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John Rennie manuscripts

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 21

Scope and Contents

The collection is comprised of eleven original manuscripts on the History of Civil Engineering by John Rennie. Volume IV is missing from the collection. The manuscripts document the history of the civil engineering profession from its commencement in Great Britain up to the middle of the 19th century.


  • 1839 - 1850


Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Access Information

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Some material in this collection are in the public domain, while other material copyrights are held by Purdue University. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

Biographical Information

John Rennie was born on 30 August 1794 in London, second son of civil engineer, John Rennie (1761-1821), and younger brother of George Rennie (1791-1866). Following his education at Isleworth and at Greenwich, he entered his father's manufactory in Holland Street, London, where he acquired a practical knowledge of civil engineering. In 1815, he assisted his father in the construction of Southwark Bridge, later travelling abroad to study the great engineering works in Europe in 1819. On the death of his father in 1821, he remained in partnership with his brother George, conducting the civil engineering portion of the business. Using plans that had been prepared by his father, Rennie completed the construction of London Bridge, which was opened in 1831, the year in which he was knighted.

Rennie succeeded his father as engineer to the Admiralty, completing various works at Sheerness, Woolwich, Plymouth, Ramsgate, and the great breakwater at Plymouth, of which he published an account in 1848. He spent much of his career making additions and alterations to various harbours on different parts of the coast, both in England and in Ireland. He completed the drainage works in the Lincolnshire fens commenced by his father, and, in conjunction with Thomas Telford, constructed the Nene outfall near Wisbech from 1826 until 1831. Between 1827 and 1828, he restored the harbour of Boston, and made various improvements on the Welland. Rennie was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1844, becoming its president in 1845. In 1852, he laid out a system of railways in Sweden, for which he received the order of Gustavus Vasa. Retiring circa 1862, he died on 3 September 1874 at Bengeo, near Hertford.

The purpose behind the writing of the manuscripts contained in this collection are best summarized by Rennie himself, in the Autobiography of Sir John Rennie: “When President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, during the years 1845-6-7, I drew up detailed reports of the history of the profession from its commencement in Great Britain up to that time, showing what had been done in every department, by whom, and at what date. These reports are piib- lished in their 'Transactions.' Subsequent presidents have to some extent adopted a similar course ; but with all due respect to them, they have not taken that large and scientific view of the profession of a civil engineer which it is imperatively necessary to adopt in order to keep the profession up to that high tone which its importance requires, not only for its own credit, but for the benefit of the world at large. Perhaps there is no profession (with all proper respect to others) that has conferred so much benefit upon mankind as that of the civil engineer. Its objects are clearly defined in the two mottoes belonging to the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, which was the first of the kind established in this country, having originated with Smeaton, Mylne, and my father, namely, " Omnia numero pondere et mensurd;" Civ v(rei KpaTouires r^XvJ) vi^atficOa. Up to that date the profession of a civil engineer may be said to have been unknown in Great Britain; previous to that time we were simply known as "vulgar mechanics" — men who toiled with their hands, as masons, bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths, &c. But those who so called us would have entertained a very different idea of the " mechanics" if they had been forced to dispense with their services. Let me ask how could the various and complicated operations which alone render modern trade, and therefore modern civilization, possible, be carried on without the aid of the mechanic, alias the civil engineer ?” Source(s): Rennie, Sir John (1875), Autobiography of Sir John Rennie, F.R.S., past president of the Institution of civil engineers. London, New York: E & F.N. Spon..

Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Retrieved September 4, 2009 from


0.80 Cubic Feet

2.00 mss._boxes

Arrangement Note

This collection is arranged by volume number.

Acquisition Information

Transferred from the W.F.M. Goss Room in the Seigesmund Engineering Library on January 3, 2009.
John Rennie manuscripts
In Progress
Mary A. Sego, 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
Second edition

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

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West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States