Sir John Pender

1816 - 1896

Entrepreneur and politician. Born in Bonhill (West Dunbartonshire), Pender was educated at the High School of Glasgow. He began his career as a cloth pattern maker in Bonhill, but went on to become a successful textile merchant in Glasgow and developed his business opening a warehouse in Manchester and then in London. However, he is best known as a proponent of submarine telegraph cables, in which he invested heavily. He was one of several who ensured the first successful transatlantic cable in 1866 (an earlier effort in 1858 worked only for a few weeks). Technical solutions were the work of Sir William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin (1824 - 1907). Pender then began to promote a network of cables around the world, hosting a grand reception to celebrate the completion of the Anglo-India cable in 1870. He went on to found more than thirty telegraph companies to operate these cables, which extended to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Gibraltar, Singapore and South Africa, as well as Canada and the USA. In 1934, these companies amalgamated to become Cable & Wireless. He also invested in railways in the UK and USA.

Pender served as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Totnes (1862-66). From the mid-1860s, he developed interests in the West Lothian oil shale industry, and has a home there at Middleton Hall. He stood unsuccessfully as the Liberal candidate for Parliament in 1868. Now a wealthy man, he also owned properties in London and Kent. He returned to Parliament representing the Wick Burghs (1872-85 and 1892-96) and was knighted in 1888. He amassed a remarkable art collection, including works by J.M.W. Turner (1775 - 1851), John Everett Millais (1829-96), Canaletto, Gainsborough and Reynolds.

He died at his home Foots Cray Place in South East London and is buried in the churchyard there. Pender, Nebraska, was named in his honour.

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