Anti-torpedo device, 1888

My Defensive Apparatus would Lie in the Water just as quietly as the Wire Netting until the Torpedo came pokeing around. And then there
would be a Pow.

Providing adequate protection from potential attack by sea was a constant preoccupation for the colonial authorities, particularly during the second half of the 19th Century.

While the government fulfilled its responsibilities by constructing coastal fortifications and maintaining small naval squadrons and associated brigades, some patriotic citizens offered their services in novel and creative ways. One such was John Slater, ‘Mechanical Inventor’ of Howlong. Slater was clearly an enthusiastic amateur inventor, and keen to make it clear that he was also both a true Englishman and a good colonist. The government was sufficiently interested to reply, taking him up on his offer to supply further details. However, on receipt of the model and associated lengthy notes, the authorities decided not to take the matter further, after receiving advice from naval officers that the proposal was not practical.

Finding objects in the State archives collection is not a common occurrence, but it does happen from time to time. This tiny, carefully-made wooden model was sent to the Colonial Secretary by John Slater, along with his written proposals for anti-torpedo defence systems. Its survival in the records was probably aided by its very small size, and the fact that it folds up to a relatively flat shape, allowing it to be ‘filed’ with the associated correspondence. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how it was meant to work, as Slater’s somewhat rambling description does not shed much light on his invention.

Source: NRS 906 Colonial Secretary: Main series of letters received, 1826-1982
Letter from John Slater 21 March 1888 re his anti-torpedo inventions 88/3779, in [1/2718B] plus enclosure to correspondence (model)


John Slater
Respecting his Invention of Howlong near Albury
Defensive apparatus March 21 1888
88 3779
28 Mar
The Honourable Sir Henry Parkes
Premier Sydney
Dear Sir
I am a Native of Denton, a country
village 6 miles from Manchester in Lancashire. And I Immigrated
from Liverpool on the 27th of June and Landed in Melbourne on the
first of October 1857: In 58 I camp up to the Indigo Diggins, and in
59 I came to reside in Howlong NSW And I have lived here Ever
since. It is my fortune to be an Inventor And you will Recollect that
When Nations are at war with one another that their op-peration are
of an offensive and Defensive Character.
And with Regard to Torpedoes there is no known mode of Defence against
them only By keeping a strict Lookout and moveing the ship and
spreading the Netting Round them. My object in writing is to Inform
you that I have conceived a mode of Defence Whereby if the Government
will find me means and Place me a Board a ship I will undertake Either
to catch Alive or to Destroy Prematurely every Torpedo that can be
Discharged against it. What I mean By the Term catch alive is that I
will catch the Torpedo without Exploding it when the Enemy
Discharges a Torpedo against a ship, the object is for the missile to come
in contact with it and to Blow it up or to make a hole in its Bottom
suffienty large to sink it. My Defensive apparatus may be said to be
A pecullicular modifycation of Wire Netting charged in proper places with
sufficient Explosive Compound to Blow the Torpedo (itself) up as soon as
it comes in contact with it. And I assure you Sir that I could afford to pity
a Poor Innocent Torpedo if it came in contact with any Defensive
Apparatus: The Torpedo itself would be my motive Power. My
Defensive Apparatus would Lie in the Water just as quietly as the
Wire Netting until the Torpedo came pokeing around. And then there
would be a Pow. If an Enemies Torpedo was to come in contact with
one of our first class Iron Clad Warships It would mean Loss of from
half a million to a million of Pounds as well as the Loss of Probably
500 Lives. The question wich I wish you to answer is as follows
suppose that I Draw Diagram of my Plan And send you a Good
Discription of it And a small model of an Part of it wich will Enable
you to comprehend it. Will you Read it carefully over and consider its
feasibility and then Place it Before Lord Carrington the Governor and
the Minister of Works And more Particularly Before Major Cracknel
who I understand is at the Head of the Telegraphic and Torpedo
Department Because I should require His assistance or the assistance
of some other Expert. I(f) you answer this question in the affirmative
I will forward my plan as soon as I can.
My Reason for Informing You Who I am and Where I come from
is Because I claim to be as Good and Englishman as Any in or Out of
England Also I have Lived in the Collonies so Long that I Claim to be
a Good a Collonist as any in or out of the Collonies.
And unless England mentains [maintains] Her Supremacy on the Ocean She
will Before very Long Lose Her Premier Position among the
maritime Nations of the World.
P.S. I can modify the Apparatus in two or three Different Ways.
I am
With the Greatest Respect
Yours faithfully
John Slater Mechanical Inventor
Howlong Near Albury
The Commandant
B C [Blank Cover] 25.4.88
P U S [Principal Under Secretary]
I think what the
inventor requires might be done
Retd C.S.O
2 May 88
The writer might be asked
to send in a Diagram
or Description
Mr Slater
22 Ag 1888

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