HC Deb 28 July 1834 vol 25 cc617-20
Mr. Langdale

presented a Petition from John Howard Kyan, to inquire into a process which he had invented, for the prevention of Dry Rot in timber. The hon. Member stated, that an experiment of the discovery made by the petitioner had been fully tried by the Government at Woolwich and other dockyards in the country. A large piece of timber was placed in the "fungus pit" at Woolwich, and after remaining several years in the pit was found to be perfectly sound, and continued so after exposure many years to the open air. Mr. Farraday, who was at first opposed to the process, became so convinced by experiments of its efficacy, that he had lectured at the Royal Institution in favour of it. The fact was, that the corrosive sublimate (the matter used) formed a chymical combination with that part of the vegetable matter most likely to be affected, which altogether prevented a chance of dry-rot. Under these circumstances, the House would not do its duty if it did not press upon the Admiralty the adoption of the patent. If inquiry was necessary, it could be obtained by a Committee in two or three days, as all those most capable of affording it resided in town.

Mr. Labouchere

could not agree with the doctrine of the hon. Member, that such questions as these were adapted for the consideration of that House, and hoped he would not force upon it the overseer-ship of the navy, as it would lead to a great deal of inconvenience and confusion, at the same time, he could assure the House, that every disposition prevailed at the Admiralty to give the discovery of the petitioner a full and impartial trial. The hon. Member had correctly stated, that the experiment had been tried at the dockyard at Woolwich, and when he informed the House, that upwards of 300 discoveries, applicable to the same infection, had been submitted to the Admiralty, it would be instantly seen the importance of not adopting a proposition by which the whole navy of the country would be affected, without the most positive assurance as to the result. He was, however, enabled to inform the hon. Member, that the patent of the petitioner was about to be fairly tried at one of the docks, by adopting different sorts of wood prepared in the manner suggested by Mr. Kyan in the construction of the gates of the dock, which were alternately exposed to the influence of the air and the salt water. He would only observe, that the Admiralty was extremely desirous, as far as it was consistent with their duty to the public, to afford the fullest opportunity of a fair trial to those discoveries in art or science which held out any reasonable prospect of proving ultimately advantageous to the service.

Mr. Rotch

expressed his perfect satisfaction with what had fallen from the hon. Member, and observed, that if such a disposition had been evinced by the Admiralty five years ago, the House would never have been troubled with the present petition. He thought, nevertheless, the petitioner had just reason to complain of the treatment he had suffered from the Admiralty. It was perfectly true that a piece of prepared timber had been put into the "fungus pit" at Woolwich, but the request to put a piece of plain timber into the pit with that which was prepared, was actually refused; and, therefore, the trial was in fact no trial, although after several years the prepared piece of timber came out of the pit in the same state that it went in. The hon. Member mentioned other instances where, for the purpose of experiment, sound and unsound timber had been put into the pit; that which came out as sound as it went in was officially reported to be infected with the rot, and that which was put in in a rotten state, was reported to he sound. On a public examination which subsequently took place, upon the very same wood which had been a second time the subject of experiment, the same individual was compelled to eat his own words, and actually reported the identical wood sound which he had before reported infected. He adduced these circumstances, every one of which had fallen under his own immediate knowledge, to show that the discovery of the petitioner had received anything but a fair trial; but, like the roots of a tree, they might all be traced to the same stem. It was well known that the surveyor of the navy had said the discovery was all a delusion, and that it was of no use whatever; and when an individual whose opinion on these subjects influenced the whole of the members of the Navy Board entertained particular theories, it was not to be expected that discoveries, however valuable, would obtain an impartial experiment. So great was the influence of the individual alluded to, that though the First Lord of the Admiralty had adopted the patent in building his own house, though the Commissioners of Woods and Forests had employed it in the Regent's-park and elsewhere, still the same discovery could not be applied to the navy, where some hundred thousand pounds would be saved to the country, because a high authority reported it useless.

Sir Edward Codrington

was convinced there was every disposition to give scientific discoveries a fair trial by the present Lords of the Admiralty, as evinced in the present instance, as well as in the case of some of his constituents, who bad submitted some discoveries to the Board of Admiralty and had received the greatest encouragement. The blame rested with the late Admiralty, of which he would give the House an instance. A Danish officer sent a valuable discovery to the Admiralty for experiment. His invention met with no encouragement, and probably no trial was made of it, and in a short time he was informed it was useless. Under these circumstances, he (Sir Edward Codrington) gave him a letter of introduction to Admiral de Rigny; the invention was immediately adopted by the French government, and applied to the whole of the French navy. He had the curiosity to ask the officer what he demanded for his discovery, when he said, he should have been contented to give it up to the Admiralty for 500l. Was it not therefore a national disgrace that an invention which might have saved many thousand lives and an endless expense to the country, and which could have been obtained for such a paltry sum of money, should have been lost to the country for the want of a fair trial.

Petition to lie on the Table.