Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

John Scott Russell: Obituaries

From Graces Guide

Note: This is a sub-section of John Scott Russell


1887 Obituary - ICE [1]

JOHN SCOTT RUSSELL, F.R.S., died at Ventnor on the 8th of June, 1882, after a long illness. He was born in the year 1808, and was thus the contemporary of Robert Stephenson, of the younger Brunel, of John Penn, and of most of the great engineers who have made this century illustrious.

He was the only son of the Rev. David Russell, a Scotch minister, by his first marriage. His birth-place was Parkhead, near Glasgow, and he was destined by his father for the church, and was educated accordingly.

Early in life, however, he showed a great leaning towards science and practical mechanics, and eventually obtained permission to abandon the clerical education, and fit himself to become an engineer. He does not appear to have ever served a regular apprenticeship. His first knowledge of practical work and of the use of tools was gained in the village blacksmith's shop adjoining his father's house, where he worked with all the greater assiduity, because his studies were at first discouraged in every way possible.

His scientific education was excellent, and as complete as could be obtained at that day. It was indeed in the extent of his theoretical knowledge that John Scott Russell was most distinguished amongst the engineers of his day. He studied at the Universities of St. Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and graduated at the latter place at the early age of sixteen. He completed his knowledge of practical handicraft by working during his vacations and leisure hours at the factories of various mechanics and millwrights.

His career was remarkable and varied. He was by turns, schoolmaster, University professor, experimentalist, ship- and engine-builder, secretary of a scientific society and of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and finally consulting-engineer and author.

He commenced supporting himself when he was eighteen years of age; but he does not appear to have at that period found an opening in the engineering profession, for, with one of his friends, he settled down in Edinburgh, and founded a preparatory school for the University, called the South Academy, which exists to this day. It was no doubt due to his early training in the art of instruction that he acquired that force and clearness of expression, which was one of his leading characteristics, and which never deserted him even when expounding the most difficult subjects.

While conducting the South Academy he was encouraged by the example of his old professor of geometry from St. Andrews, to commence science classes at Leith, and at Edinburgh University. Here he rapidly acquired great reputation as a lecturer and teacher.

His original method of treating difficult questions, and the simplicity and clearness of his exposition produced a deep effect on the students of the University, and it is stated of him, so great was his popularity, that when he commenced his second course of lectures, the class-rooms of his former master and actual rival, the St. Andrews professor, were rapidly emptied.

He continued this work of private tuition at Edinburgh for about six years, but at the same time he did not neglect the engineering profession, for during this period he was engaged in a series of experiments on steam-engines and boilers, and invented the system of staying the inner and outer shells of the flat surfaces of boilers which has since become universal.

In 1832 an event occurred which was the means of bringing young Scott Russell into general notice. Sir John Leslie, the well-known Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University, died; and, pending the election of a new professor, Scott Russell, though at the time only twenty-four years of age, was chosen to fill the vacancy ad interim. In this capacity he delivered a course of lectures on Natural Science to the students of the University.

Many of his friends urged him to offer himself as a candidate for the permanent professorship. Understanding, however, that Brewster, for whom he had the greatest admiration, stood a good chance of being elected, he declined to put himself in competition, and he persevered in this refusal even after it became known that Forbes was to be a candidate. Mr. Forbes was ultimately elected, and shortly afterwards Scott Russell's connection with University life in Edinburgh seems to have terminated.

He thenceforward devoted himself to the practice of the engineering profession, and to experimental research on a large scale. The year after he left Edinburgh University he appears to have been consulted by the directors of a Scotch Canal Company as to the practicability of introducing steam-propulsion on canals.

It was this incident which caused him for the first time to devote his attention to the great subject of the resistance which water opposes to the propulsion of floating bodies, with which his name came to be afterwards identified. In reply to the inquiry of the canal-directors, he stated, that neither he nor anybody else could give an opinion of any value on the subject; but, that he was prepared to investigate the subject experimentally, provided they would authorize him to do so, and would place a portion of the canal at his disposal for the purpose. This proposal was agreed to, and led to the undertaking of the series of experiments on the nature of waves, and on the resistance of water to the motion of floating bodies, which ultimately paved the way to the introduction of the modern system of naval architecture. This was in the year 1833, and he must have worked hard at his experiments, for in the following year he read his first Paper before the British Association, in which he deals with the resistance of fluids to the motion of floating bodies.

This was followed up by another Paper in the year 1835 on the laws of motion of floating bodies; but owing to the publication, at that period, of short and imperfect abstracts, only slight reference to these Papers appears in the Annual Reports. It is, however, easy to infer from the abstracts, that he had already made his first great discovery in wave-motion, that of the existence of travelling as distinguished from oscillating waves; for in the 1835 Paper he mentions that the motion of a floating body is much facilitated when its velocity is so great that it can travel on the summit of the wave which it has generated.

These remarks evidently refer to the propulsion of canal-boats, and the discovery of the travelling wave, or the wave of translation as he afterwards termed it, led to his introducing the system of express canal-boats, in which the boats were dragged by galloping horses on the summit of the waves which their motion generated in the canal, and at speeds corresponding to the natural velocities of such waves for the particular depth of water found in the canal.

The next year, at the Bristol meeting of the Association, Mr. Scott Russell and Sir John Robinson, Secretary to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, were appointed as committee to investigate the whole subject of waves. The following year, 1837, they presented their preliminary report, which was written by Mr. Scott Russell, and which is an excellent example of his clear reasoning-powers and literary ability. The report, which is very lengthy, contains the records of a series of observations on the ordinary waves of the sea, tidal-waves, and on the effect of river-estuaries in modifying the tidal-wave, waves generated in canals and other confined channels, together with the conclusions drawn from the observations.

In this report, Mr. Scott Russell describes in detail the wave of translation which he states that he discovered in 1834. At the same meeting of the Association he read three Papers of practical interest showing the applications of some of his discoveries. One was entitled, 'On the Mechanism of Waves in Relation to the Improvement of Steam-Navigation,' the second was 'On Improvements in Tidal Rivers,' and the the third 'On the Construction of Sea-walls and Embankments.' In the first of these Papers he dealt with the impediments to steam-navigation, due to the limited depth of most rivers and canals, and also announced, it is believed for the first time, his wave-line system of shaping the hulls of vessels for the purpose of diminishing the wave-making resistance. Owing to the unfortunate practice of the Association already referred to, of only publishing abstracts of their Papers, the announcement of this important discovery was condensed into a single sentence of under three lines of letter-press.

In the same year, however, he read, before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Paper 'On the Laws by which water opposes Resistance to the Motion of Floating Bodies,' for which he was presented with the gold medal of the Society, and was also elected a member of its council; he had at this time already been for some years a Fellow.

The final report on waves was presented at the York meeting of the Association held in 1844. It is an exhaustive and closely reasoned Paper of over eighty pages of letter-press copiously illustrated.

Before noticing the practical improvements which Mr. Scott Russell introduced into the structure and forms of ships, it should be mentioned that he presented to the British Association in the year 1842, a report on the forms of ships which contained the record of the almost incredible number of twenty thousand observations, the result of careful experiments on the resistance experienced by models of ships of more than a hundred different forms and sizes, and extending from small vessels of 30 inches long to vessels of 25 feet, 60 feet, and 200 feet long, and above 1,000 tons burden.

The Reports of the Association for the years 1843 and 1845, contain short abstracts of this Paper, which was never published in extenso on account of the expense that would have been involved.

It is, however, a matter for everlasting regret that, the original report has been lost, though the numerous plates which illustrated it still survive, together with tables of some of the results attained, and are now in the care of the Institution of Naval Architects.

In one of the short published abstracts of the report, in commenting upon previous experiments in the same direction made by others, Mr. Scott Russell objects to them, on the ground (amongst others) that at the time they were carried out, 'it had not been established by what law the results of experiments on one scale of magnitude are to be transferred to a different scale, either greater or less.'

From this it may be inferred that in his own experiments he was in the habit of using a law by which he applied the results of model experiments to actual ships. In the absence of the report itself it is impossible to decide. It is at any rate certain that in his own practice as a shipbuilder he was invariably guided by the results of experiments made on models. It must be acknowledged, that the great merit of having discovered and published the law in question belongs to the late Mr. W. Froude, M. Inst. C.E., who described it to the Institution of Naval Architects in the year 1874, thirty-two years after the date of Mr. Scott Russell’s report. The experiments, to the interpretation of which Mr. Froude applied his law, were the first systematically carried out since the publication of the abstract of Mr. Scott Russell’s report; and it is worthy of remark that all that is known on his methods of experimenting, in the absence of the original of the report, is obtained from his own remarks which followed the discussion of Mr. Froude’s Paper.

As may readily be supposed, Mr. Scott Russell was not long in applying the knowledge gained by his experiments to the practical business of naval architecture. His improvements in ship-design may be classified under two headings. First, those relating to the forms of ships, which were the direct result of his experiments on waves, and which took the direction of giving to the lines of the ship the forms that he found reduced the wave-making resistance to a minimum ; and second, improvements in the structural design, and distribution of the material in the hulls of iron ships.

The first vessels on the wave-line system were built in 1835, and were called the 'Skiff,' the 'Wave,' and the 'Storm,' and were followed in the next year by the 'Scott Russell,' the 'Flambeau' and the 'Fire King.' Mr. Scott Russell was, at this time, practically engaged in shipbuilding as manager to the yard which is now owned by Messrs. Caird & Co., of Greenock.

When the Royal Mail company were about to build a new fleet, he succeeded in inducing the directors to introduce his system into the construction of their vessels, four of the largest of which, viz., the 'Teviot,' the 'Tay,' the 'Clyde,' and the 'Tweed,' were designed and built by him.

The structural improvements which he introduced into the design of iron ships were numerous. The present system of plating the hull with alternate in-and-out strakes was first devised by him. Before he introduced this improvement iron ships were invariably either clinker- or flush-built. He also invented the longitudinal system of building, and was the first to introduce cellular double bottoms; and in conjunction with the late Mr. I. E. Brunel, V.P. Inst. C.E., he borrowed from bridge-builders the idea of making a ship into a huge box girder by the use of a continuous iron deck. The longitudinal system was made use of in the construction of the 'Storm,” mentioned above, which was the second iron vessel built by Mr. Scott Russell. This vessel was constructed without a single frame, the transverse strength being provided for by complete watertight bulkheads, spaced apart by about the beam of the ship; while bars of T iron were riveted to the longitudinal joints of the skin plating, thus forming continuous longitudinal stringers.

This system of longitudinal girders, combined with numerous complete and partial bulkheads, and the subsequent addition of a continuous iron deck-and, whenever desirable, a complete or a partial double bottom-was afterwards developed into a very perfect method of construction, and was adopted by Mr. Scott Russell whenever owners gave him permission to follow his own bent.

Amongst the best known vessels built on this system were the 'Baron Osy' and 'El Rey Jaime I.' in 1855, 'El Rey Jaime II.' in 1858, and subsequently the 'Annette' and the crowning development the 'Great Eastern.'

The system was fully described in a Paper read by Mr. Scott Russell before the Institution of Naval Architects in 1862. It may here be noticed that it was not generally adopted, even in a modified form, by mercantile shipbuilders till about the year 1879, when, in consequence of the general introduction of water ballast, numbers of steamers were built with their bottoms constructed on the longitudinal or cellular system. Even then, it must be remarked, that it was the requirements of the water ballast and not the desire to obtain increased longitudinal strength which led to the partial adoption of a longitudinal system of construction.

On the other hand, Mr. Scott Russell’s ideas were at an early period taken up by the Admiralty, and subsequently developed in accordance with the special requirements of war ships. To ironclad war ships the system seemed peculiarly adapted, not only because of the great longitudinal strength secured, and which in such ships is often imperatively required by the presence of heavy end weights, but also because the safety of war ships, if penetrated at or below the water-line, requires a minute subdivision of the hull, which can only be obtained by the numerous bulkheads, partial and complete, which form an essential feature of the system. The longitudinal system of framing is also peculiarly adapted to the construction of the bows of ships intended to be used as rams.

The two first armoured iron ships of the navy, viz., the 'Warrior' and the 'Black Prince' were in all their essential features built in agreement with the views of Mr. Scott Russell, whose large experience as an iron shipbuilder and scientific naval architect was freely placed at the disposal of the Admiralty. The framing of each of these ships was a combination of the longitudinal and transverse systems. There were six longitudinal frames on each side of the keel, the uppermost one forming the armour shelf. Between these, transverse frame plates were fitted, and inside of the latter were the transverse frames, which provided for the athwartship connection, and which extended up behind the skin plating and the armour and backing. These ships were also provided with two iron decks, but had only very partial inner bottoms.

A peculiar feature of the construction was a longitudinal vertical bulkhead, placed about 3 feet from the inside of the frames on each side of the ship, and extending from the main deck down to the bottom framing. These longitudinal vertical bulkheads played, to a certain extent, the part of webs to an ordinary girder, and conferred great additional strength on the entire structure; they also give great facilities for increasing the watertight subdivision of the hull.

The system of framing above referred to was, afterwards modified by Mr. (now Sir Edward) Reed, M.P., in the construction of the 'Bellerophon.' The heavy transverse frame plates were done away with, and comparatively light bracket plate substituted for them. The longitudinals were greatly deepened, and a continuous double bottom over the greater portion of the ship was provided. This bracket plate system of framing combined with longitudinal stringers is in all its main features the standard system of construction of the bottoms of war ships at the present day.

The greatest shipbuilding exploit which Mr. Scott Russell achieved was, without doubt, the construction of the 'Great Eastern.' The original conception of this great triumph of engineering lay with Mr. I. K. Brunel, whose idea was to construct a vessel large enough to be able to carry coals sufficient for full steaming on the longest voyages. Mr. Brunel at the outset, and long before his views had attained a mercantile form, communicated them to Mr. Scott Russell, who shared with him in the contrivance of the best means of carrying them into practical effect.

The idea of propelling the vessel by means of both paddles and screw was Brunel’s, as was also the application of the cellular construction of the top and bottom of the ship, which was adapted from the Britannia Bridge. In other respects the ship embodies the wave-line form, the longitudinal system of construction, the complete and partial bulkheads, and other details of construction which were peculiarly Scott Russell’s, and which he had systematically carried out in his own practice for the twenty years preceding the building of the great ship. He was also, of course, as naval architect, solely responsible for the design of the ship, as far as regarded all questions connected with displacement, stability, scantlings, and the amount of horse-power required to attain the proposed speed. He further had the sole merit of the design and construction of the magnificent paddle engines, which are even yet the largest that have ever been constructed.

As practical shipbuilder, he devised the means of carrying out the design of this huge vessel, which was at the time, and remains to this day, the largest iron structure that has ever been put together. If there be borne in mind the difficulty, in the actual state of engineering knowledge at that time, of calculating the strength, and consequently of designing this vast vessel, which had to undergo not merely the statical strains usual in land structures, but also the dynamical strains due to rolling and pitching and to the impact of heavy seas; and if there be remembered, further, that the 'Great Eastern' has never shown the slightest signs of structural weakness, though frequently put to uses for which she was never intended, it must be acknowledged that she is a monument to the genius of the two great men who shared the merit of her conception and design.

In summing up Mr. Scott Russell's connection with the profession of naval architecture, it may be said that on commencing his career he found it the most empirical of arts, and he left it one of the most exact of engineering sciences. To this great result many others contributed largely besides himself; but his personal investigations, and the theories which he deduced from them, gave the first impetus to scientific naval architecture; his practice for a long time led the way, and his action in organizing the profession for scientific purposes, by founding the Institution of Naval Architects, entitles him to a preponderating share in the merit of that which has been accomplished in the last half century.

In endeavouring to describe the improvements in the design of ships due to Mr. Scott Russell, the chronological account of his professional life has been necessarily interrupted. He remained in Scotland till the year 1844, and during the twelve years which he spent in his native country, after severing his connection with Edinburgh University, he distinguished himself in engineering pursuits as well as in shipbuilding. Some of his earliest experiments while still at Edinburgh were on engines and boilers.

When at Greenock, he built a steam-carnage for common roads, which ran regularly for hire between that town and Paisley. It was remarkable chiefly for the ingenuity of its springs and the connections of the moving parts of the engine, which rendered the latter completely independent of the inequalities of the roadway. The late Mr. John Head, M. Inst. C.E., has described these steam carriages, in a Paper which he read before this Institution in the year 1873, as having been amongst the most successful ever constructed. In the year 1834 there were six of them running regularly between Greenock and Paisley. Their use was abandoned chiefly in consequence of the opposition of the road-trustees, who placed every conceivable impediment in their way, at last causing a serious accident, which resulted in the death of several persons.

About this time also he wrote his earliest important treatises on 'The Steam-Engine' and on 'Steam-Navigation,' which first appeared in the seventh edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' and which were afterwards published as separate books. He also, during his stay in Scotland, contributed a very brilliant series of articles to the Athenaeum, and numerous Papers to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the British Association, and other scientific bodies.

In the year 1844 Mr. Scott Russell removed to London, and shortly afterwards he commenced business, in partnership with Mr. Robinson, as ship and engine-builders at Millwall.

He appears, however, to have found time to interest himself in other occupations, for he took an active share in the management of the Society of Arts which was not then in a very flourishing condition. He was appointed joint Secretary to the Society in 1845, and afterwards became sole Secretary. During the period he remained in office the Society obtained a Royal Charter of Incorporation, and was fortunate enough to receive the sympathy and active support of the late Prince Consort.

About this time also a project was developed by Mr. Scott Russell, the late Sir Henry Cole and a few other gentlemen, under the patronage of the Prince Consort, which was destined to be followed by important results. This was no less than the holding of a series of national exhibitions, which were the forerunners of, and actually prepared the way for the holding of the first great International Exhibition in 1851.

The difficulty of organizing the first of these exhibitions appears almost incredible in face of the eagerness with which:they are now taken up by manufacturers. A few days before the date appointed for the opening there were neither exhibitors nor exhibits, and Mr. Scott Russell, accompanied by Mr. Cole and another friend, spent three whole days travelling about London in four-wheeled cabs calling on manufacturers and shopkeepers, and succeeded at last, by 'personal entreaty' - as they afterwards expressed it - in inducing many of them to send sufficient goods to fill the Exhibition galleries.

This was the origin of Mr. Scott Russell's connection with the Great Exhibition movement, and when the Royal Commission of the 1851 Exhibition was nominated he was appointed joint-Secretary with Mr. Stafford Northcote (the late Earl of Iddesleigh), and in this capacity he played a leading part in the organization and management of that great undertaking. In one of the published letters of the late Prince Consort his Royal Highness bore emphatic testimony to the value of Mr. Scott Russell’s services. After describing the difficulties that had been encountered, it was stated 'by dint of Mr. Scott Russell’s tact, judgment, penetration, resource and courage, that obstacles vanished and intrigues were unmasked.'

The financial troubles connected with the building of the 'Great Eastern' caused the suspension of the firm of J. Scott Russell and Co., and after that event took place Mr. Scott Russell practised for several years in London as a Consulting Engineer. In this capacity he designed some important works; one of these was the steam railway-ferry, together with its approaches on Lake Constance, by means of which communication is maintained between the German and Swiss systems of railways which terminate on the opposite shores of the lake. The ferry-boat, which is a paddle-wheel vessel of about 1,600 tons displacement, is contrived to carry fourteen to sixteen carriages on two parallel lines. The natural difficulties in the way of carrying out this undertaking were considerable, as the harbours on both sides are exceedingly narrow, and so shallow that 6 feet was the maximum draught of water obtainable.

The difficulties of manoeuvring were got over by making the boat of the same shape at each end so that she could progress equally well in either direction; a rudder was also provided at each end and each of the paddles was driven by an independent pair of engines.

The necessary strength on the very limited draught was obtained by making the central portion of the boat into a box girder, a central iron deck, connected to the hull by two vertical side walls, haring been for this purpose erected over the deck on which stands the train. This ferry-boat, which was the last work of naval architecture carried out by Mr. Scott Russell, proved perfectly successful, and has been employed ever since 1868 in the service between Romanshorn and Friedrichshafen. It is described in a Paper published in Vol. X. of the Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects.

Another important work designed by Mr. Scott Russell was the great Rotunda of the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. Considered as a dome this work is the Great Eastern of land structures, being the roof of largest clear span in the world. So early as the year 1850 he had contrived a similar building for the first great International Exhibition, but, like everybody else, he was so fascinated by Paxton’s design for a glass and iron palace, that he never brought forward his own ideas.

The dome of the Vienna Exhibition is a cone of sheet iron, 353.7 feet in diameter, standing on wrought-iron rectangular pillars 80 feet high by 4 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The severe outline of the cone is broken by two lanterns, the lower one of which is 106.25 feet in diameter by 33 feet high, surmounted by a second conical roof on which stands the upper lantern forming the apex of the building. There is not a single tie-rod in the construction. The lower ring on which the cone rests, and which is part of its structure, is put in a state of tension.by the tendency of the cone to spread outwards. Similarly the upper ring at the base of the first lantern is put in a state of compression, and throughout the whole of the structure the successive rings of which it may be conceived to be built up, commencing from the base, are in a state of tension, the intensity of which gradually diminishes upwards, till a neutral ring is reached (corresponding to the neutral axis of a girder), beyond which again the rings are in a state of gradually increasing compression. Provided the section of the metal is everywhere sufficient to resist the strain, it is obvious that internal or radial ties are superfluous, and all that is necessary is so to stiffen the surface of the cone that it cannot sag.

This was the last great work of Mr. Scott Russell’s lifetime, and with its completion his career as an active engineer may be said to have terminated. As will be seen from the foregoing, though best known as a shipbuilder he by no means confined his attention to naval architecture and marine engineering. He took a deep interest in many branches of civil engineering, including even railway matters, and at one time he carried out an important series of experiments on the resistance of railway trains, the results of which he communicated to the British Association in a Paper which was published in the year 1846.

In addition to the numerous Papers which he contributed to various scientific bodies, Mr. Scott Russell was the author of some important professional treatises. The earliest of these, his works on the steam-engine, and on steam-navigation, published in the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' have been already mentioned.

His greatest work was his treatise on the 'Modern System of Naval Architecture.' He also wrote a book called 'A System of Technical Education for the English People.' The subject of technical education always interested him greatly; and when he was engaged in superintending the construction of the steam ferry-boat on Lake Constance, he was deeply impressed by the advantages which continental engineers and workmen derived from the excellent technical schools which were in existence all over Central Europe. He took the opportunity of studying deeply the systems of education as adopted in Germany and in Switzerland, and shortly after his return to this country he wrote the above-mentioned book, in the hope of directing public opinion to the subject.

The most important service which Mr. Scott Russell rendered to his own profession was perhaps the part which he took in founding the Institution of Naval Architects. The original meetings of the first promoters of that Society took place at his office in Great George Street, and at his house at Sydenham, and amongst those who attended, besides himself, were Dr. Woolley, Mr. (now Sir Edward) Reed, &fr. (now Sir Nathaniel) Barnaby, Mr. F. K. Barnes, and Mr. Crosland. At one of these meetings Mr. Reed undertook the Secretarial duties and the organization of the Institution, and Mr. Scott Russell guaranteed all the expenses.

At the first meeting of the Institution he was elected one of its Vice- Presidents, which office he retained till his death.

Mr. Scott Russell first became connected with the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 29th of June, 1847. He was elected a Member of Council in 1857, and was a Vice-President from 1862 to 1867.

He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a corresponding member of many foreign scientific bodies. He was the Author of two Papers read before the Institution: namely, 'On the practical Forms of Breakwaters, Sea-walls, and other Engineering works Exposed to the Action of Waves;' and, 'On certain Points in the Construction of Marine Boilers.' For many years he was one of the most constant attendants at the Tuesday-evening meetings, and a frequent contributor to the discussions, no less than five columns of entries standing under his name in the General Index to the first twenty volumes of 'Minutes.'

In the year 1880 he was much interested in the question of the Tower bridge, and had prepared plans for the construction of a bridge of 1,000 feet span, and of a clear opening of 100 feet above Trinity high-water mark. In furtherance of this idea, he paid several visits in the following year to numerous ironmasters in the North of England and Scotland, and while going over some ironworks he caught a severe chill, which brought on an illness from which he never fully recovered. For a few months he regained strength, but experienced a relapse in the spring of 1882 which terminated in his death on the 8th of June of that year.

Mr. Scott Russell married in 1839 Harriett, daughter of Sir Toler Osborne, Bart., of the County Tipperary, and had a family of two sons and three daughters, of whom a son and two daughters survived.

The foregoing sketch will give an idea of his professional work and public life. He was distinguished among his contemporaries for his great scientific knowledge, acquired at a period when technical education for engineers did not exist in this country. It is not often that the love of science and the inventive genius are wedded to strong business instincts and habits, and Mr. Scott Russell’s case was no exception to the general rule. Had it been otherwise, he would not improbably have occupied it position higher than any he attained to.

In private life he was the most agreeable and hospitable of friends, His great originality of mind lent a peculiar charm to his conversation. As a speaker, and particularly as an after-dinner speaker, he had few equals. His education was by no means bounded by the pursuits of science. He had considerable, knowledge of the classics, and of general literature, and some of his earlier reports to the British Association were ornamented with long Greek quotations. He had travelled much in nearly every country of Europe, including Russia and Turkey. By his death the Institution lost one of the few great. engineers of the earlier generation who survived into the last, quarter of the century.


1882 Obituary - The Engineer [2]



1882 Obituary - Bristol Mercury / Engineering [3]

DEATH OF MR. SCOTT RUSSELL. Mr. Scott Russell, the engineer, has just died at Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight, in the 75th year of his age.

John Scott Russell (according to Engineering) was the eldest son of the Rev. David Russell, a Scotch clergyman, and was born in the Vale of Clyde in the year is 1808, and originally destined for the Church. His great predilection for mechanics and other natural sciences induced his father to allow him to enter a workshop, to learn the handicraft of the profession of an engineer. He subsequently studied at the Universities at Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Glasgow, and graduated at the latter at the early age of 16, He had attained to such proficiency in the knowledge of the natural sciences that on the death of Mr John Leslie. Professor of Natural Philosophy in Edinburgh, in 1832, the young Scott Russell, though then only 24 years of age, was ad elected to fill the vacancy temporarily, pending the a election of a permanent Professor.

About this time he commenced his famous researches into the nature ly of waves, with the view to improving the forms of vessels. His first paper on this subject was read before the British Association in 1835. The interest created by ly this paper was so great that a committee was appointed by the association to carry on the experiments at their expense. The committee consisted of Sir John Robinson, secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and of Mr. Scott Russell himself as reporter, The report, which is of a most exhaustive character, published in the seventh volume of the Transactions of the British Association. Mr. Scott Russell discovered during these researches the existence of the wave of translation and developed the wave-line system of construction of ships in connexion with which his name is now so widely known.

In 1837 he read a paper before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which institution he had some years previously been elected a member, "On the Laws by which water opposes resistance to the motion of floating bodies." For this paper he received the large gold medal of the society and was elected a member of its council, The first vessel on the wave a system was called the Wave, and was built in 1835; it was followed in 1836 by the Scott Russell, and in 1839 by the Flambeau and fire King.

Mr. Scott Russell was employed at this time as manager of the large ship building establishment at Greenock, now owned by Messrs, Caird and Co. In this capacity he succeeded in having his system employed in the construction of the new fleet of the West India Royal Zdail Company, and four of the largest and fastest of these vessels - viz, the Taviot, the Tay, the Olyde, and the Tweed - were built and designed by himself.

In 1841 Mr. Scott Russell removed to London.

In 1847 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and member of the Institution of is Civil Engineers, of which body he was for some time a vice-president. He for a short time occupied the post of the Secretary of the Society of Arts, which place he resigned tO become joint secretary with Sir Stafford Northcote of the Great Exhibition of 1851. He was, in fact, one of the three original promoters of the Exhibition, and, under the direction of the late Prince Consort, took a leading part in organising it.

Mr. Scott Russell was for many years known as a shipbuilder on the Themes. The most important work he ever constructed was the Great Eastern steamship, which he contracted to build for a company of which the late Mr, Brunel was the engineer. The Great Eastern, whatever may have been her commercial failings, was undoubtedly a triumph of technical skill. She was built on the wave-line system of shape, and was constructed on the longitudinal double skin principle, which also was invented by Mr. Scott Russell. It is not necessary now a to refer to this ship in any detail.

In spite of the recent advances made in the size of vessels, the Great Eastern, which was built more than a quarter of a century ago, remains much the largest ship in existence, as also one of the strongest and lightest built in proportion to tonnage, The paddle engines and boilers of this vessel were also made and designed by Mr. Scott Russell. Mr. Scott Russell was one of the earliest and most active advocates of ironclad men-of-war, and he has the merit of having been the joint designer of our first sea going armoured frigate, the Warrior.

His last work in naval construction was the steamer on the Lake of Constance, which carries railway trains between the terminal of the German and Swiss railway systems on the opposite shores of the lake.

Mr. Scott Russell wee one of the founders of the Institution of Naval Architects, and was one of its vice-presidents from the date of its constitution down to the day of his death, Though perhaps best known as a naval architect, Mr. Scott Russell was an active worker in other fields of engineering science. In early life he took a great interest in steam locomotion on ordinary roads, and while at Greenock he constructed a steam coach which ran for some time successfully between Greenock and Paisley. The springs of this steam carriage, and the manner in which the machinery adapted itself to the inequalities of a the road were triumphs of ingenuity.

His greatest a engineering work was without doubt the vast dome of the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. This dome is, among roofs, what the Great Eastern is to ships, its clear span of 360ft, being by far the largest in the world. It will he probably the most enduring monument of its designers fame and ability.

The last engineering work which Mr. Scott Russell ever designed was a high-level bridge to cross the Thames below London bridge. It was intended to cross the river with a span of 1000ft, and to allow of a passage beneath it for the largest ships.

Mr. Scott hussell contributed largely to the literature of his profession. In addition to the numerous papers which he read before scientific societies, he wrote the section on the steam engine and steam navigation in a former edition of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," He was also the author of a work on naval architecture, entitled the "Modern System of Naval Architecture for Cokmerce and War," and of a work on "Systematic Technical Education for the English People."

Mr Russell was one of the last links connecting our tines with the great era of engineering at the early part of the century.


1882 Obituary - DNB [4]

RUSSELL, JOHN SCOTT (1808–1882), civil engineer, eldest son of David Russell, a Scottish clergyman, was born at Parkhead, near Glasgow, on 8 May 1808. Originally intended for the church, he entered a workshop to learn the trade of an engineer, and studied at the universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Glasgow. He graduated at Glasgow at the age of sixteen.

On the death of Sir John Leslie, professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh, in 1832, he was elected to fill the vacancy temporarily. With the view of improving the forms of vessels, he commenced researches into the nature of waves. He read a paper on this subject before the British Association in 1835, when a committee was appointed to make experiments. During these researches Russell discovered the existence of the wave of translation, and developed the wave-line system of construction of ships.

In 1837 he read a paper before the Royal Society of Edinburgh ‘On the Laws by which Water opposes Resistance to the Motion of Floating Bodies,’ for which he received the large gold medal of the society, and was elected a member of the council. He was employed at this time as manager of the large shipbuilding works at Greenock subsequently owned by Caird & Co. The Wave, the first vessel constructed on the wave system, was built under his direction in 1835, the Scott Russell in 1836, and the Flambeau and the Fire-King in 1839. His system was employed in the construction of the new fleet of the West India Royal Mail Company, four of the vessels being designed and built by him. He also constructed some common road steam carriages, which ran successfully for a time between Paisley and Glasgow. Six of these were at work in 1834.

Removing to London in 1844, Russell became F.R.S. in 1847 and a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, of which he was for some time vice-president. In 1845 he was appointed secretary of the Society of Arts, which was then occupied with a proposal for the holding of a national exhibition. Russell took up the idea with his accustomed energy, and it was in no small degree due to his initiative and persistence that the suggested national exhibition developed into the Great International Exhibition of 1851. He took an active part in the earlier work of the undertaking, and when in 1850 a royal commission was appointed, he was made one of the joint secretaries, Stafford Northcote (afterwards Lord Iddesleigh) being the other. The organisation of the exhibition itself fell into the hands of an executive committee, and Russell had a very small share in it. Hence his part in the great work was overlooked, and never received public recognition. In the same year (1850) he resigned the secretaryship of the Society of Arts.

For many years a shipbuilder on the Thames, he constructed the Great Eastern, and became joint designer of the Warrior, the first sea-going armoured frigate. He was a strong advocate of ironclad men-of-war, and was one of the founders and vice-presidents of the Institute of Naval Architects. The failure of the Great Eastern led to the suspension of his firm, but he continued to practise as a consulting engineer. His last work in naval construction was a steamer to carry railway trains between the German and the Swiss terminus on the opposite shores of Lake Constance. His greatest work apart from shipbuilding was the dome of the Vienna Exhibition in 1873. He also designed a high-level bridge to cross the Thames below London Bridge. He died at Ventnor, in somewhat reduced circumstances, on 8 June 1882.

Russell was a man of brilliant and versatile intellectual powers, a good scholar, a clever and original speaker, and a bright conversationalist. A certain lack of stability, or of that business capacity so rarely united to inventive genius, hampered his success in life.

Russell published: 1. ‘On the Nature, Properties, and Applications of Steam in Steam Navigation,’ from the seventh edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ Edinburgh, 1841, 8vo. 2. ‘The Fleet of the Future: Iron or Wood? Containing a Reply to some Conclusions of General Sir H. Douglas in favour of Wooden Walls,’ London, 1861, 8vo; 2nd ed. ‘The Fleet of the Future in 1862, or England without a Fleet,’ London, 1862, 8vo. 3. ‘Very large Ships, their Advantages and Defects,’ &c., London, 1863, 8vo. 4. ‘The Modern System of Naval Architecture for Commerce and War,’ London, 3 vols. (1864–5), fol. 5. ‘Systematic Technical Training for the English People,’ London, 1869, 8vo. 6. ‘The Wave of Translation in the Ocean of Water, Air, and Ether,’ new edition, London, 1885, 8vo.


1882 Obituary - The Times [5]

We regret to announce the death of Mr. Scott Russell, the engineer, which took place on Thursday morning at Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight, in the 75th year of his age. John Scott Russell, according to Engineering, was the eldest son of the Rev. David Russell, a Scottish clergyman.

He was born in the Vale of Clyde in the year 1808, and was originally destined for the Church. His great predelection for mechanics and other natural sciences induced his father to allow him enter a workshop, to learn the handicraft of the profession of an engineer. He subsequently studied at the Universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews, and Glasgow, and graduated at the latter at the early age of 16. He had attained to such a proficiency in the knowledge of the natural sciences that on the death of Sir John Leslie, Professor of Natural Philosophy in Edinburgh, in 1832, the young Scott Russell, though then only 24 years of age, was elected to fill the vacancy temporarily, pending the election of a permanent professor.

About this time he commenced his famous researches into the nature of waves, with the view to improving the forms of vessels. His first paper on this subject was read before the British Association in 1835. The interest created by this paper was so great that a committee was appointed by the association to carry on the experiments at their expense. The Committee consisted of Sir John Robinson, secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and Mr. Scott Russell himself as reporter. The report, which is of a most exhaustive character, is published in the seventh volume of the "Transactions of the British Association." Mr. Scott Russell discovered during these researches the existence of the wave of translation and developed the wave-line system of construction of ships in connexion with which his name is now so widely known.

In 1837 he read a paper before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which institution he had some years previously been elected a member, "On the Laws by which water opposes resistance to the motion of floating bodies." For this paper he received the large gold medal of the society and was elected a member of its council. The first vessel on the wave system was called the Wave, and was built in 1835; it was followed in 1836 by the Scott Russell, and in 1839 by the Flambeau and Fire King. Mr. Scott Russell was employed at this time as manager of the large shipbuilding establishment at Greenock, now owned by Messrs. Caird and Co. In this capacity he succeeded in having his system employed in the construction of the new fleet of the West India Royal Mail Company, and four of the largest and fastest vessels - viz, was the Teviot, the Tay, the Clyde, and the Tweed - were built and designed by himself.

In 1844 Mr. Scott Russell removed to London. In 1847 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and member of the institution of Civil Engineers, of which body he was for some time a vice-president. He for a short time occupied the post of the secretary of the Society of Arts, which place he resigned to become joint secretary with Sir Stafford Northcote of the Great Exhibition of 1851. He was, in fact, one of the three original promoters of the Exhibition, and under the direction of the late Prince Consort took a leading part in organizing it.

Mr. Scott Russell was for many years known as a shipbuilder on the Thames. The most important work he ever constructed was the Great Eastern steamship, which he contracted to build for a company of which the late Mr. Brunel was the engineer. The Great Eastern, whatever may have been her commercial failings, was undoubtedly a triumph of technical skill. She was built on the wave-line system of shape, and was constructed on the longitudinal double skin


principle, which also was invented by Mr. Scott Russell. It is not necessary now to refer to this ship in any detail. In spite of the recent advances made in the size of vessels, the Great Eastern, which was built more than a quarter century ago, remains much the largest ship in existence, as also one of the strongest and lightest built in proportion to tonnage. The paddle engines and boilers of this vessel were also made and designed by Mr. Scott Russell.

Mr. Scott Russell was one of the earliest and most active advocates of ironclad men-of-war, and he has the merit of having been the joint designer of our first sea-going armoured frigate, the Warrior. His last work in naval construction was the steamer on the Lake of Constance, which carries railway trains between the termini of the German and Swiss railway systems on the opposite shores of the lake. Mr. Scott Russell was one of the founders of the Institution of Naval Architects, and was one of its vice-presidents from the date of its constitution down to the day of his death.

Though perhaps best known as a naval architect, Mr. Scott Russell was an active worker in other fields of engineering science. In early life he took a great interest in steam locomotion on ordinary roads, and while at Greenock he constructed a steam coach which ran for some time successfully between Greenock and Paisley. The springs of this steam carriage and the manner in which the machinery adapted itself to the inequalities of the road were triumphs of ingenuity.

His greatest engineering work was without doubt the vast dome of the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. This dome is, among roofs, what the Great Eastern is to ships, its clear span of 360 ft. being by far the largest in the world. It will be probably the most enduring monument of its designer's fame and ability.

The last engineering work which Mr. Scott Russell ever designed was a high-level bridge to cross the Thames below London-bridge. It was intended to cross the river with a span of 1,000 ft. and to allow of a passage beneath it for the largest ships.

Mr.Scott Russell contributed largely to the literature of his profession. In addition to the numerous papers which he read before scientific societies, he wrote the section on the steam-engine and steam navigation in a former edition of the "Encyclopedia Britannica." He was also the author of the large work on naval architecture entitled the "Modern System of Naval Architecture for Commerce and War," and of a work on "Systematic Technical Education for the English People."

Mr. Scott Russell was one of the last links connecting our time with the great era of engineering at the early part of the century, and his loss cannot but be keenly felt by all who knew him.


1882 Obituary - Royal Society [6]



See Also

Loading...

Sources of Information

  1. 1887 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  2. The Engineer 1882/06/16
  3. Bristol Mercury - Monday 12 June 1882
  4. Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900, Volume 49.
  5. The Times, June 10, 1882
  6. Proceedings of Royal Society (London), vol. 34 (1882-1883), pp. xv-xvii.