The bessemer process and the war office

Interview with the Secretary of State for War
Early Difficulties
Steel Gun Tubes
Colonel Wilmots experiments
Tests made at Woolwich

I was kept for some time in daily expectation of a reply from the War Office accepting my tender, but no letter arrived, and at last I ventured on seeking an interview with the Minister of War, Mr. Sidney Herbert. He appeared to know very little on the subject. I took, however, the opportunity of explaining to him, in as clear and concise a manner as possible, the great national interests hanging on his decision. I told him that steel, the strongest of all known conditions of the metal iron, had hitherto been so costly as to considerably restrict its use; that by my process we produced it at a cost not exceeding £6 or £7 per ton, instead of £50 or £60, its ordinary market value; that instead of being made in small crucibles of 40 lb. or 50 lb. only in weight, we could make five tons of it in the short space of twenty minutes in a single operation; and, what was still more important, instead of being the hard and brittle material, such as is required to make cutting implements, the new steel possessed a toughness and tenacity far exceeding the very finest qualities of wrought iron known in commerce. I also endeavoured to impress on him the fact that Colonel Eardley Wilmot had seen the process in operation, had amply tested it, and had in his office at Woolwich pieces of gun-tubes that had been put to such unheard-of proofs as to afford to the meanest capacity overwhelming evidence of its fitness for the construction of ordnance. I also told him that in the chemical laboratory numerous analyses had been made by their own chemist; that in their rolling mill, bars had been rolled, and in their testing-house an immense number of most satisfactory tests had been made as to the tenacity and toughness. I said that the people at the head of each of these departments at Woolwich could adduce abundance of corroborative evidence of every statement I had made.

Mr. Sidney Herbert listened to all this, and remarked that it was a technical question which he was not prepared to deal with at that moment; but said that he would give the whole matter his most earnest attention, and that I might call on him that day week to hear his reply.

I waited impatiently for this second interview, in full confidence that Colonel Wilmot, and other heads of the chemical and testing departments, would have been called on to corroborate, or disprove, the statements I had made, and would have given him such proofs in favour of mild Bessemer steel as would at once have secured me the contract to erect at Woolwich the converting apparatus which Colonel Wilmot was so anxious to see in practical operation there. But Mr. Herbert did not examine or consult Colonel Wilmot, who could have told him all about it. He made no enquiries at the testing or other departments at Woolwich, nor did he take the trouble to look at the flattened gun-tubes, and other proofs, which would have irresistibly convinced any man of ordinary capacity and intelligence that this material was, at least, well worthy of being put to a practical proof in the interests of the State, by the immediate construction of a gun. He informed me that he had consulted Sir William Armstrong, who, he said, had at once declared that "steel was wholly inapplicable to the construction of ordnance;" and who, if Mr. Sidney Herbert's statements were true, had succeeded in convincing him that it would be a waste of time and public money to put up the Bessemer apparatus at Woolwich. It was quite evident that Mr. Sidney Herbert had made up his mind to fling to the winds all the labours and trials of Colonel Wilmot, and at the same time to utterly ignore me and the expense and trouble to which I had been put.

The strongest protest on my part at this injustice, and my urgent request to have my process tried, failed to move Mr. Sidney Herbert one iota from his firm resolve to keep me and my process out of Woolwich, and to allow Sir William Armstrong, with his immensely more expensive welded iron gun, to have the field to himself. There was nothing for it but to submit, and I retired from this interview in deep disgust with Mr. Herbert and his arbitrary proceedings.

The event just recorded, although it had the effect of closing my connection with Woolwich Arsenal, did not in any way determine the fitness or otherwise of mild Bessemer steel for the construction of ordnance. I feel bound in honour, and in justice to my own name, to vindicate, not by mere words, but by an army of well-authenticated facts such as no intelligent person can lessen or deny, the perfect adaptability of this discarded material for that purpose.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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