Warner, Samuel Alfred (DNB00)

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WARNER, SAMUEL ALFRED (d. 1853), inventor, from 1830 to the date of his death continued to press on the admiralty, the war office, and the master-general of the ordnance two inventions which he asserted were capable of producing the immediate and utter destruction of any enemy's ships or forts. The one he called an ‘invisible shell;’ the other his ‘long range.’ So far as can be made out from the very imperfect accounts, the first was a small torpedo or sea-mine, ‘no bigger than a duck's egg,’ charged with some high explosive; the second appears to have been a balloon fitted to drop automatically one or more of the ‘invisible shells’ over the devoted object. Several small committees, of the highest credit, were appointed to examine and experiment on these inventions; but as Warner persistently refused to show or in any way explain his secret till he was assured of the payment of 200,000l. for each, the committees could only report that they had seen a boat or a ship destroyed, but how or by what agency they were unable to say; that the proposed experiments with the ‘long range’ had not been made, and that, as far as they understood it, the same idea had been tried or proposed several times before; that they had no means of judging whether the ‘invisible shell’ could be of any use in war, or whether it could be carried safely in a ship's magazine.

In 1842 a committee, consisting of Sir Thomas Byam Martin [q. v.] and Sir Howard Douglas [q. v.], put Warner to a personal examination, and drew from him the statements that his father was William Warner, who in 1812 had owned and commanded a small vessel called the Nautilus, hired by the secretary of state and employed in secretly bringing over spies; that he himself had served with his father in the Nautilus, and had, towards the end of the war, by means of his invention, utterly destroyed two of the enemy's privateers, from which not a soul escaped. Of this there was no corroborative evidence. The occurrences had not been reported to the admiralty or to the secretary of state; the Nautilus had not kept a log; the dates could not be remembered; and no one could be brought forward as a witness. When he was examined on other personal matters, the result was equally unsatisfactory, all his attempts at autobiography being marred by flagrant anachronisms.

In 1852 the matter was again brought up in the House of Lords, on 14 May, and a committee was appointed to inquire into it; but a week later, 21 May, the Duke of Wellington pointed out that the inquiry was one of a scientific nature, and that it had been entrusted to the ordnance department. With this the matter appears to have dropped. The committee, though formally appointed, never reported, and Warner himself died in obscure circumstances in the early days of December 1853. He was buried in Brompton cemetery on the 10th. He left a widow and seven children.

[Parliamentary Papers, 1844, xxxiii. 419, 1846 xxvi. 499, 1847 xxxvi. 473, 475; Times, 15, 18, and 22 May, 13 Oct. 1852, 9, 21, and 22 Dec. 1853.]

J. K. L.