HL Deb 25 July 1873 vol 217 cc966-70

in moving an Address for Correspondence relating to the invention of the "Boxer Shrapnell" Shell, said: My Lords, I have to ask your Lordships' attention for a short time to a ease in which I think that a public Department has scarcely done justice to a gentleman who deserves better treatment at their hands. The Mr. Hope who is named in my Notice, served with distinction in the Army in the Crimea, and obtained a Victoria Cross for valour in the field. At the end of the war he left the Army, and adopted the profession of a civil engineer. His name is well known in connection with works for drainage of towns and for scientific agriculture. Although not an Artillery officer, he had opportunities of which he took advantage, of studying artillery practically, and he noticed specially, defects in the spherical shells then in use in the artillery, uncertainty of flight, and generally, uncertainty in their destructive effect. On his return to England he designed a shell of a different form and construction, in which he hoped to remedy the acknowledged defects of the service shell. He took his pattern to the Artillery authorities of the clay, but the time was not opportune, it was unsuitable to the gun of the period, &c., and his invention was coldly received; but he was so satisfied of its merit, and that it would be called for some day, that he deposited his pattern and drawings at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, in charge of Colonel Boxer, who was then, and for several years afterwards, attached to the laboratory there. Mr. Hope paid little attention to the subject for some time, being engaged otherwise; but in 1869 he noticed reports of most favourable results from a new shell in some artillery experiments at Dartmoor. He made inquiries, and found that this was substantially his own shell, which without any notice to him had been patented in 1864, by Colonel Boxer with some modification, and had been adopted into the service with the War Office name of "Boxer Shrapnell." Mr. Hope found his own pattern still at Woolwich, and satisfied himself that the two inventions were in all material points identical. Mr. Hope then put himself into communication with the War Office, writing in the plainest terms his claim to the invent ion, stating that he had himself given the model to Colonel Boxer at the former time named. The result was the correspondence which is the subject of my Motion. It will be unnecessary, and perhaps irregular, for me to take your Lordships through it. The substance is, that Mr. Hope claims that the name and credit, and if there is anything more than credit attaching to the new shell, it is rightfully his. His claim is supported by the legal and scientific opinions of Mr. Grove; now Mr. Justice Grove; Mr. Aston, Mr. H. Lloyd, Q.C., Mr. Young (Lord Advocate)—gentlemen experienced in cases connected with inventions and patents, who respectively give their opinions that the invention is substantially his; and that if he had taken out a patent originally, Colonel Boxer's patent could not have stood at all. I am quite aware that Colonel Boxer has rendered valuable assistance to the War Office in the scientific development and in the manufacture of war material, and that without entirely neglecting his own interests, he has been an efficient public servant. But that is no reason why he should adopt his friend's shell without acknowledgment; and it is no reason why the War Office should hesitate to make full inquiry into such a claim as Mr. Hope has brought forward. This Correspondence with the War Office lasted about two years. Mr. Hope has never been informed, as far as I can learn, that the War Office is satisfied that he has no claim; in fact, he has had no definite answer at all, except that Mr. Cardwell declined to continue the correspondence. At first there seemed to be a disposition to examine the merits; but Mr. Cardwell subsequently adopted the view that it was a dispute between Mr. Hope and Colonel Boxer, which ought to be settled by a civil action, in which he would take no part; but Mr. Hope having no patent had no claim against anyone for an infringement, and not being commercially interested in the manufacture of shells, he had no claim against anyone for damages, so he was in difficulty about his civil action. Moreover, the War Office, professing to be impartial, had taken a very strong part on one side, by retaining the name of "Boxer Shrapnel" to the invention in dispute; and it is quite as necessary for the credit of the War Department as for the interest of the ether parties concerned, that the whole transaction should be known, and that a dispute which involves a grave charge against an officer of the Department should be settled. Mr. Hope has expressed his perfect readiness that his claim should be submitted to the judgment of Sir William Eyre, or of the President of the Royal Society, or of any impartial arbitrator of high standing, and I submit to your Lordships that such would be the best way of disposing of this claim; but the case is one of considerable importance, and could only be decided by a really responsible arbitra- tor. I am aware, from a short official experience, of the intricacy of claims to inventions, and of the difficulties that surround such questions. Sometimes a worthless invention is pressed, on speculation; sometimes a really valuable invention fails in some detail; and when that is supplied as an invention upon an invention, cross and confused claims arise. But I submit that this case separates itself from such uncertain claims; it is brought forward by a gentleman whose position is known; it is not worthless, for its value has been proved by its adoption into the service; it is not too intricate to be settled by some such reference as Mr. Hope is willing to submit to; and it would be right for the War Office to adopt this course. My Motion in form is an Address for Copies of Correspondence; but I should be glad to hear that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne), in consenting to produce whatever Papers can be properly produced, will be able to say that the matter will be placed in the hands of a competent arbitrator for disposal. The noble Earl concluded by moving that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for— Copies of Correspondence in 1870–71 between the authorities at the War Office and Mr. W. Hope, V.C., late of the 7th Royal Fusiliers. relative to the shell adopted into the service, and officially known as the "Boxer Shrapnell," which Mr. Hope claims to be his invention, and substantially identical with a shell deposited by himself in charge of the late Superintendent of the Royal Laboratory, Woolwich Arsenal, in December 1856: Also for, Copies of any Correspondence between the authorities at the War Office and Major-General Boxer, or the Judge Advocate-General, or other Law Officer of the Crown, upon the above subject.—(The Earl of Longford.)


bore testimony to the services of Mr. Hope, who had received the thanks of the War Department. He was one of those to whom Mr. Hope had shown his invention, and he entertained no doubt that the "Boxer Shrapnel" was substantially the same. Mr. Hope's invention had been adopted by many foreign States, who looked upon it as one of the most effective instruments of war; and he trusted Mr. Hope would receive recognition in his own country.


said, the War Office had no objection to the production of such Papers as the De- partment had in its possession. He was not aware of the existence of any letters addressed to the Judge Advocate General or other Law Officers of the Crown on the subject. He thought their Lordships would agree with him that until the Papers were on the Table of the House he should refrain from entering into this very intricate matter.

Then, the latter part of the Motion being withdrawn,

Address agreed to.