View his portrait in the Waterford Museum

Source - Dictionary of National Biography


Major, the inventor of "Palliser shot", was the fifth and youngest son of Wray Palliser (d 1862), and was younger brother of John Palliser (q.v.) and of Wray Richard Gledstanes Palliser (see ad fin.) of Comragh, co Waterford. He was born at Dublin on 18 June 1830,and was educated at Rugby and at Trinity College, Dublin. Thence he went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and, after spending some time at Sandhurst, he obtained a commission as ensign in the rifle brigade on 22 April 1844. On 1 Aug of that year he became Lieutenant. He joined the first battalion in the Crimea, but saw no active service. The battalion returned to England in June 1856. In 1858 he exchanged into the 18th hussars, and on 5 Aug 1859 he was promoted captain. He was aide-de-camp to Sir W Knollys at Aldershot for a time, and on 6 July 1860 he went to Dublin as brigade -major of cavalry. He remained there till 1864 when he accepted an unattached majority on 4 Oct. In December1871 he retired altogether from the army.

While he was still an undergraduate at Cambridge he had turned his mind to rifled ordnance and projectiles. Some shot of his design were tried at Shoeburyness in 1853, and a rifled mortar in 1855. he took out a patent for projectiles on 20 July 1854, and another for improvements in breechloading rifles, &c., on 8 March 1860. Two years later he made the first steps towards the three inventions which proved most fruitful, and with which his name is chiefly identified. On 11 Nov 1862 he patented "improvements in the construction of ordnance and in the projectiles to be used therewith", and defined his principle as being to form the barrel of concentric tubes of different metals, or of the same metal differently treated, "so that as nearly as possible, owing to their respective ranges of elasticity, when one tube is on the point of yielding all the tubes may be on the point of yielding". One application of this principle was to insert tubes of coiled wrought iron - an inner tube of more ductile, and an outer tube of less ductile, metal - in a cast-iron gun suitably bored out. Guns so treated were found on trial to give excellent results, and the method afforded means of utilising the large stock of cast-iron smooth-bore ordnance. Sixty-eight-pounder smooth-bores were converted into 80-pounder rifled guns, and 8-inch and 32-pounder smooth-bores into rifled 64pounders, at one-third of the cost of new guns. Some thousands of these 'converted guns' have taken their place in the armament of our fortresses and coast batteries.

A month later, 6 Dec 1862, Palliser took out a patent for screw-bolts, the object of which was to cause the entension due to any strain to be placed along the shank, instead of being, as heretofore confined to the screwed part, by making the stem or shank of the bolt slightly smaller in diameter than the bottom of the thread of the screw. This was especially intended for the bolts used in securing armour-plates, and the principle proved so effectual that Palliser bolts without elastic washers were found to stand better than ordinary bolts with them. Supplemented as it afterwards was by Captain English's proposal of spherical nuts and coiled washers, the "plus thread', as it has been since called satisfactorily solved the very difficult problem of armour-bolts.

On 27 May 1863 he took out a patent for chill-casting projectiles whether iron or steel and either wholly or partially. James Nasmyth (q.v.) has claimed priority here, as he suggested the use of chilled cast-iron shot at the meeting of the British Association in Oct 1862. But whether or not Palliser owed the idea to him, an unverified suggestion does not go far to lessen the credit due to the man who worked it out experimentally both for shot and shell, overcame practical difficulties, such as the tendency of the shot to fly if coiled too quickly, and determined the best form of head for it, the ogival. The failure of Nasmyth's compressed-wool target showed that the proposals of even the ablest men cannot be adopted indiscriminately, and it was only by degrees that chilled shot proved their value. When tried in Nov 1863 there were found to be a marked improvement on ordinary cast iron, but it was not till 1866 that they were recognised as actually superior to steel for the attack of wrought-iron armour while their cost was only one-fifth. In that year they were introduced into the service and the manufacture of steel projectiles ceased. Owing to the introduction of steel-faced armour, steel shot have no again superseded them.

It would not be easy to find a parallel instance of inventive activity exerted so successfully in three different directions in the space of six months. Palliser's inventions were developed in subsequent patents, of which he took out fourteen dealing with guns, bolts and projectiles, between 1867 and 1881. He also patented improvements in fastenings for railway-chairs, in powder-magazines, and in boots and shoes, between 1869 and 1873. In 1866 he published "Notes of recent Experiments at Shoeburyness", but withdrew it soon afterwards. During the siege of Paris he wrote several letters to the "Times" and some leading articles in it, which were afterwards embodied in a pamphlet on "The use of Earthen Fortresses for the defence of London, and as a Preventive against Invasion" (Mitchel, 1871). He proposed to surround London with a chain of unrevetted earthworks, about five miles apart, extending from Chatham ro Reading, and to occupy the most important strategical points between this chain and the coast by similar works or clusters of works. What he proposed has since been partially carried out. In acknowledgment of his services he was made C.B. (civil) in 1868, and was knighted 21 Jan 1873. In 1875 he received the cross of a commander of the crown of Italy. After unsuccessfully contesting Devonport and Dungarvan, he was returned to parliament in 1880 for Taunton as a conservative. He headed the poll, beating Sir Henry James, who was returned with him, by eighty-one votes. In 1868 he had married Anne, daughter of George Perham.

He died in London 4 Feb 1882 and was buried in Brompton cemetery. Before his death he complained that he was "persecuted to the bitter end" by officials in the war office, and this complaint has since been repeated by others, who have said that the treatment he received hastened his death. The grounds of it, as stated before the royal commission on warlike stories in 1887, are that, although his principles of gun construction were adopted for the conversion of old cast-iron guns, he could not get them applied to new guns; and that when petitioned in 1877 for a prolongation of his patent for chilled shot, it was opposed by the war office and refused, although the war department had no interest in the question, direct or indirect, as it had the free use of the invention. The answer made to this charge was that the war office had not opposed the prolongation. It had only asked that, if granted, the rights of the crown should be reserved, as Palliser had already received 15,000l as a reward for this invention. The prolongation was refused because the accounts rendered were not in sufficient detail, and because it was shown that there had already been a clear profit of 20,000l from royalties on shot and shell made for foreign governments. The same course had been taken by the war office in regard to the prolongation of the patent for guns, for which Palliser had received 7,500l from the war department.

Note by TJS: Sir William Palliser was my great-grandfather. His wife, Lady Palliser (nee Hannah Perham) was the model for the portrait "Charlie is my Darling” by Millais  A bad copy of the portrait of Lady Palliser, which sold at Christie's

Hansard reported a motion put forward to increase financial recognition to Sir William and his family. Having saved the nation several million pounds, says the motion, Sir William’s widow and children were ‘destitute’.

The ancestry of Sir William Palliser

Designed and created by TJ Simmonds




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