In Celebration of Shrapnel
The French hated and feared it in equal measure, calling it "Black Rain", for it cost them dear from Surinam in 1804 to Waterloo, despite capturing it at Maida in 1806 Napoleon couldn't copy it and it kept its secret until improved on by Colonel Boxer in 1864. An excellent summation of its history has been compiled, see: Henry Shrapnel’s Spherical Case Shot – A Force Multiplier for Wellington’s Army, - www.nick-lipscombe.net › Shrapnel.
But in brief: he was born on the 3rd June 1761, commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1779, he made many experiments at his own expense and in 1784/5 invented his Spherical Cased Shot but it was shelved until 1792. In 1803 his shell was adopted for service use. Promulgated assistant inspector of artillery 1804, Colonel 1813, Major General 1819, he retired 1825.
In his patent No. 6675 of 6 Sept. 1834 , at the age of 70, he made some interesting suggestions:
1. A moveable rear sight for a musket to allow for barrel inclination be graduated for different ranges.
2. To avoid damage to the supporting hand by a bursting barrel or lock blowing off - a prop, used in either a horizontal or vertical position ahead of the triggerguard of either a gun or fowling piece.
3. A joint in the wrist of the stock to allow adjustment for differing heights of shoulder to eyeline, so that a gun might be adjusted so that it could be brought to the aim by any person of any size.
4. A constriction of the barrel to produce an air gap between the charge and projectile, to increase charge impact.
5. For flintlocks, the steel or hammer, that is to say the part against which the flint strikes, should have edge fences to ensure the spark goes into the pan rather than spreading sideways.
6. A magazine for detonating balls, as an alternative to caps for a percussion gun.
7. A prop for a pistol, similar to that in 2 ante, which would allow the user to ward off a cut of a sword.
8. Parrallel grooves to the bore of rifle guns.
9. Two or more touch holes, "in order more effectually to insure the ignition of the charge".
10. Hollow shot filled with small shot, the interstices being filled with a brittle substance to obtain greater damage than solid shot.
11. That musket balls should be formed by a compound of tin and lead, or if iron should be washed with tin to prevent oxidation.
I have, in hand, a 14 bore fowling piece
with two of the inventions previously detailed. It was converted from flintlock with the lockplate fitted with a bridle with mounts above and below the tumbler shaft to improve ridgidity.
Note the three filled holes, red, and two spring locating slits, green
a hole in the triggerguard and a fitting to recieve a support detailed in 2 ante,
and a "bendy" butt
controlled with a screw mechanism housed in the butt plate tang.
Apart from "General Shrapnel's Patent" there are no maker's marks or number save the proof.
He eventually became a lieutenant general of the Royal Artillery in 1837 and the question of this remuneration was mooted, and received a very satisfactory answer at that time from His Majesty William IV., to the effect that some Court rank should be conferred upon him. Sadly William died that year and his baronetcy never materialised.
As an amusing aside his son, who invented corkscrews, presented a magnificent silver gilt one to Prince Albert in 1840, in the unfruitful hope that his father would be honoured (never let it be muted that there was a pecuniary interest to boot), it now resides in Queen Elizabeth II's collection of antiquities; a similar, less ornate version, recently fetched $25,200 at auction.
Continuing to seek rightful honour for his father, on 2 June 1852, he petitioned the Ordnance Select Committee who saw no objection to the renaming of "Spherical Case Shot" as "Shrapnel Shells" since "other nations have long since done this honour of invariably attaching his name to this weapon.