Robert Rendall was born in Glasgow in 1898 but moved to Orkney with his Westray parents when young. When he was seven years old he was so ill that he was not expected to live for another year. He became a converted Christian about this time. He attended Kirkwall Grammar School until he was 13, but was largely self-educated, learning much from Arthur Mee's The Children's Encyclopædia. He worked in the family draper's business in Kirkwall. He joined the Royal Navy in 1916 and served in Scapa Flow during World War I.
Rendall, a man of many talents, known as a poet, and authority on shells, flowers, and marine life, has been described as an "Orcadian Renaissance man". He accidentally discovered the Broch of Gurness in 1929.
In 1946 he semi-retired from business, and devoted his life to his scientific and cultural interests, and fishing. This was the year in which he published Country Sonnets, which included many poems written in the Orkney dialect. Rendall became a friend of the writer George Mackay Brown, whom he encouraged, and who had appreciated the quality of his best poetry, having been introduced to him by Ernest Marwick Brown was encouraged by Rendall's visits when he was confined to Eastbank Sanatorium. In 1956 Rendall published Mollusca Orcadensia, a paper which brings together from all available sources records of marine mollusca indigenous to Orkney, which he had commenced in 1916. He published Orkney Shore, a work on the seashore life of Orkney, in 1960. It has been said, "All his studies - whether scientific, archaeological, theological or literary - were rooted in Orkney, and a love of the islands drove the rigour which he applied to each of his chosen areas".
Rendall died in 1967. A plaque bearing his name is in the presbytery of St Magnus Cathedral. A biography, An Island Shore: the Life and Work of Robert Rendall, by Neil Dickson was published in 1990, while an essay on his work is included in George Mackay Brown's An Orkney Tapestry in 1969.
It has been said that the poetry of Robert Rendall "represents the eventual regenerative reaction to the transplanted, anglicised expression which had prevented Orkney from producing any significant or lasting poetry during the nineteenth century ... The work represents a cultured fusion of Orcadian vernacular, philosophical Christian content and refined form".
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- Mollusca Orcadensia (1956)
- Orkney Shore (1960)
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