Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Manby, George William

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MANBY, GEORGE WILLIAM (1765–1854), inventor of apparatus for saving life from shipwreck, son of Matthew Pepper Manby, captain in the Welsh fusiliers, was born at Denver, near Downham Market, Norfolk, 28 Nov. 1765. Thomas Manby (1766?–1834) [q. v.] was his younger brother. He was sent to a school at Downham kept by Thomas Nooks and William Chatham, where he had for his schoolfellow Horatio Nelson, with whom he formed a close intimacy (cf. Description of the Nelson Museum at Yarmouth, 1849, Preface). He was subsequently transferred to a school at Bromley, Middlesex, and was afterwards placed under Reuben Burrow [q. v.], then teacher of mathematics in the military drawing-room at the Tower. After a short time he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, but in consequence of a delay in obtaining a commission in the artillery he joined the Cambridgeshire militia, eventually attaining the rank of captain. He married in 1793 the only daughter of Dr. Preston, and went to reside near Denver, but in 1801 domestic troubles, whose character is unknown, caused him to leave home. He settled at Clifton, near Bristol, devoting himself to literary pursuits as a means of distraction. In 1801 he brought out 'The History and Antiquities of St. David's,' followed by 'Sketches of the History and Natural Beauties of Clifton,' 1802, and 'A Guide from Clifton to the Counties of Monmouth, Glamorgan, &c.,' in 1802, all of which are illustrated by engravings from his own drawings. In 1803 he wrote a pamphlet entitled 'An Englishman's Reflexions on the Author of the Present Disturbances,' in which he dealt with the threatened invasion of England by Napoleon. This work attracted the notice of Charles Yorke, then secretary at war, and in August 1803 Manby received the appointment of barrack-master at Yarmouth.

His attention was first turned to the subject of shipwrecks by witnessing the loss of the Snipe gun brig off Yarmouth during the storm of February 1807, when sixty-seven persons perished within sixty yards of the shore, and 147 bodies were picked up along the coast. In considering a means of rescue it occurred to him that the first thing was to establish a communication with the shore. Remembering that he had when a youth once fired a line over Downham Church, he obtained from the board of ordnance the loan of a mortar, and in August and September 1807 he exhibited some experiments to the members of the Suffolk Humane Society. The apparatus was successfully used on 12 Feb. 1808 at the wreck of the brig Elizabeth. The invention had been submitted to the board of ordnance, who reported upon it in January 1808, and it made such rapid progress in public favour that the navy board began to supply mortars, &c., to various stations round the coast in the early part of that year. In 1810 the apparatus was investigated by a committee of the House of Commons, and the report was ordered to be printed 26 March of the same year. Further papers were issued 7 Dec. 1813 and 10 June 1814. Manby embodied the results of his work in a pamphlet published in 1812, entitled 'An Essay on the Preservation of Shipwrecked Persons, with Descriptive Account of the Apparatus and the Manner of Using it,' which has been reprinted in many different forms. In 1823 the subject again came before the House of Commons, on Manby's petition for a further reward. Up to that time 229 lives had been saved by his apparatus. The committee recommended the payment to Manby of 2,000l. (cf. Parliamentary Paper No. 260 of 1827). The use of the apparatus gradually extended to other countries, and Manby received numerous medals, which are described and illustrated in a pamphlet published by him in 1852. There are now 302 stations in the United Kingdom where the apparatus is in use. Since 1878, however, the mortars have been superseded by rope-carrying rockets.

Manby's claim has been disputed by the friends of Lieutenant Bell, who in 1807 presented a somewhat similar plan to the Society of Arts (see vol. x. of the Transactions of that body), and a gratuity of 50l. was awarded to the inventor. Bell's idea was to throw a rope from the ship to the shore; Manby's plan reverses this order of procedure. Manby also interested himself in the improvement of the lifeboat, and about 1811 he submitted his new boat to the navy board. The report of the trial is contained in the 'Navy Experiment Book No. 3,' preserved among the admiralty papers at the Public Record Office. The boat was tried again at Plymouth in 1826 (Mech. Mag. August 1826, p. 252), but it does not appear to have come into general use. He also directed his attention to the extinction of fires, and he was the first to suggest the apparatus now known as the 'extincteur,' consisting of a portable vessel holding a fire-extinguishing solution under pressure. This was exhibited before the barrack commissioners in March 1816, and also at Woolwich, before a joint committee appointed by the admiralty and the board of ordnance, on 30 Aug. 1816. On the same occasion he showed his 'jumping-sheet,' for catching persons when jumping from burning buildings (Gent. Mag. 1816 pt. i. p. 271, pt. ii. p. 270, 1819 pt. i. p. 351; Mech. Mag. 2 Oct. 1824, p. 28). The subject is further dealt with in Manby's 'Essay on the Extinction and Prevention of Fires, with the Description of the Apparatus for Rescuing Persons from Houses enveloped in Flames,' London, 1830.

About 1813 he commenced experiments with a view to the prevention of accidents on the ice, and on 19 Jan. 1814 he read a paper before the Royal Humane Society, embodying the results of his useful labours. The paper, which contains numerous illustrations, was printed in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' 1814, pt. i. p. 428, and also in the 'Mechanics' Magazine,' January 1826, p. 216. In 1832 he published 'A Description of Instruments, Apparatus, and Means for Saving Persons from Drowning who break through the Ice,' &c. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1831. Manby died at his house at Southtown, Yarmouth, 18 Nov. 1854. His first wife died in 1814, and in 1818 he married Sophia, daughter of Sir Thomas Gooch of Benacre Hall, Suffolk. She died 1 Oct. 1843.

There is a portrait of Manby in the 'European Magazine,' July 1813, and another in his pamphlet describing the medals presented to him, already referred to. The print room at the British Museum possesses three others.

In addition to the works already mentioned Manby wrote: 1. 'Journal of a Voyage to Greenland,' 1822. 2. 'Reflections upon the Practicability of Recovering Lost Greenland,' 1829. 3. 'Hints for Improving the Criminal Law, with Suggestions for a new Convict Colony,' 1831. 4. 'Reminiscences,' 1839. 5. 'A Description of the Nelson Museum at Pedestal House,' Yarmouth, 1849. The chief contents are now in the museum at Lynn. A volume lettered 'Captain Manby's Apparatus 1810 to 1820,' preserved among the Ordnance Papers at the Public Record Office, contains a large number of Manby's original letters and official reports of the trials of his apparatus.

[Authorities in addition to those cited: European Mag. July 1813; Gent. Mag. 1821 pt. ii. passim, 1855 pt. i. p. 208; Reminiscences, 1839; The Life Boat, January 1855, p. 11; Tables relating to Life Salvage on the Coasts of the United Kingdom during the year ended 30 June 1892, published by the Board of Trade; General Report on the Survey of the Eastern Coast of England for the Purpose of Establishing the System for Saving Shipwrecked Persons, London, 1813. The only known copy of this tract is bound up with the volume of Ordnance Papers referred to above.]

R. B. P.