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Captain Alexander Blakely RA

Captain Alexander Blakely RA

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Published by essroberts1466
“Original inventor of improvements in cannon and the greatest artillerist of the age”
“Original inventor of improvements in cannon and the greatest artillerist of the age”

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Published by: essroberts1466 on Jun 19, 2012
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Dedicated to the memory of John Roberts, killed in action on June 19, 1864,off Cherbourg, France, beside a 7 inch Blakely gun
Captain Alexander Blakely RA
“Original inventor of improvements in cannon and the greatest artillerist of the age”
Steven Roberts
 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________  ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
Alexander Blakely 1827-1868
The Blakely Patent
First Manufacture
Cannon for Peru
Cannon for the South
Cannon for Russia
The Blakely Ordnance Company, Limited
The Guns
Parrott, Brooke & Blakely Guns
Blakely & Dahlgren
Blakely’s Patents
1. Introduction
 _________________________________________________ aptain Alexander Blakely RA is a name that anyoneinterested in the American Civil War will be famil-iar with; his cannon are mentioned in battle after battle,in page after page of its history, on land and at sea. Yetscarcely anything is known about this man
his veryname is subject to query and question even now.He and the guns he designed flourished only brieflybetween 1855 and 1866, he and they are forever associ-ated with the South. The number of Blakely cannonimported or used by the Confederate States of Americais not known; but of the more than 470 guns manufac-
tured under Blakely’s patents between 1855 and 1866
the largest number were made for the south during theCivil War. They ranged from the 3¾ inch calibre fieldgun used to fire on Sumter in 1861 to two great 13 inchcannon of 60,000 pounds that defended Charleston in1863. There were several batteries of 3½ inch Blakelyrifled field guns with the Armies of Northern Virginiaand of Tennessee. 7½ inch Blakely cannon protectedVicksburg and Mobile.On the high seas the steamer
, in November1861 the first Confederate warship to visit Europe, wasarmed with two Blakely rifles.The cruisers
and the
carried the Con-federate flag and 7 inch Blakely cannon across the greatoceans. The battery of the cruiser
included threeBlakely rifles. The famous rams built in 1863 by LairdBrothers in Birkenhead to devastate Brooklyn NavyYard in New York City were each to carry four 9 inchBlakely guns in their turrets. The four cruisers buildingin France in 1864 but never delivered were each to havetwelve 68 pounder Blakely guns.The Brooke guns, so-called, of Confederate manufac-ture were cast, forged and assembled for the Confeder-
ate States Navy under Captain Blakely’s pa
tents withthe consent and co-operation of the inventor. In Parlia-ment on June 18, 1863, Captain Blakely declared, archly,
that shot at Charleston were fired “from guns either
made by me, which have found their way there some-how, or else made (and very ably made) by CaptainBrooke of the Confederate Artillery, from models sup-
plied by me.”
 A remarkable thirty-two Blakely guns still exist as relicsin North America either whole or in parts.His support went further than simple commerce. Inaddition to making guns for the South, during March
Captain Alexander Blakely RA
© Steven Roberts 2012
1862 - in an attempt to conceal their true ownership -Blakely bought ten batteries of Austrian bronze artilleryoff Captain Caleb Huse CSA for shipment from Ham-
burg to the south by the government’s steamer
.Blakely travelled to Hamburg to supervise shipment,even managing the rescue of eight cannon sunk in alighter on the river Elbe through sabotage.But there is more, much more to the life of CaptainAlexander Blakely...His guns were sold in hundreds to nearly a dozen othercountries, from America to Chile, China, Colombia,Denmark, Egypt, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Russia,Sweden and, especially, to Peru... But he never was ableto sell a single cannon for service in Britain.His life ended in ruin and scandal; this is the story ofCaptain Blakely and his Cannon. _________________________________________________ 
2. Alexander Blakely 1827
Manufacturer of Ordnance
 _________________________________________________ lexander Blakely was born in Sligo, Ireland on January 7, 1827; the son of the Very ReverendTheophilus Alexander and his second wife, Mary Wil-liam Blakely. His father, of English descent, was a min-ister in the Anglican Church, eventually becomingDean of Down. He was nominally Theophilus Alexan-der Blakely but preferred his second name, rarely usinghis first and signing with just his initials. Blakely hadtwo sisters, Mary Stewart Blakely and IsabellaChalmers Blakely; the odd female given-names were afamily trait.After education at the Royal Military College, Wool-wich, on June 14, 1844, at the unusually young age of 17Alexander Blakely was commissioned from GentlemanCadet to Second Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment ofArtillery; on April 2, 1846 he became First Lieutenant,and on April 1, 1852 he achieved the rank of SecondCaptain of Artillery, he was known universally as Cap-tain Blakely for the rest of his life. He retired on half-pay on August 18, 1852. During the Crimean War in July 1855 he took the temporary rank of Major and As-sistant Quartermaster General in the Irregular Cavalryof
General Robert Vivian’s
22,000 strong “Turkish
tingent”, a mercenary corps organised by the Bri
tishArmy. He served as such until December 23, 1855.Blakely finally left the service on May 10, 1861, by sell-ing-out his commission.On March 12, 1855 Captain Blakely had appeared as anindependent witness before the Parliamentary Commit-tee of Inquiry into the Condition of the Army at Sebas-topol. He was one of the few junior officers to be in-vited to appear: he reported bluntly that during his visitin the last fortnight of December the British soldiers
“were very wretchedly clothed,
very ragged and lookedhalf starved. They complained that they did not gettheir rations and had no rum at all
”. His observations
were reported nationally in the newspapers.On December 31, 1856, when aged 30, Alexander Theo-philus Blakely, Esq., Captain, half-pay, Royal Artillery,married Harriette Catherine Tonge, widow of Captain John Henry Tonge, 16
Lancers, of Alveston, Glouces-tershire, the only child of the late John Maugham Con-nell, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Blakely and hisnew wife moved from his sin
gle gentleman’s lodgingsin Little Ryder Street, St James’s, London to a small
rented house at 34 Montpelier Square, Brompton, WestLondon, which was his family home for the best part ofhis short life. They had no children.He was an inveterate traveller; he served the Royal Ar-tillery at Plymouth between 1844 and 1846, on theIonian Islands, in the Mediterranean, from 1846 until1849, and then on the fortress peninsular of Gibraltarbetween 1846 and 1852, where he retired on half-payafter his health failed. After wintering in Italy to recu-perate in 1852 he visited Constantinople, Turkey; in1854 he was in the Crimea. In the Spring of 1859 he wasin Spain and Italy; in March 1862 he was in Hamburg,before going on to Vienna and Constantinople again; inthe summer of 1863 he was in Paris, in the winter of1864 in Russia. In the war between France and Austriain northern Italy in May 1859 Blakely was with the Aus-trians providing reports for
The Times
newspaper. Healso spent much time in Ireland during the 1860s,where he held a property
called ‘Clermont’
at Ballykeel,Hollywood, County Down.Even at the age of eighteen when replacing the old 18and 24 pounders that defended Plymouth harbour with32 pounder cannon he was proposing to the MasterGeneral of Ordnance in London, a much larger gunthan that which had ever been considered before. He, asa mere Second Lieutenant, was ignored. Later, whenvisiting Constantinople in 1853, Blakely proposed to theOttoman authorities an original scheme for the defenceof the Dardanelles against Russian incursion - it in-volved floating batteries and twenty cannon each firinga projectile of an unprecedented 300 pounds weight.The heaviest shot in the Royal Navy then was 68pounds.Blakely was one of the first to apply theoretical scienceto the manufacture of ordnance, and went on to obtainseveral patents for inventions relating to cannon. In thisoccupation he came up against the interests of the in-dustrialists William Armstrong and Joseph Whitworth,who both sought to acquire manufacturing contracts forcannon from the government. Always something of acontroversialist, he engaged in vigorous debates withthese giants of industry and with scientific competitorssuch as his fellow countryman, Robert Mallet, creator ofthe great 36 inch calibre mortar of 1856.Blakely, after his initial military service, undertook along period of scientific research and calculation onwhich he founded original principles of ordnance. Hebecame skilled in manipulating the London press intogiving his ideas coverage. He used the learned societiesto give prominence and veracity to his principles ofordnance, and cultivated many scientific allies, as wellas being fearless, but reasoned, when challenged by his
Captain Alexander Blakely RA
© Steven Roberts 2012
peers. His first break came from the support of Wil-liam Needham of the Butterley Company, a huge con-cern that owned coal pits and ironworks, who wasclearly looking for government gun contracts. The But-terley works made his first test pieces.From his unique
base Blakely was able to ac-quire and then capitalise early orders from GiuseppeGaribaldi in Sardinia, Francisco Bolognesi in Peru andEdward Anderson of the Confederate States during1860 and 1861 into credit at a London bank or at Faw-cett Preston, the Liverpool ironworks, to get the firstproduction orders completed. Although, in 1898
Blakely’s widow stated that she had contributed £9,000towards her husband’s ear
ly experiments.By the 1860s he was a respected expert on ordnance andwas called to speak to the relevant committees of theBritish Parliament. Blakely was a valued contributorand speaker to the learned societies of the period in hisrole as engineer and artillerist. He also took on the in-dustrial interest by forming his own joint stock com-pany to make cannon. His profession from then, hestated,
was “Manufacturer of Ordnance”.
 Although most noted for his loyalty to the cause of theConfederate States of America, for whom he provided
nearly a hundred guns, Blakely’s
ordnance, advice andlicences for manufacture were sought by Chili, China,Denmark, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Spain,Sweden, and, interestingly, the United States.Blakely was a Member of the Royal Society of London,the British Association for the Advancement of Sci-ence, the Royal Irish Academy, an Honorary Member ofthe So
ciety of Engineers, the “Smeatonians”, and was a
Founding Fellow of the Anthropological Society ofLondon. He was also a vigorous contributor to the de-bates of the Royal United Service Institution, the mili-
tary “think
tank” of the day.
Socially, he was also amember of the Army & Navy Club, and of the RoyalVictoria Yacht Club. He owned at least two yachts.Sir Richard Burton, the famous explorer and writer,
became a friend of Blakely’s in the early 1860s. They
plotted together to provide ordnance for Francesco II,King of the Two Sicilies, in May 1860 when southernItaly was invaded by Garibaldi, the revolutionary, an-other cus
tomer of Blakely’s!
 For a few years he was a wealthy man. In 1866 hemoved from Montpelier Square to the much granderNo 1 Park Lane, overlooking Marble Arch, Hyde Park,in London. His immediate neighbour was the DowagerDuchess of Somerset. The new house had formerly beenthe town residence of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Bt,MP. In the summer of 1865 he bought the 300 ton steamyacht
of Charles Kuhn Prioleau, the English part-ner in Fraser, Trenholm & Company, treasury agents tothe Confederate States. Mrs Harriette Blakely became apatroness of charities, including one to assist membersof the ballet in time of sickness and distress.Blakely was by no means a snob; he supported withfunds, along with his peers Edward Reed, the navalarchitect, and Henry Maudslay, the engine builder, theLondon Association of Foreman Engineers, in its scien-tific and benevolent work.In addition to his ordnance interests, when the AtlanticTelegraph cable, between Ireland and Newfoundland,was being manufactured Blakely made a mathematicalinvestigation into its characteristics. He proposed, inAugust 1857, that to reduce the waste of cable payedout in slack, that the speed of laying be increased andthe specific gravity of the cable be reduced. He patentedin that year a process to control the velocity of cablesinking in the ocean.In the General Election of 1865 Captain Blakely stood asa candidate in the Liberal interest for the Tavistock con-stituency in Devon, where he was developing an ironworks. The two winners, also Liberals, took 330 and 179votes, Blakely, the fifth and last, had just eight votes. Hedoes not appear to have canvassed personally.During 1865 and 1866 Blakely maintained an adulter-ous relationship with Mrs Harriet Dering, which wasexposed in her divorce proceedings in June 1867. This,and the failure of his ordnance company in 1866, com-pletely ruined his reputation in England. He fled the
country and was declared an “Outlaw” to be arrested
on sight for failing to appear before the courts of justiceon July 27, 1867.He was to flee to the only place that would welcomehim, the source of his first success in gunmaking, wherehis cannon had just seen off an invading fleet, where hewas regarded almost as a hero. In his moment of dis-tress, Blakely left his creditors and the moralists behindhim in Europe and, by way of Panama, made for Peru.Captain Alexander Blakely RA died at Chorrillos indistant Peru of yellow fever on May 4, 1868, age 41. Heis buried alongside Mrs Dering in the
Cementaría Britá-nico de Bellavista
, at Callao.He left no will; the only persons entitled to his personalproperty and effects being Harriette Catherine Blakely,his widow, Mary William Blakely, his mother, IsabellaChalmers Blakely, his sister, and Mary Stewart Spankie,his other sister. Isabella was never to wed; Mary hadmarried Robert Spankie, a government lawyer in India.Despite his adultery, thirty years after his death, in 1898
his widow began a campaign to recognise Blakely’s
contribution to artillery. _________________________________________________ 
3. The Blakely Patent
o properly understand Alexander Blakely’s contr
i-bution to ordnance it is necessary first to under-stand the claims he made in the several patents he ob-tained between 1855 and 1866. As well as being awareof the many and varied claims within these patents oneneeds to compare these claims with the subsequentdescriptions of his manufactured ordnance. A fullsummary of the claims for each patent is contained inthe Patent page.Only his first patent, numbered 431/1855, for Im-provements in Ordnance, dated 27 February 1855 is

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