Russell, John Scott

SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
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b. 9 May 1808 Parkhead, near Glasgow, Scotland
d. 8 June 1882 Isle of Wight, England
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Scottish engineer, naval architect and academic.
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A son of the manse, Russell was originally destined for the Church and commenced studies at the University of St Andrews, but shortly afterwards he transferred to Glasgow, graduating MA in 1825 when only 17 years old. He began work as a teacher in Edinburgh, working up from a school to the Mechanics Institute and then in 1832 to the University, where he took over the classes in natural philosophy following the death of the professor. During this period he designed and advised on the application of steam power to road transport and to the Forth and Clyde Canal, thereby awakening his interest in ships and naval architecture.
Russell presented papers to the British Association over several years, and one of them, The Wave Line Theory of Ship Form (although now superseded), had great influence on ship designers of the time and helped to establish the formal study of hydromechanics. With a name that was becoming well known, Russell looked around for better opportunities, and on narrowly missing appointment to the Chair of Mathematics at Edinburgh University he joined the upand-coming Clyde shipyard of Caird \& Co., Greenock, as Manager in 1838.
Around 1844 Russell and his family moved to London; following some business problems he was in straitened circumstances. However, appointment as Secretary to the Committee setting up the Great Exhibition of 1851 eased his path into London's intellectual society and allowed him to take on tasks such as, in 1847, the purchase of Fairbairn's shipyard on the Isle of Dogs and the subsequent building there of I.K. Brunel's Great Eastern steamship. This unhappy undertaking was a millstone around the necks of Brunel and Russell and broke the health of the former. With the yard failing to secure the order for HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's first ironclad, Russell pulled out of shipbuilding and for the remainder of his life was a designer, consultant and at times controversial, but at all times polished and urbane, member of many important committees and societies. He is remembered as one of the founders of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1860. His last task was to design a Swiss Lake steamer for Messrs Escher Wyss, a company that coincidentally had previously retained Sir William Fairbairn.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS 1847.
Bibliography
John Scott Russell published many papers under the imprint of the British Association, the Royal Society of Arts and the Institution of Naval Architects. His most impressive work was the mammoth three-volume work on shipbuilding published in London in 1865 entitled The Modern System of Naval Architecture. Full details and plans of the Great Eastern are included.
Further Reading
G.S.Emmerson, 1977, John Scott Russell, a Great Victorian Engineer and Naval Architect, London: Murray
FMW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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