James Rennell
Born: 03 Dec, 1742
Died: 29 Mar, 1830
Field: Engineer
Location in the Abbey: Nave
Type of memorial: Grave

James Rennell, cartographer, is buried in the centre of the nave of Westminster Abbey. His grave is now unmarked but just had his name, date of death and age on it. But he has a white marble bust in the nearby north west tower chapel. This is by sculptor Jacob Hagbolt and the inscription reads:

"Major James Rennell. Died March 29th 1830 in his 88th year. His useful life, firm character and high talents are amply exhibited in his works and need no other monument. This tablet therefore merely records that this celebrated man was buried near this spot".

James was born on 3 December 1742 at Upcot in Devon, son of Captain John Rennell and his wife Anne (Clarke). His father was killed in action in the Netherlands in 1747 and his stepfather was unable to provide for all of the children. James and his sister Sarah were taken in by the vicar of Chudleigh. He joined the navy and fought against the French and later served in India. In 1762 he joined the East India Company as a draughtsman and then took an engineering post in Bengal. While surveying he was badly injured in an attack by tribesmen. Robert Clive appointed him Surveyor General of Bengal. In Calcutta he married Jane Thackeray, daughter of the Head Master of Harrow School, and they settled in Dacca. They had two sons Thomas and William, both of whom died without any children, and a daughter Jane who married Admiral Sir Tremayne Rodd. Back in England his work A Bengal Atlas was published in 1781 and his general map of India, and other works, followed. He was elected an honorary member of the African Association and completed a map of North Africa. David Livingstone was later buried near him in the nave.

A photo of the bust can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.