Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Manton, Joseph

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MANTON, JOSEPH (1766?–1836), gunmaker, was, according to the specification of a patent granted to him in April 1792, then established in business in Davies Street, Berkeley Square, London; his name does not appear in the 'Directory' until two years afterwards. He remained in Davies Street until 1825, and his shop, No. 25, became widely known to shooters. Colonel Peter Hawker [q. v.] was a great friend and admirer of 'Joe Manton,' as he was almost universally called, and his 'Instructions to Young Sportsmen' abounds with references to Manton's skill. Blaine (Encyclopedia of Sports and Pastimes, 1840, p. 748) is more cautious, but admits that 'had he never done more than invent his breech and his elevated rib his name would have been associated with the fowling-piece as long as fowl remained to be killed.' The possession of one of his guns was an object of ambition to sportsmen. Praed writes in his 'Chaunt of the Brazen Head:'—

Still brokers swear the shares will rise,
Still Cockneys boast of Manton's gun.

He took out several patents between 1792 and 1825 for an improved hammer and breeching; a spring to prevent the rattling of the trigger; cartridges; a perforated hammer to allow air to escape when the charge is being rammed down; the ' elevated rib, by which the barrels of double guns are connected together; the 'gravitating stop' to prevent accidental discharge, and the 'musical sear,' by which a musical sound was produced on cocking the piece. According to Daniel (Rural Sports, iii. 440), Manton applied for a patent in 1790 for a machine for rifling cannon, and for an improved shot with a base of soft wood to take into the grooving. He was offered a sum of 600l. for these inventions, which he declined. The patent was refused, in consequence of the interposition of the board or ordnance, although the king's warrant for the sealing of the patent had been issued. In his best guns he introduced platinum touch-holes for preventing corrosion, and his barrels were proved by hydraulic pressure. He used to say that none of his guns were ever known to burst. His inventions unconnected with gunmaking comprised a method of enclosing clocks in exhausted cases; air-tight sliding tubes for telescopes; and a tool for boring holes in horses' feet, so that shoes might be attached by screws instead of by nails. Hawker claims for Manton the introduction of the copper nercussion-cap, but this is hardly borne out by the evidence. He unquestionably had something to do with the introduction of the percussion system, as is proved by his patents of 1818 and 1825 for priming tubes, but these inventions fall far short of the simplicity of the copper cap.

Notwithstanding Manton's great reputation and the high prices he received for his guns he did not succeed in business, and in January 1826 he became bankrupt (London Gazette, p. 194). His certificate was eventually allowed, 20 July, but he never seems to have recovered himself. At the time of his bankruptcy he was carrying on business at 11 Hanover Square, but the next year he was in the New Road, then in Burwooi Place, and subsequently in Holies Street. He died at Maida Hill, 29 June 1835, aged 69, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery, his epitaph being from the pen of Colonel Hawker, who prints it in his 'Instructions,' Manton's business was carried on by his sons at 6 Holies Street until 1840, when it was acquired by Messrs. Charles and Henry Egg, also a name of repute in the gun trade. Manton married, on 17 Jan. 1792, at St. George's, Hanover Square, Marianne Aitkens, and the baptism of several of their children is recorded at that church.

His brother, John Manton (d. 1834), was also a gunmaker, with a reputation little inferior to that of Joseph. His shop was at No. 6 Dover Street, Piccadilly, where he carried on business down to the time of his death. He took out four patents, but none were of much importance. The business was continued by nis sons for some years afterwards.

The patent indexes also contain the names of George Henry Manton (son of John Manton) and John Augustus Manton, both of whom were gunsmiths. Charles Manton, brother to John Augustus, was appointed master furbisher at the Tower about 1829. Some of his inventions are described in a volume lettered 'Percussion Arm Papers, 1836 to 1847,' preserved among the ordnance papers at the Public Record Office. The same volume contains reports of trials of several inventions by the Mantons.

[Colonel Hawker's Instructions to Young Sportsmen, 11th ed. 1869, pp. 1, 6, 20, 76, 80; Blaine's Encyclopaedia of Sports and Pastimes, 1840, pp. 747, &c.; Daniel's Rural Sports, iii. 440, 480, Suppl. p. 447.]

R. B. P.