirling burghs and Wick burghs in 1886, and Govan in 1889.

1888 When he was made a KCMG, the earl of Derby presided at a grand banquet in his honour, held in the Hotel Metropole, and presented to Lady Pender a portrait of Sir John by Hubert Herkomer RA.

1892 He was promoted to GCMG. He held many foreign orders, among them the Légion d'honneur and the grand cordon of the Mejidiye. He was also a fellow of the Imperial Institute, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of the Royal Geographical Society, and of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries.

Hee had few outside interests, apart from yachting. He held a very fine collection of porcelain, pictures, and fine art, which after his death took some eight days to pass under the hammer at Christies. A lavish privately published catalogue of 1894 detailed the oils, watercolours, drawings, and sculpture at his home in Arlington Street, Piccadilly, and at Foots Cray Place, his country seat in Kent.

1896 July 7th. Died at Foots Cray and buried in the parish churchyard.

His son James sat as MP for Mid-Northamptonshire from 1895 to 1900, and was created a baronet in 1897; Henry died in 1881; and the youngest son, John Cuthbert Denison-Pender, followed in his father's footsteps, becoming manager, director, or chairman of numerous telegraph and cable companies. The younger daughter, Marion Denison, married Sir George William des Voeux, a colonial governor.


1896 Obituary [1]



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Sources of Information

  1. Engineering 1896 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index