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James Rennell

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 3rd 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.

Further Reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Born

3rd December 1742

Died

29th March 1830

Field

Engineer

Location

Nave

Memorial Type

Grave; bust

Material Type

Marble

James Rennell
James Rennell

By George Daniel ? [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

James Rennell
James Rennell memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

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Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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