HL Deb 10 July 1854 vol 134 cc1420-9

having presented a petition from Edward John Carpenter, Esq., a Captain in the Royal Navy, complaining of the misapplication of the public money voted by Parliament for the Patentee of the Screw Propeller used in the Royal Navy, and praying for inquiry and relief, proceeded to move— That there be laid before this House a Copy of the Agreement entered into by the Lords of the Admiralty, or on their behalf, in respect of which a sum of 20,000l. has been paid on account of patent rights for the propellers used in Her Majesty's Navy, The noble and learned Lord said he requested the particular attention of their Lordships to this case, which involved the application of a large sum of money, or rather the misapplication of that sum, and he was quite sure that his noble Friend at the head of the Treasury, as the guardian of the public purse, would attend to the question with much interest. He would endeavour to state the facts as shortly and with as much precision as possible, and he was sure, when they were rightly understood, they would make a strong impression not only on their Lordships, but on his noble Friend. Those of their Lordships who were acquainted with the subject must be aware that the original plan of screw propulsion was the operation of a screw of considerable length. As it turned out, the application of that principle did not succeed to any considerable extent; there was not a facility given for the escape of the water, and the water, acting upon the machinery, retarded the progress of the vessel. The next step was to cut down the screw. That had the effect of diminishing the evil, though it did not remove it. There was then a third project, and that was to divide the screw into two convolutions. That plan, however, was liable to the same objections. At last it was considered proper to take only part of the screw. A difficulty then arose, which Captain Carpenter set himself about to remove, with a view to the service of the Royal Navy. After he had devoted several months to the subject, he attained the end which he so much desired, in the production of a most perfect screw propeller, and in 1841 he obtained a patent for his invention. He then applied his machinery to a vessel of considerable size—a vessel of seventy feet in length—upon the Thames. It was exhibited in the presence of a great number of scientific persons, amongst whom was Sir Edward Parry, the comptroller of the steam department of the Admiralty. The report made by those gentlemen on the occasion was decidedly in favour of Captain Carpenter. Having conducted those experiments to the public service, Captain Carpenter wrote to Lord Minto upon the subject. Lord Minto, in reply, thanked him for his most valuable invention. Lord Minto, however, left office in August, 1841. Shortly afterwards Captain Carpenter was appointed to the command of a vessel called the Phillis, which was a vessel of war; the vessel, however, was not worked by a screw, though she was a steam propeller. After he had been so appointed, Captain Carpenter was directed to apply the machinery which he had invented to that vessel. He did so, and a considerable portion of that machinery was applied at his own expense. When the vessel was completed it was visited by the Lords of the Admiralty and several other persons, who were capable of forming an opinion upon the merits of his invention; amongst others, by the engineer to the Board of Admiralty, and by Sir E. Parry. The result was a report highly favourable to Captain Carpenter. The Board of Admiralty then resolved to send him out to the Mediterranean, where he was directed to put himself under the command of Commodore Owen, in order to have his experiments still further tested. Commodore Owen was a man of great scientific skill. Accordingly Captain Carpenter proceeded with his vessel to the Mediterranean, where his machinery was fully tried. The result was, that Commodore Owen reported favourably to the Board of Admiralty upon his invention. Captain Carpenter remained absent from this country about two and a half years. During his absence the Board of Admiralty, being desirous of making further trials of his machinery, fitted up a vessel of war called the Rocket, upon which they tried successive experiments with this screw. From that time to this Captain Carpenter's screw was the only one used in the service—there was no other patent of any kind used in any of Her Majesty's ships or vessels. Some time ago, under the authority of the House of Commons, a sum of 20,000l. was appropriated by the Admiralty "on account of the patent rights for the propellers used in Her Majesty's ships and vessels." These were the words contained in the Navy Estimates laid upon the table of the House of Com- mons. Their Lordships might not be aware of the great number of patents which had been granted for different parts of the screw propeller. At the time to which he was adverting a company had been formed, called the Amalgamated Screw Propeller Company, which consisted of five or six members, and of which Mr. Currie, a partner in a banking firm in the City of London, was at the head. This gentleman applied on the part of the company— he being the head of the company, and interested in its success—he applied to the Board of the Admiralty for the payment of the sum of 20,000l. The Board of Admiralty did not take the trouble of investigating the claims which were made to a participation in the Parliamentary grant, but they adopted what he thought, and what he believed his noble Friend opposite would also think, a most extraordinary and unwarrantable course. They agreed to pay the money over to Mr. Currie on his giving them a guarantee that the money should be applied as it ought to be applied. He was not aware of the precise wording of the guarantee, but it was an indemnity to the Admiralty, with respect to the application of this sum of 20,000l. Their Lordships would not be surprised that, under such circumstances, Mr. Currie, being at the head of a company of patentees for rights of this description, had divided the money among his own friends, the members of that company. Captain Carpenter having discovered that this money had been so applied, or at least part of it—for, in the first instance, a sum of 10,000l. out of the 20,000l. was paid over—immediately went to the Admiralty and had an interview with the Duke of Northumberland, who was then at the head of the Board. The Duke of Northumberland was very much surprised at the statement which Captain Carpenter had made, and gave that gentleman to understand that the order for the second sum of 10,000l. had been sent to him for signature, but that after what he had heard he should make further inquiry into the facts before he signed it. Captain Carpenter thought that he had obtained a hearing; but it afterwards transpired that the whole of the 20,000l. had been paid over to Mr. Currie, on his guarantee, and that the reason of its having been paid over was this, that the Admiralty having entered into an agreement, and, by virtue of that agreement, having paid a sum of 10,000l., considered them- selves bound to pay the remaining 10,000l. also. Could anything be more extraordinary than the course pursued? Here was a sum of money in the hands of the Admiralty to be applied in a particular manner, to be divided among certain individuals, possessing certain merits; and the Admiralty, instead of inquiring into those merits, and ascertaining for themselves who were entitled to the money, and in what proportion it ought to be divided, had handed it over to a stranger to be applied according to Ids discretion, taking merely his guarantee that he would apply it properly. He thought that that was as gross a dereliction of public duty as it was well possible for any body of men in a public station to commit. Well, what was the next step? One of the persons who had received this money, or a large portion of it, was a person of the name of Low, who had applied to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for the extension of his patent. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham), who presided on the occasion, was assisted by the two Lords Justices, by Sir Edward Ryan, by the Judge of the Admiralty Court, and by another person, whose name he had forgotten. The matter was investigated with great minuteness, and the result was that a judgment was pronounced by his noble and learned Friend, stating in substance that the Committee did not consider that Mr. Low had any merits, that he had made any discovery, or that he had done anything useful to the public. Under these circumstances, there being no evidence to show that he had made any experiments, or taken any trouble in the matter, the extension of time which he applied for was unanimously refused. Yet this was the person who had received, by the favour of Mr. Currie, a very large proportion of this sum. This, however, was only a step in the case. Captain Carpenter had applied to the same tribunal for an extension of his patent also. Upon that occasion his noble and learned Friend did not preside, but another very learned person (Sir John Patteson) was substituted. The other members of the Committee were the same as in the other case. The Attorney General attended on the part of the Board of Admiralty, and the claim of Captain Carpenter was investigated with very great minuteness. Many witnesses were called—among whom were the manufacturers of screw propellers, the inspectors appointed by the Board of Trade to exa- mine the steam-vessels in the Thames, and other persons of experience in such matters —and were examined at great length; and the result was, that the Court came to a unanimous conclusion in favour of Captain Carpenter's claim. The fact that the Board of Admiralty, having had notice of the application, and having appeared by the Attorney General, was referred to in the judgment as a proof that they did not contest the validity of the patent, or the utility and value of the invention, and it was also noticed, as a fact which had been proved, that the invention had for some time been in use, and still continued to be used, in the Royal Navy. So that this patent was extended in consequence of its utility, in consequence of its having been in use some time in the Royal Navy, and in consequence of its validity not having been contested on the part of the Government on that occasion; yet this gentleman had been excluded from all participation, from all share in the money. A more unjust proceeding, he conceived, could scarcely be. The Attorney General, he should remark, had proposed to consent to the extension—or, at all events, not to contest it—provided Captain Carpenter would consent to allow the Board of Admiralty the gratuitous use of his patent. Captain Carpenter thought this a most unjust condition, and refused to accept it; and the Committee granted an unconditional extension for six years, as one which, in their judgment, would meet the justice of the case. The Attorney General attempted to engraft upon the judgment a condition which the Court thought unjust, and the extension was granted for six years, without any condition whatever. That the patent corresponded precisely with the instrument at present in use, and which had for ten or twelve years been in use in the Royal Navy, was proved by the manufacturers, the superintendents of steam navigation, and the other witnesses to whom he had referred. After this judgment Captain Carpenter again applied to the Board of Admiralty on the subject, stating his case fully, and referring to the decision which the Judicial Committee had given in his favour. The Board of Admiralty told him that they had given the money to Mr. Currie to distribute it properly among the persons who might be entitled to it, and that to Mr. Currie he must apply. To Mr. Currie accordingly he went, and told him that the Admiralty had sent him; but Mr. Currie declared that he had no connection with him, and that he declined to have anything to do with him, and referred him to his solicitor. The solicitor, however, would give him no information; and Mr. Rolt, the eminent counsel, whom he next consulted, advised him that he could maintain no claim against Mr. Currie, either in law or in equity, because Mr. Currie had received the money from the Admiralty under an indemnity, and was responsible to the Admiralty alone. Under these circumstances he went back to the Admiralty again, and the Admiralty took what he believed was a very usual official course, by referring him to their former answer. Now, here was a sum of 20,000l. voted by Parliament for a public object, and to be applied to that object by the Board of Admiralty, in which the Board of Admiralty, instead of applying it themselves, had handed it over to somebody else, who had applied it in a manner inconsistent with the object fur which it had been given, and who, being himself an individual interested, had distributed this money among his own friends—persons whose patents had never been used in the Royal Navy. Captain Carpenter was the only person whose patent had been used in the Navy, and the answer which he had received to his application for a share of the grant was, that his right to it was a question of law, and must be settled by some legal tribunal. But by what legal tribunal was it to be settled? He had been advised by Mr. Rolt that he could not proceed against Mr. Currie with any hope of a successful issue. He was willing to proceed against the Admiralty, but he was met by this difficulty, that he could not proceed against the Admiralty for using a patent for the service of Her Majesty. That would be a bar to the action. Then he put the case in this way:—The validity of the patent having been declared after full and mature investigation, it was very hard upon this gentleman, who had already spent so much of his time and 3,000l. of his money in effecting these improvements, that he should be put to an enormous expense in taking legal proceedings to establish it; but if the Admiralty would wave the objections in point of law, so as to enable him to try the question against them, he was content to do it. He (Lord Lyndhurst) put the matter upon that issue, if his noble Friend opposite, on the part of the Admiralty, would consent to have it so decided. Captain Carpenter was an officer of Her Majesty's service; he had devoted his time and his money to perfecting a most valuable improvement, which was in use at this time in every screw steam-vessel in Her Majesty's Navy; was it right that the Government should avail itself, without any compensation, of the results of these long labours and of all this large expenditure? Was it right that he should have no recompense for so valuable a service? They all knew how difficult it was for a private individual to fight against a Board. He had every respect for his noble Friend, but he was not the same man in two different localities. If he called on him at Argyll House, he was all benevolence, and his justice was tempered with mercy; but if he called upon him in Downing Street, he was a rock. However, the case which he submitted to the House was this. Here was a large sum of money belonging to the public which bad been grossly misapplied. Captain Carpenter asked for explanation and investigation. Whatever mode of investigation his noble Friend chose to point out, Captain Carpenter was willing to accept; and he (Lord Lyndhurst), on the part of the public, asked for examination also. He would subscribe to any mode of investigation which his noble Friend might be willing to agree to; but investigation there must be, or a gross injustice would be done to Captain Carpenter, as well as to the public.


I have no objection to offer to the Motion which my noble and learned Friend has made. Your Lordships must admit that Captain Carpenter has at least had most able and efficient advocates in bringing forward his case; and I can only say there is no desire whatever on the part of the Government to do any injustice to Captain Carpenter, or not to admit his claim, whatever that may fairly be. But the question with which I have to do is not the relative merits of the patentees of the screw propeller—for I profess to have no knowledge or means of judging of the merits of Captain Carpenter's patent as compared with those of the other gentlemen who are in question, and who have received the money voted by Parliament for compensation for the use of the screw propeller in the Navy. My noble and learned Friend has stigmatised, in very strong terms, the conduct of the Board of Admiralty in entering into time agreement which they made upon this subject; but I must beg to observe to my noble and learned Friend, that the Admi- ralty acted under the very best legal advice, the highest authority which could possibly be obtained—they acted under the authority and with the sanction of the present Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, of the present Master of the Rolls, and of Mr. Justice Crowder; and therefore, when I am told—[Lord LYNDHURST: What, in handing over the money to Mr. Currie?] They acted under their authority, and with their sanction, in obtaining this indemnity and guarantee to the Admiralty, which was intended to secure to all parties entitled under the terms of the Parliamentary grant that they should be duly indemnified. Now, this was done in the year 1851 by the Board of Admiralty of which Sir Francis Baring was at the head, a man most just in all his actions, and not at all likely to commit so flagrant an injustice as, according to my noble and learned Friend, has been committed in this case. Well, 10,000l. having been paid in 1851, in 1852 the late Board of Admiralty took the same view of the matter, and paid the remaining 10,000l., refusing any further proceeding or inquiry into the case of Captain Carpenter. The present Board of Admiralty have followed the same course, and have declined to enter into the question as to the respective merits of these inventions, but have left the parties—this being purely a patent question—to assert their rights at law.


Captain Carpenter's is a patent right which is actually in use in the Navy, and the Admiralty use no other.


I beg my noble and learned Friend's pardon; one of the patentees in question has done what Captain Carpenter may do if he thought proper to assert his right. Mr. Low has brought actions against private individuals for using his screw, and has succeeded in those actions. Let Captain Carpenter do the same thing. Let him bring his action, not against the Crown, for that he cannot do, but let him bring his action against a private individual for using his screw propeller; and then, if he succeeds, he will establish his right as Mr. Low has done. That Captain Carpenter's patent was extended there is no doubt; but there certainly was not pronounced upon the part of the Court any decision from which it can be assumed or established that Captain Carpenter was entitled to any part of the sum voted by Parliament for this purpose. The parties to whom that money had been paid are solvent parties, and Captain Carpenter can have his remedy against them, if he thinks proper to establish his right. My Lords, since my noble and learned Friend has taken his case in hand, Captain Carpenter has risen in his demands. Two days ago he made application to the Admiralty, in which he preferred a claim, not only for the whole sum of 20,000l., but also for the sum of 45,000l. for the use of the propeller which he considers to have been adopted in the Navy—also a royalty of 2l. for every horse-power employed, until the expiration of his patent in the year 1860—as well as another royalty of 2l. per horse-power for a licence for manufacturing screw propellers. Captain Carpenter is right, no doubt—availing himself of the advocacy of my noble and learned Friend—in not abating his demand. Now, I do not say whether Captain Carpenter's screw propeller is one that ought to receive a portion of this money or not; but this I say, that the Admiralty has paid over the money voted by Parliament to a certain number of patentees, of whom there were various, but between whom it could not be the province of the Board of Admiralty to decide. In paying over that money, however, they have taken the security of solvent parties, who are bound to satisfy those who can establish a just claim on the amount; and therefore, if Captain Carpenter chooses to have recourse to the proper mode of asserting his right—I believe he must proceed by scire facias that, if the result should be successful, would establish his claim at law, which the decision of the Judicial Committee in favour of the extension of the patent does not at all do. Captain Carpenter has never obtained any decision of a court of justice in his favour, or set up the validity of his patent, and I apprehend that until he has done that, the Admiralty cannot take upon themselves to pay him the sum which he demands. As I have before said, my noble and learned Friend may easily believe that I can have no other object in this matter, either in this House or out of it, except to do justice; but your Lordships will see that it is impossible for me to pronounce any opinion of my own upon this subject. The Admiralty is the only proper Board to which Captain Carpenter can appeal, and if the course which they have pursued renders it indispensable that he should have recourse to legal proceedings in order to establish his case, that is the only advice which I can give him, and the only remedy which, as far as I am concerned, it seems possible for him to have.


pronounced this answer to be most unsatisfactory. He could not repress his astonishment that a gentleman who had exerted his talents for the good of his country, and whose plan had been adopted, not only in this, but in other countries, should have been so met. Captain Carpenter was now told to go to law, whereas his solicitor had told him that he could proceed neither against Mr. Currie nor against the Admiralty. As a private grievance this was bad enough, but as it affected the public it was much more serious. In his (the Earl of Hardwicke's) opinion, the Admiralty had grossly misapplied this money. The sacred trust reposed in the Admiralty was to take care that whoever was the inventor of this particular plan should be entitled to the reward; but, instead of fulfilling that trust, the money had been handed over to the Screw Propeller Society, whose head had divided it amongst his friends. And why was this? Captain Carpenter was absent from the country on public duty, and he was forgotten. For the sake of their own case and convenience the Admiralty said, "Don't let this man bother us: here is Mr. Currie, the banker, of Cornhill, give him the money, and all trouble will be saved." The public had been grossly injured in this case; and an excellent officer, who had done more than any officer living in the service of that public, had been choused and cheated by the Minister of the Crown out of his due.

On Question, agreed to.