HL Deb 14 May 1852 vol 121 cc620-8

moved for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the Warner inventions, and the several reports connected therewith. He should not have obtruded this subject on their Lordships had not the subject of the national defences been one which of late had been much agitated. The subject of Captain Warner's inventions had now been a long time before both Houses of Parliament, and their Lordships must all of them be more or less acquainted with their nature. Unfortunately, a name had been fixed upon one of these inventions —he meant the name of the "long range"—-which had given an opportunity for much ridicule and sarcasm on the whole of them. He would endeavour to remove the prejudice so created against these inventions by detailing the steps which Captain Warner had taken to bring them before the public. The noble Earl then gave a history of Captain Warner's measures to secure to this country the benefit of his inventions from the year 1820 down to the present time. He was then on the point of leaving England to assist Mehemet Ali in Egypt. The nature of the projectiles with which he was going out came to the knowledge of William IV., who persuaded him to forego an engagement from which he must have gained a princely fortune. His Majesty directed the late Sir R. Keates and the late Sir T. Hardy to examine and report upon Captain Warner's projectiles; and they reported in 1832 that they would be of great value to j this or to any other country which employed them; indeed, that no ship or fortress could stand against them. It was after the year 1832 that he (Earl Talbot) first became cognisant of them. He had witnessed several experiments made with them in Wanstead Park, and, as far as he could judge, they had been all successful. Subsequently Sir H. Douglas went into an inquiry as to the efficacy of these shells, but with a mind quite made up to consider them as nonsense. He had the greatest respect for Sir H. Douglas; but still he must avow that he had come to an opinion regarding them quite different from that illustrious individual. Time rolled on, and he (Earl Talbot) experienced great difficulty in getting the value of these projectiles inquired into by the Government. The noble Earl then read to the House the report made by Lieutenant Webster to Lord Melbourne in 1839 upon these projectiles, which was very strong in their favour. The noble Earl then detailed the circumstances connected with the blowing up of the John o'Gaunt, off Brighton. The vessel had been given for the purpose by the late Mr. Somes, the eminent shipbuilder. She was well adapted for the purpose, being well constructed, perfectly sound, and built of teak, the hardest description of wood. Captain Warner had offered to put the vessel into the hands of the Government, so that they might take it into any of the docks, but they declined, and the ship was brought down to Brighton, and was destroyed, as witnessed by thousands, in the most effectual manner. He held in his hand a certificate of the destruction of the vessel, signed by two of his brother officers (Captains Dickenson and Henderson), and they distinctly stated that the blowing up was not occasioned by any combustible in the interior of the vessel, but from something placed underneath or alongside; they added that the signal for blowing her up was made by themselves from the shore. There was another experiment, it was but fair to say, undertaken in the neighbourhood of his residence at Cannock Chase. The experiments were made for the purpose of showing that those materials could be safely carried to a considerable distance and in a simple manner by a balloon; the shots placed in the balloon on the occasion in question were not to contain any combustibles, but merely to show that the weights could be carried. Where a balloon was used, of course it could only be resorted to when the wind was favourable; and then it would be necessary, of course, for the assailants to be to windward of the town or ship to be destroyed. The balloon on that occasion certainly did not give the direction that they had chalked out for it; but the Commissioners were in such a hurry and so anxious to get back to town, that they actually did not wait to see the result. It was found that the shells had been carried a distance of more than four miles in a straight line; but the Commissioners never inquired where or when they fell, and reported that the experiment was a failure. He (Earl Talbot) contended that it was not, because the only question was whether those missiles could be sent to a considerable distance and in a straight line. He complained that Lord John Russell had at a subsequent period, and without instituting further inquiries, declared in a private room that Captain Warner might take his inventions where he liked, they had no need of them. After that the matter slept for some time, and when the Kaffir war took place, Captain Warner, as their Lordships were aware, made an offer to go out there and put an end to the war at once. He wrote on the subject to Lord Palmerston, who handed the letter to the late Secretary for the Colonies; but the proposition was not entertained. Sir George Murray, the late Master General of the Ordnance, subse- quently made arrangements for testing those inventions, and if they had been abided by, the merits of the inventions would long ago have been satisfactorily ascertained. The noble Lord then quoted extracts from letters written by several naval and military officers and noble Lords, all testifying to the merits of Captain Warner's inventions, so far as they had witnessed them. It might be said that he Earl Talbot would have done better if he had made his present application to the Government; but he had had enough of that. If he applied to the Prime Minister, he would have referred him to the Master General of the Ordnance, and the Master General would probably have referred him to the Commander-in-Chief, and that illustrious officer would probably write him a pithy letter that the matter was not within his province, and that the Commander-in-Chief did not meddle with matters which had not been brought regularly under his notice. He understood that very advantageous proposals had been made to Captain Warner by foreign Powers, more particularly a neighbouring country; and he had no doubt that if these inventions were adopted it would save the country the expense of a Militia Bill. All he asked for was inquiry—it might turn out as it had been termed that the whole was visionary nonsense; but, on the other hand, and he said it boldly, they were running the risk of losing what might turn out the best means of insuring the salvation and security of the country.


did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Motion; but he wished to observe that these inventions had been before the public for a great many years, and had been the subject of investigation before Government Commissions and scientific individuals, and of Commissions under the Ordnance and Admiralty combined. He had himself been invited to witness Captain Warner's experiments; but as regarded any inquiries that had taken place, they had all failed in eliciting anything from Captain Warner as to the nature of his inventions. He had refused to give any information unless he was guaranteed a large amount of money from the Crown. What he wanted to know was, whether, if Captain Warner came before a Committee, he would be prepared to give them thorough and perfect information regarding his inventions. If he was not—if he refused to lay before the Committee his mode of operation, with drawings, plans, and instruments, and the manner of working the invention—if he was to come before them and merely tell them that he required a large amount of money, varying from 400,000l. to as low as 120,000l.—if that was all they were to get, the Committee would be useless altogether. With the hope that Captain Warner would be ready to afford the necessary information, he should not oppose the Motion for the Committee.


wished to remind the House of what had passed respecting himself in an early stage of this matter. He had been requested by his noble Friend to go down to Winchester to see the experiment of the long range. Being a military man, he applied to the Commander-in-Chief for his permission, and was authorised by that officer to go. He went down. He passed the whole of one night—and a very long night it was—on the top of the Downs, while Captain Warner, in a sort of magic circle, with torches, began blowing up a balloon. He waited till broad daylight, when the balloon was nearly ready; and then he proposed to Captain Warner that the balloon should be sent off, but Captain Warner said he must look about' him with his glass to see whether there were any cattle or persons about, as he said it would be extremely dangerous; and it occurred to him (Lord De Ros) that when the day was so far advanced it would be dangerous if the experiment answered, and he therefore did object to the balloon going off; but Captain Warner endeavoured to persuade him that if it had gone off it would have succeeded. It ended in his coming back to London, and he confessed he came back perfectly satisfied that it was an evasion. If Captain Warner had been so sure of success, why did he not go with a steamer to the Rock of Ailsa, where there was nothing but birds, or to Shoebury-ness, and drop there one of his long-range Shells.


had no idea a Committee would be granted, because several inquiries had been made on this subject, and it had been stated in a report to the Master General of the Ordnance by Captain Chads, R.N., and Colonel Chalmers, R. A., that every facility had been given for a trial of Captain Warner's invention, and it had been a failure. In a debate in the House of Commons some time ago, Sir Howard Douglas had stated that Captain Warner's shells were no novelty, but shells of that description had never been used, as they were so dangerous to the operator.


said, these inventions were not by any means new, as they had been originally suggested by a very ingenious scientific individual, named Scott, who, in 1803, conceived that by means of shells dropped from balloons they might destroy the flotilla at Boulogne. He proposed to send off what he called fire-balloons, in a certain precise direction, according to the force and direction of the wind, and adjust the time of the falling of the shell to the flight of the balloon. That was mentioned to the Admiralty in 1803 or 1804, but they did not think it worth their while to avail themselves of the invention. When, however, this proposition of Captain Warner was made, he (the Earl of Minto) told Sir Thomas Hastings that he had a model of Mr. Scott's invention at his house in Scotland, and when he went down there he found it, and it was now on the table of his house in London. He thought it right to state that fact to their Lordships.


said, he know nothing personally of Captain Warner, and was by no means competent to pronounce an opinion upon the merits of his invention; but he was accidentally a witness of the experiment off Brighton as to the short range, and he must say, that so far as the destruction of the John o'Gaunt was concerned, nothing could be more effectual. The explosion was not like that of gunpowder, but it seemed as if the bottom of the vessel had been blown out by some shell in the water: the upper deck of the vessel remained comparatively uninjured, and then the whole fell to pieces. The impression, however, left on his mind by that experiment was very much that which was left on the minds of those who had witnessed the experiment of the long range. It was perfectly impossible for any spectators to have a conviction on their minds that this invention could be made available in the face of an enemy; they could not be sure that some explosive material had not been previously introduced into the vessel. It appeared to him that this Committee would end, like Captain Warner's experiments, in smoke, unless Captain Warner was prepared to give up his secret, and before the Committee to explain fully and entirely the principle upon which he pro- ceeded, and the ground upon which that principle would be applicable in case of war.


thought, that, on the one hand, his noble Friend (Earl Talbot) had been too sanguine concerning the success of the invention; and, on the other hand, that too much cold water had been thrown on the experiments that had been made, and which displayed, in some degree, that activity, industry, and enterprise, for which this age had been distinguished. He thought if his noble Friend (Earl Talbot) undertook to promise to bring Captain Warner forward, and that Captain Warner, without any further hesitation, proved intelligibly what his invention was—he (the Earl of Malmesbury) did not care whether it was his own invention or not—but if he could prove that these newly-invented applications could really be useful to this country, he (the Earl of Malmesbury) was sure the Government would try to meet the views of the noble Earl. At the same time, he was of opinion that a Committee upstairs was about the last place such a matter should be brought before; but he thought if his noble Friend (Earl Talbot) could promise that Captain Warner would divulge his secret without further hesitation, there would be no objection on the part of the Government to grant the Committee.


thought it was rather hard to call upon Captain Warner to divulge his secret before a Committee, and thereby make it public to the world, and afterwards to tell him that they were not bound to give him any reward for it. He thought that would be exceedingly unjust. If Captain Warner produced his secret before the Committee, and it appeared such as he said it was, in that case he should receive his reward. That proposal he (the Earl of Wicklow) thought would be a fair one; hut without such an understanding, Captain Warner would not be justified in divulging his secret.


said, with respect to one of the two plans which Captain Warner declared himself to be in possession of, as a noble Earl had stated that that was not Captain Warner's own invention, it would be better for the Committee to put it out of consideration. They well knew what it was. Any person of common mechanical ingenuity might endeavour to apply that plan, and it had been tried with no great success. At the siege of Venice the Austrians tried it, and it failed then, as it happened, in consequence of a current of air occasioning the shell to drop into the sea. Another current of air, perhaps, might have caused the shell to fall into St. Mark's Place; hut, on the other hand, an opposite current might have driven it hack to the Austrians, with very inconvenient consequences to themselves. The other plan was worth while inquiring into; hut he thought that Captain Warner ought to explain it to some person in the service of the Crown, whose professional experience might guide their Lordships' Committee in forming a judgment as to the merits of the invention. From all that he had heard on this subject, he conceived that Captain Warner made use in his plan of some of those powerful chemical compounds with which any smatterer in chemistry was acquainted, but which were extremely dangerous to handle or to apply to the purposes of war.


said, common shells by rolling in a ship were apt to burst; but the materials employed by Captain Warner were perfectly safe up to the moment of their use. He should have no hesitation in producing Captain Warner before the Committee; and he undertook to say that Captain Warner would give any information which their Lordships thought he ought to give. The suggestion that Captain Warner should not disclose his secret without receiving reward, perhaps deserved consideration; but Captain Warner was prepared even to do that, if so desired by the Committee. He believed one of Captain Warner's agents was not gunpowder, hut electricity, and that his invention was totally different from Mr. Scott's.


suggested the propriety of appointing some scientific men to inquire into these inventions in connexion with the Master General of the Ordnance. Without meaning to say anything offensive, it appeared to him that Captain Warner, at the eleventh hour, had always shelved such an inquiry.


thought it was easy for the Government to appoint some scientific person to inquire into these inventions. The investigation would then be much better carried out than by their Lordships.


quite concurred in the opinion that scientific men should be appointed upon this Committee. If his noble Friend obtained this Committee, the course he conceived they ought to take, would be to appoint such of their Lordships as were conversant with military matters upon that Committee, who should be the judges of the value of the statement made by Captain Warner. He had, however, risen to guard the Government against any misconstruction upon one point in particular. He had stated that he could not recommend the appointment of a Committee upon this matter, unless his noble Friend could promise, on the part of Captain Warner, that he would lay aside all mystery in reference to these inventions, and that he would make a full and distinct statement upon oath to the Committee. After his statement was made, and his secret divulged, that secret could then be laid before persons competent to judge of the value of any practical experiment in any practical place. He, however, wished to guard the Government against being supposed to have given Captain Warner any sort of promise that this divulging of his secret would be followed by anything like a reward, which it appears he had at first expected the Government to give him. If, then, Captain Warner appeared before this Committee, he must give his explanation with the distinct understanding that no promise had been made to him, or bribe held out, for inducing him to divulge a secret which, until then, he had refused to disclose. If his noble Friend thought he could promise on the part of Captain Warner that he would fulfil these conditions—although he (the Earl of Malmes-bury) confessed he was not at all sanguine of the results, but he would be sorry to let his doubts influence his judgment in respect to the present Motion—if, as he had said, Captain Warner was disposed to make a complete disclosure of his inventions to the Committee, without the expectation of receiving a single farthing for so doing from the Government, he (the Earl of Malmesbury) could not see how any objection could be urged against such an inquiry.


was understood to assent to those conditions. He said he did not at all wish the Government to part with a single sixpence to Captain Warner unless they were perfectly satisfied of the value of these inventions. He would answer so far for Captain Warner.

On Question, agreed to.

House adjourned to Monday next.