Peter Nicol Russell

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Peter Nicol Russel Memorial at the University of Sydney

Sir Peter Nicol Russell (4 July 1816 – 10 July 1905) was an Australian foundry owner, manufacturing engineer, philanthropist and university benefactor.

Early life[edit]

Russell was born at Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, the second son of eleven children of Robert Russell, an engineer and ironfounder, and his wife Janet, née Nicol. Peter was educated at Kirkcaldy Grammar School and was then employed in his father's business.[1]

Career in Australia[edit]

The family emigrated to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) in 1832, and in 1838 moved to Sydney.[1] In 1842 Peter Russell left the family company at Pyrmont and leased 'The Sydney Foundry and Engineering Works' from the estate of James Blanch. In 1859, Peter re-united with his brothers George and John to form P. N. Russell and Company which became the largest and most successful business of its kind in Australia. In 1860 Peter Russell went to London and virtually retired, except that he acted as London representative of the business. In 1875 this was closed down after industrial unrest. Russell, however, had prospered with his investments, and was now a rich man. He retained his interest in Australia, paid several visits to it, and in 1896 made a gift of £50,000 to the Sydney University to found an engineering school. In 1904 he made a second gift of £50,000 to be devoted to the same department, with the proviso that the government should provide £25,000 for buildings.[1][2]


Russell died childless in London on 10 July 1905, aged 89. He married in 1859 Charlotte, daughter of Dr Alexander Lorimer. Russell was knighted in 1904. Under his will a total sum of £16,000 was left to various institutions and charities in Sydney. The engineering school at the University of Sydney is known as the 'Peter Nicol Russell School of Engineering', and there are three Peter Nicol Russell scholarships for mechanical engineering, and a medal for research work. His portrait by W. Q. Orchardson, R.A., is in the great hall, and there is a memorial group by Edgar Bertram Mackennal in the university grounds.[1][2] Peter Nicol Russell's company, P. N. Russell and Company, constructed the heritage listed Denison Bridge at Bathurst.[3]

Russell's monument at East Finchley Cemetery is Grade II listed on the National Heritage List for England.[4]

Russell's monument in East Finchley Cemetery in 2016.

Memorial Statue[edit]

Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Statue.jpg

This sculpture was erected to retain the name of the benefactor of the Peter Nicol Russell School of Engineering at University of Sydney, opened in 1909. Peter Nicol Russell gave endowments totalling £100,000 to the Engineering School at University of Sydney, which led to the faculty now known as the Peter Nicol Russell School of Engineering.[5]

After Russell's passing, sculptor Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal created duplicate memorial statues in honour of Russell’s legacy and generosity. One is located at the East Finchley Cemetery in London; the other, situated at the ground floor entrance of the institution named after him, (moved from its first position next to the Great Hall).[6]

Russell’s wife presented the sculpture to The University of Sydney to not only retain the name of the benefactor, but to inspire future generations. The sculpture is in Edwardian style and is made from bronze and granite. It is a copy of the memorial at East Finchley Cemetery in London, England.[6][7]

The inscription below the statue reads: ‘Presented to The University of Sydney by DAME CHARLOTTE RUSSELL in memory of her late husband SIR PETER NICOL RUSSELL a magnificent benefactor who endowed the Peter Nicol Russell School of Engineering’.

Beside the grand granite and bronze monument, stands a single cast iron Ionian column, one of the many such columns produced by the P.N. Russell and Co Foundry.[6] The closing of this firm, PNR’s life work, in 1875, led PNR to retire back to London. This is where a Professor at the University of Sydney met PNR, a meeting that ultimately resulted in PNR’s financial donations to the University. It commemorates Russell, but also stands as a symbol of his legacy as an engineer and contributions to the University of Sydney.


  1. ^ a b c d Corbett, Arthur (1976). "Russell, Sir Peter Nicol (1816–1905)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 26 October 2008.
  2. ^ a b Serle, Percival (1949). "Russell, Peter Nicol". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 26 October 2008.
  3. ^ NSW Heritage Branch. "about NSW – Denison Bridge". NSW Government. Archived from the original on 5 April 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  4. ^ Historic England, "Monument to Sir Peter Nicol Russell Engineer in St Marylebone Cemetery (1188637)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 4 October 2016
  5. ^ Arthur Corbett and Ann Pugh, 'Russell, Sir Peter Nicol (1816–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 14 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Faculty of Engineering Short History. The University of Sydney, 2002-2015. Accessed 1st April 2015.
  7. ^ Sydney Architecture. Peter Russel Memorial. Retrieved on 31/3/15, from

External links[edit]