페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

the Laboratory, have flourished during the present century in an unequal degree. For fifty years the former of these branches of the Arsenal has been more or less in a high state of efficiency, through the introduction of machinery from the workshops of Messrs. Bramah and Maudslay, and of the contrivances of Bentham and Sir I. Brunel. The improvements which were due to their inventive genius rendered this department highly efficient during the French war, on the conclusion of which a long period of inactivity followed; and it was not until 1847 that symptoms were manifested of renewed life under the able superintendence of General Gordon, and still later of Colonel Colquhoun. The Laboratory during the same period appears to have remained entirely stationary, and up to the year 1853 was far inferior to that of any third-rate power. The backward condition of the sole arsenal of England during the long interval of peace seems at first sight remarkable, when we consider the amount of mechanical ingenuity which had penetrated into every factory in the kingdom ; but when we remember that the instruments and munitions of war are special articles, wanted only for special periods, occurring at uncertain intervals of time, the wonder ceases. Private manufacturers had no interest in forging instruments of destruction, and the State having conquered a lasting peace,' Vulcan was allowed to fall into a profound sleep-a sleep so unbroken that the nation listened for a moment to the voice of those Manchester charmers who would fain have persuaded us the time was come when our swords could with safety be turned into pruning-hooks. In the midst of this amiable delusion, the Northern Eagle attempted to seize upon the sick man, and Britain instinctively flew to arms.

This sudden spasm of war following upon a forty years' peace at once disclosed the fact that we were totally unprepared to wage it. There were not shells enough in the Arsenal to furnish forth the first battering-train that went to the East, and the fuses in store were of the date of Waterloo. A fourth part of the money which we joyfully expended, when the wolf was at the door, would have been thought the demand of a madman when Europe was supposed to be one big sheepfold. Economy prevented efficient progress; and though the authorities had latterly originated reforms, their exertions were limited by their scanty resources. As the war proceeded, the Ordnance were at their wits' ends for coarse-grained gunpowder, which, as it was not an article of commerce, had to be specially made for them. Small arms were wanted in haste, and could only be constructed at leisure. In these straits the private manufacturers of the country were applied to, but in many cases they had to learn a new art. Do what they would, with the power of charging fabulous prices for shot and shell, ammunition and small arms, their powers of production were totally inadequate to meet the strain of the great siege, the proportions of which grew larger day by day. All the mills in England could not make powder at the rate at which it was shot away—a rate which consumed a hundred thousand barrels before Sevastopol was taken; nor could all the armouries of London and Birmingham make rifled muskets and sabres fast enough for our men. Consequently we were obliged to go to Liège for 44,000 Minié guns, 3000 cavalry swords, and 12,000 barrels of powder, and to the United States for 20,000 barrels more.

fabulous famous

It may seem passing strange that England, whose manufacturing power is so enormous, should have to resort to foreign manufacturers for the arms wherewith to fight. Money in such a country, it is often said, can procure anything, and money in this case was no object. The want of suitable machinery was the cause of the difficulty. The manufacturers could only make the articles demanded of them by skilled labour, which is a thing that must be acquired before it can be hired. Old machines can be put to extra duty ; fresh machines can be readily supplied ; but skilled labour is a fixed capital which cannot be suddenly increased. The result was a lamentable slowness of production and an extraordinary dearness of price. The munitions of war in some cases more than doubled in value. It is calculated that the shells for the Baltic fleet alone, which were fabricated entirely by private manufacturers, cost upwards of 100,0001. more than they would have done had they been made by the new machinery lately introduced into the Arsenal. A still stronger case to show the extraordinary prices which the Government had to pay contractors when the demand was imperative and supply confined to two or three houses, was that of the 6-pounder diaphragm shells. They were charged by the contractors at 731. per ton,

. whilst the very same article is now made in the Royal Laboratory at 141. 19s. 2d. per ton! These exorbitant demands, and the rapid drain of the stores, led the War Department to consider whether it would not be better to organise a government establishment on the most extensive scale, and on the most improved system; and it was ultimately determined to adopt a plan by which it would be possible to expand or contract the productive power, according to the exigencies of the service, by means of machines, which could be tended by untutored labourers and boys. Accordingly a very large number of the most ingenious machines were procured from the United States, where the Springfield and Harper Ferry Arsenals have long been famous for their admirable contrivances to save human skill, while others were procured from the Continent and at home, by Mr. Anderson, the superintendent of machinery. In a very short time a powerful factory of the munitions of war sprung into life, verifying for the ten thousandth time the truth of the proverb that necessity is the mother of invention, or at least, as in this case, of improvement.

The introduction of machinery on a large scale put to flight the old traditions of the Arsenal, and the manufacturing spirit had to be substituted for the military organization under which the establishment had been conducted before. Such was the energy and rapidity with which the old Arsenal reformed itself, that we question if any private factory in the kingdom is conducted upon a better system than is already at work there. Within these three years factories have sprung up on every side, and the whir of wheels, and the measured stroke of the steamengine, can now be heard over the whole of its immense area.

The three manufacturing departments into which the Woolwich Arsenal is divided are as follows :- The Royal Gun Factory, under the superintendence of Colonel F. Eardley Wilmot, R.A.; the Royal Carriage Department, under the superintendence of Colonel Tulloh, R.A.; and the Royal Laboratory Department, under Captain Boxer, R.A. Through these factories we will conduct our readers, and endeavour to give them an idea how human ingenuity has perfected the means to destroy human life. The Gun Factories, by right of age, take precedence, although in point of interest they present the least attractive features to the spectator.

The fact which most strikes him as he threads his way amid the Cyclopean machinery is the slow, inevitable manner in which the different processes are carried on. Here you see a large lathe turning the outside of an eighteen-pounder, revolving as noiselessly and as readily as though it were only turning a brass candlestick—the fixed tool cutting off its thin shavings of metal with as much ease as if it were boxwood. In the next machine a gun is being bored, the drill twisting its way down the fixed mass, and a dropping shower of bright chips proving how resistlessly its tooth moves on towards its appointed goal. A third machine cuts off the dead head of a cannon. All guns are cast in the pits in a perpendicular position, breech downwards, and are made at least one-third longer than they are intended to be when finished. The reason for this is, that the superincumbent metal forming the dead head' of the piece may by its weight condense the portion below it which is to form the true gun—the extraordinary pressure of the powder

requiring

a

requiring the metal to be extremely close in order to withstand the strain. Besides these lathes, which do the more ordinary work of the factory, there are what are termed exceptional machines to finish those parts of the gun which the lathe cannot touch, such as the projecting sight, the trunnions, and that portion of the barrel which lies between them. No increase has taken place in the size of the Brass Gun Factory, although, through the energetic action of Col. Wilmot, its produce has been doubled since the breaking out of the war. Fourteen pieces of brass ordnance, six, nine, and eighteen pounders, can be turned out weekly. Brass is used for field-pieces on account of its resisting power being greater than that of iron. Experiments which have lately been made, however, tend to show that steel is a far lighter and better material even than brass for this purpose. A German, named Krupp, has produced some steel pieces which bear an enormous charge; in fact, when well made, it is almost impossible to burst them. The Emperor of the French has already ordered 350 of these guns to be introduced into the service, and probably we shall have to follow suit.

The fine building recently erected in connexion with this department is intended for the manufacture of iron ordnance, which has hitherto been produced exclusively by private manufacturers. The experience of the late war, however, determined the Government to furnish at least a portion of these stores themselves. A thoroughly reliable gun must be worth any price that its efficient manufacture demands; for the failing of a single piece may lose a battle, and bring with it consequences which would be cheaply averted by a park of artillery cast in gold. In the late campaign we were prevented from striking a great blow through this very cause alone. At the bombardment of Sweaborg no less than seventeen of the thirteen-inch mortars were destroyed through a want of tenacity in the iron of which they were composed. Many of these ponderous engines split after a few rounds, and may now be seen on the wharf of the Arsenal cleft in twain as clean as Tell's apple. Yet these mortars were made by the Carron and Low Moor Companies, the most celebrated private manufacturers of such articles in England. Had they stood the strain, we should have utterly destroyed the fortifications of this stronghold, instead of burning a few sheds, which made a great blaze without doing much mischief; and had we possessed a sufficient number of these formidable engines, the destruction of Cronstadt and Sevastopol would only have formed the work of a few days. Though ours is a land both of iron and manufactures, our guns are of inferior quality to those of other nations. The cannon captured at Sevastopol are of better iron than the cannon we

brought

a

of

brought against them. Several thousand tons weight of the guns dismounted from Cronstadt, in order to make way for pieces of heavier calibre, were bought, we understand, the other day by an English firm with the intention of converting them into cranks and boilers, which require the very best material. The Americans insist upon a tenacity of cast-iron for their ordnance equal to a pressure of 34,000 lbs. on the square inch, and sometimes obtain it equal to 45,000 lbs., whilst we, the greatest manu

, facturers of iron in the world, have hitherto seldom obtained it of a strength equal to 20,000 lbs. This great deficiency Government hope to remedy by the institution of a series of experiments on all classes of iron both foreign and indigenous. There is a curious machine in the Gun Factory specially invented for the purpose of testing the tenacity of each sample, its capacity of withstanding compression, its transverse strength, and its power of resisting torsion. It is curious to see this iron-limbed Samson wrestling with mighty bars of metal, and twisting and tearing them across the grain like bits of stick. The fractured remnants of the specimens and of the guns rent in the testing process in the Marshes and at Shoeburyness are collected in a museum, the history of each specimen being minutely given. Thus a curious and instructive record is gradually being acquired, which will prove infinite use in the manufacture of heavy ordnance. It has been already ascertained that guns are universally strengthened by having wrought iron rings put round them-a fact which was discovered during the course of experiments with the heavy cannon bored with an oval rifle to receive the Lancaster shell. Several of them having burst at the muzzle, this simple expedient was tried, and the guns so girded now bear the most extraordinary charges without flinching.'

The new building for casting, boring, and finishing iron guns, is both externally and internally the most imposing-looking of all the structures erected to meet the exigencies of the Crimean war. These spacious factories present more the appearance of first-class railway termini than of ordinary workshops. They are lighted with what are termed saw-roof lights, having a northern aspect; for the Vulcans who can work all day in the burning blaze of furnaces do not, it appears, like to be distracted with the confusing rays of the sun! The number of turning, boring, finishing, planing, shaping, drilling, slotting, and punching machines that revolve, thump, and slide here in ponderous grandeur is prodigious, and there can be very little doubt that it will be the most perfect and powerful factory in the world of its kind. Travelling-cranes, wbich run upon railways poised in air overhead, command every inch of the factories, so that cannon of

the

.

« 이전계속 »