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The Scottish Nation

RENNIE, GEORGE, an eminent agriculturist, was born on the farm of Phantassie, in the county of Haddington, in 1749. His father, James Rennie, a respectable farmer, was one of the most active promoters of agricultural improvements in his day, and his brother, John Rennie, was the celebrated civil engineer, of whom a short notice follows. He early exhibited indications of that activity, penetration, and intelligence, for which he was remarkable in after years. When scarcely sixteen, his father sent him to Tweedside to make a survey of the state of agriculture in that part of the country, where several gentlemen, among whom were Lord Kames, Hume of Ninewells, Renton of Lammerton, Fordyce of Ayton, and others, had commenced a system of extensive improvement of their own estates; and here his powers of observation enabled him to obtain much of that practical knowledge which afterwards rendered him so distinguished. In 1765 he was intrusted with the superintendence of a brewery, erected by his father on the ground afterwards occupied by the Linton distillery; but Mr. Rennie, senior, dying the following year, the establishment was relinquished, and in 1770 was let to a tenant. In 1783 he again undertook the management of the works, and commenced the business of distilling on a large scale. The distillery remained in his hands until 1797, when the whole work was let on lease. His reputation as a successful agriculturist had, in the meantime, become known over Scotland, and in 1787 he caused Mr. Meikle, the inventor of the drum thrashing machine, one of the most important discoveries which the agricultural art owes to mechanical genius, to erect on the Phantassie property, the first machine in the county worked with horses, the only previous one being that of Mr. Meikle himself, at Knowsmill, near Tyningham, which was impelled by water. The merit of this useful discovery being disputed by several persons, Mr. Rennie came forward in vindication of his friend Meikle, who was then between eighty and ninety years of age, and completely established his claim to the invention, in a letter originally inserted in a pamphlet by Mr. Sheriff, entitled, ‘A Reply to an Address to the Public, but more particularly to the Landed Interest of Great Britain and Ireland, on the subject of the Thrashing Machine.’ Mr. Rennie died October 6, 1828. His son, George Rennie, at one period governor of the Falkland Islands, and in 1841 elected M.P. for Ipswich, died March 22, 1860. In early life he devoted himself to sculpture, and produced at Rome some remarkable works, one of which, the ‘Grecian Archer,’ he presented to the Athenaeum Club.

RENNIE, JOHN, a celebrated engineer, brother of the preceding, and uncle of governor Rennie, was born on the farm of Phantassie, East Lothian, June 7, 1761. He acquired the rudiments of his education at the parish school, and after being for two years with Mr. Andrew Meikle, an eminent millwright, he was sent to the school of Dunbar. On the promotion of the master to Perth Academy, the latter recommended him as his successor; but preferring mechanical employment, he soon resumed his labours with Mr. Meikle. After acting for a short time on his own account, in 1783, he was induced to remove to London, and soon after was employed by Messrs. Boulton and Watt in the construction of two steam engines, and the machinery connected therewith, at the Albion flour mills, near Blackfriars Bridge; which in 1791 were unfortunately destroyed by willful fire. He was next engaged in superintending the construction of the new machinery of Whitbread’s brewery, the execution of which increased his reputation. Having commenced business for himself as a civil engineer, GTP, 1794 HE WAS REGARDED AS STANDING AT THE HEAD OF THE PROFESSION IN Great Britain, and was connected with every public work of magnitude in the kingdom. Canals, bridges, harbours, wet docks, and machines of every description, were extensively executed from his designs, and under his direction. Among his principal works may be mentioned Ramsgate harbour; Waterloo and Southwark bridges, London; the London docks, and the East and West India docks, at Blackwall; the Prince’s dock at Liverpool; the docks at Hull, Dublin, Greenock, and Leith, and the breakwater at Plymouth, with several similar structures, where submarine masonry was carried to the utmost perfection. The greatest effort of his genius is generally considered to be the Bell Rock lighthouse, constructed on the same principle as that on the Eddystone rocks, erected by Smeaton. He built the stone bridges at Kelso, Musselburgh, and other places in Scotland, and the iron bridge over the Witham in Lincolnshire, and superintended the formation of the Grand Western canal, and the execution of the Aberdeen canal which unites the Dee and the Don, as well as other canals in different parts of the country. Before his death he had given plans for improving the docks at Sheerness, which were executed by his sons, George and John, afterwards Sir John Rennie, architect, who was knighted in 1831. He also furnished the designs for the new London bridge, the charge of the construction of which was intrusted to Sir John Rennie, who, in 1831, finished that magnificent structure.

Mr. Rennie was remarkable for his steady resolution and perseverance, and for his indefatigable industry. On going to France for a short time in 1816, he declared it to be the first relaxation he had taken for nearly thirty years. He married in 1789, and had four sons and two daughters. He died of inflammation of the liver, October 16, 1821, and was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

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