John Isaac Thornycroft was born in Rome in 1843, the eldest son of two sculptors who were studying in the Vatican Museum. John was interested in engineering from an early age and had built a 36-foot steam ship, Nautilus, by the time he was 16.
He completed a science degree at Glasgow University and then worked for the Glasgow shipbuilding firm John Elder and Co, before setting up his own yard, specialising in fast craft, at Chiswick in 1864. In 1876, after the Admiralty had started using torpedoes and needed fast ships capable of launching them, Thornycrofts built the first torpedo boat, HMS Lightning. With the increasing size of warships John’s son, John Edward Thornycroft, who had taken over the running of the business, acquired the site of the old Oswald Mordaunt yard in Woolston in 1904 to enable the firm to build bigger vessels. The firm also produced motor vehicles from a base in Basingstoke and small marine craft at Hampton-on-Thames.
John Isaac Thornycroft was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1893 and was knighted in 1902. After relinquishing control of the firm to his son because of ill-health, he retired to Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, where he died in 1928.
Familiar and Forgotten, by Southampton City Art Gallery. (HS/t)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 54
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