RENNEL, James. Chudleigh, Devonshire 3.12.1742 — London 29.3.1830. British Colonial Officer and Geographer in India. Son of Captain John R. (of artillery), who died in action in 1747, and Anne Clarke. Educated at Chudleigh (and as a schoolboy draw a good map of the region). He joined navy in 1756 and came to India as midshipman in naval service in 1760 and participated in the Philippine expedition in 1762, but soon (1763) left the navy and joined the E.I.C.’s marine service. In 1764 he was appointed Surveyor-General of Bengal, from 1767 also of Bihar and Orissa. Major of Bengal Engineers 1776, retired in 1777. F.R.S. 1781. In retirement living in London pursued geographical studies with the materials in East India House. Married 1772 Jane Thackeray (d. 1810), two sons and two daughters.
Rennel has been called the “father of Indian geography” and the “founder of oceanography” (by Markham 1895). For years he was the most appreciated among British geographers. In addition to modern geography he was much interested in historical geography and he prompted Robertson to pursue similar studies. Beside India he was also interested in other areas. With the map of Inner Africa he committed some serious mistakes, creating the non-existent mountains of Kong. Important was also his “hydrographic study on large-scale surface currents in the Atlantic Ocean”.
Publications: Atlas of Bengal and Bahar. 54 p. 18 maps. Calcutta 1779, also in London as A description of the roads in Bengal and Bahar. 6+279 p. L. 1778; “An Account of the Ganges and Burramapooter”, Philosophical Transactions 1781, 87-114.
– Memoir of a Map of Hindustan; or the Mogul Empire. 1783, 2nd ed. 142+296+52 p. L. 1787, 3rd ed. 140+428 p. L. 1793; Memoir of a Map of Peninsular India. 1793.
– The Marches of the British Army in the Peninsula of India, during the campaigns of 1790 and 1791. 114 p. L. 1792.
– Geographical System of Herodotus explained. 1-2. 1800, new ed. 1819.
– Observations on the Topography of the Plain of Troy. 22+156 p. L. 1814.
– Comparative Geography of Western Asia. 1-2. L. 1831; other writings and published maps.
Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; *A.S. Cook, Oxford D.N.B.; *W.K. Firminger, “Two Letters of Major J.R.”, JASB N.S. 9, 1913, 173-175; *C. A. Frenzel, Major J.R., der Schöpfer der neueren englischen Geographie. Lp. 1904 (diss.); J. Lalla, Literature of Travel and Explor. 3, 2003, 1004-1006; *Cl.R. Markham, Major J.R. and the Rise of Modern English Geography. L. 1895 with portrait; C.R.M[arkham], D.N.B. 48, 1896, 14f.; Windisch 15f.; Nouv. Ann. des Voyages 2:16 (46), 1830, 127f.; Wikipedia (mainly from D.N.B.) with portrait; portrait medallion reproduced in MASB 3:8, 1910.
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