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RINA founder's final resting place

RINA Founder

John Scott Russell (he took “Scott” as his middle name), founder of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, was born in Glasgow in 1808, and spent his career at the intersection of science and engineering in the heady years of Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Unusually for the era, he was both university-educated in mathematics, and apprenticed as a steam carriage maker, after which in 1838 he went into the shipbuilding business.

 

He studied wave physics and developed the ‘wave-line’ principle for hull design, which became the basis for the clipper ships and fast racing yachts of the mid-19th  century. He was most famous for building the passenger ship Great Eastern starting in 1853, under contract with Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

 

In 1860, he proposed the establishment of the Institution of Naval Architects – it became ‘Royal’ in 1960 – and was one of its first vice presidents. Several years later he helped lead the successful drive to establish Britain’s first permanent School of Naval Architecture, in London. Russell’s remarkable life was chronicled by George S. Emmerson (1977) and more recently by Andrew Lambert (2011).

 

Despite his achievements, stature and notoriety – he lived in the posh London suburb of Crystal Palace, and was good friends with Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame – Russell was never offered a knighthood, and gradually saw his fortune wither away. In 1881 after a long illness, Russell and his wife Harriet sold their home and moved to Inkerman Villa on St Boniface Road in Ventnor, Isle of Wight.

 

He died there on Thursday morning 8 June, 1882, aged 74. He was buried in plot F, grave number 902 of the Ventnor Cemetery, whose entrance is on Newport Road, where it intersects Down Lane. His wife was buried next to him, six years later. His grave was marked by a simple stone cross, whose weathered inscription “In Loving Memory of John Scott Russell” is now barely visible under the lichens and moss.

 

It would be a mark of respect for RINA or one of its  chapters to attend to Russell’s gravesite, restoring its dignity as the final resting place of the society’s founder.

 

Larrie D. Ferreiro's book 'Bridging the Seas: The Rise of Naval Architecture in the Industrial Age, 1800–2000', is published by MIT Press.