The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations - London 1851

Industry of all Nations

May 1, 1851 - October 11, 1851


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Military and Maritime Engineering, Artillery, Weapons and Equipment

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This is obviously the warlike part of the Exhibition.
The title, as well as the meticulously scientific subdivision under which this branch has been arranged by Professor Playfair, allows us to admit, in this enterprise so eminently peaceful in all other respects, all the devices which man can invent to destroy his brethren with as much promptitude and ease as economy. It seems, indeed, that this is a friendly cartel sent by the learned professor to his colleagues in the military state. "We desire," he seems to say, "to encourage the arts of peace, to establish a conflict, pure of bloodshed, between the nations of the earth, a rivalry of industry and skill, of taste and genius; but yet, though we consider your manner of giving vent to the warlike appetites of our nature, as out of season and reason ; though we firmly believe that the world can exist as well without wars as society without duels; yet, gentlemen of the long sight and the sword, we cannot deny you the open field which we offer to all industries. There is a district for you in the central part of the building, there is a captain to arrange it. Army, navy, artillery, what can you do? What have you worked out with your four hundred millions a year? And you, too, chagrined spirits, who criticise the distribution of these funds, and who believe that you would provide better ships, better guns, better barracks, and better citadels, than those administrations to which you lavish so many insults, show us what you propose to substitute for them, and let the world be the judge between us!"

However, it was not easy to exclude from this class many articles of an eminently peaceful character. From the military navy to the merchant navy
merchant navy there is only one step. The steamers of war are closely allied to the steamers; the gunboats to the lifeboats; and the handguns are as well and as widely employed by the hunting amateurs as by the grenadiers.

If we confine our present review to the English part of the edifice, we shall find that the exceptions have generally become the rule; for
never was a more peaceful response made to such a bellicose appeal. The navy has scarcely taken any notice of it, the army much less so. With a few exceptions, the models of warships and of the offensive and defensive appliances, which are related to them, are remarkable only for the perfection with which the models are executed. There are very few proposals for modes of complete destruction; some proposed improvements in military equipment; some efforts to solve the interminable question of infantry headgear.
But all this is completely drowned by lifeboats, racing boats, shotguns, and fishing nets.

We propose, however, on another occasion to call the attention of our readers to some of these objects, as well as to the warlike inventions of some amateurs, among which we may mention the entirely new system of fortification proposed by Mr. Ferguson.
In doing so, we shall endeavour to leave aside all sentimental repugnance for bloodshed, and examine the merits of this destructive invention with the purely scientific spirit which directed its author.

We believe that the small number of destructive devices is not purely accidental; we believe, on the contrary, that in this respect, as in many others, the exhibition is a faithful expression of the thoughts and needs of all the nations which contribute to it. Abroad, any proposal tending to improve the means of attack and defence is encouraged by the State, subjected to rigorous examination, and if the invention is found to be effective it is immediately adopted. The inventor is showered with decorations and honours. He is often rewarded far beyond what he deserves. In England, on the other hand, the case is different. A man who incessantly asks for changes and improvements, whether he belongs to the army or not, is often looked upon as a pest by the government and rejected as he deserves most of the time. It is very likely that inventions of real value slip through our fingers in this way. But this is certainly a much lesser evil than that produced by sudden and often imprudent changes in military equipment. We shall cite, as an example, that which has recently been made to the Prussian rifle, and which is now found to be a real good fault. This Vin class was, however, a boon to all the inventors of the kingdom, and from the fact that there were so few projects of this kind at the exhibition, it remains to be shown that very few minds are turned towards the invention of destructive devices.

Some theorists will say that no art can disappear among those practised by mankind until it has reached its perfection. If this be true, there is little hope of success for the Peace Society; for, however poor our exhibition of war machines may be, it is none the less true, from what our military friends say, that they are still susceptible of much improvement - take the cannon, for instance:
There is undoubtedly a metal or combination of metals more suitable for field pieces than copper, or rather bronze, currently in use. With the latter metal, the minimum weight compatible with the sufficient impetus to be given to the projectile is attained; but bronze is soft, and becomes so soft by the heat of a rapid fire, that cannons melted with this metal are unsuitable for many important uses. Moreover, besides the fact that the use of bronze is very costly, it can be said that it is too good a raw material to be left to the whims of a conqueror.

Many attempts have been made to forge cannons from fluted iron, which, it is assumed, would have the same strength and weight as copper. So far none of these attempts has been successful in the eyes of the eminent men who decide on these matters at Woolwich. But the Belgian part of the exhibition shows us some new trials in this respect; and what is a still more surprising proposition, Mr. Krapp, a manufacturer of Essen, in the Rhenish provinces of Prussia, exhibits a piece of 6, molten steel, which we would admire as a perfect specimen of workmanship, even if it had no other merit in our eyes. We shall refrain from pronouncing on its value, which it would be very difficult to ascertain unless an experiment were carried out in front of the Woolwich Mound; but we beg our military readers to examine it carefully, and to hear the interesting explanations given by its obliging inventor, if he is still in England. All the parts of the carriage are of molten steel, and exhibited only as a specimen of workmanship; the gun itself is of molten steel, except a strong iron cylinder which surrounds the breech. The object of this cylinder is to give weight to the gun, and in no way to increase its strength.

Independently of the gun it is possible that a better projectile than a sphere may be discovered, though no other so far has been found more effective for the gun; and it is also possible to find a powder which leaves no solid residue when consumed. Simplicity, however, is the most important point in all these things; for it is not good to give the gunners themselves too much to think about when they are at the fire. Few men are able to think calmly, when in the presence of the enemy, which of the spear-shaped or paraboloidal ends of a piece of iron should go first into the mouth of a gun. The man who is to drive it back into its place must do so with as little remorse as the man who points it at the enemy, and he need not fear that it will remain half way.

But we have really said enough on this subject by now. Our usually peaceful pen would lead us to details that make us shudder. We will therefore confine ourselves to stating that all the arrangements of this class of the exhibition have been placed under the direction of Captain Westmacott, of the Royal Engineers, and Mr. "Watts, of the Royal Navy; and that these articles are exhibited principally in the East Gallery.

© Palais de Cristal – Journal Illustré de L’Exposition de 1851