Researching the life of 'The General' has been an absorbing and fascinating study. Much can be found about his public life that showed him to be a dedicated soldier. He entered the Army at the age of 18, rising quickly through the ranks of the Royal Artillery achieving notoriety for his inventions of destructive weapons. He was, however, to be a disappointed inventor. After spending his lifetime on inventions, notably the case shot shell, he was to have little reward for his efforts. His shell undoubtedly swung the tide against Napoleon in the Peninsular War. He spent most of his private money pursuing his ideas, alleged to be in excess of £30,000 that in today's terms would have been a colossal sum. He has been described as a genius with a deadly skill and a devastating talent.

 

In 1827 he had the singular honour of being the guest of King William IV at Brighton being promised a baronetcy. This was not to be as the King died and Henry appeared to lose favour at Court.

 

Henry retired to Southampton where he had several properties. He died there at Peartree House in 1842. It would seem that his last years with his wife and daughter were spent out of the limelight, little mention being made in the local press of Southampton's most famous resident. Peartree House was preserved in Georgian luxury eventually becoming an old people's residence. A hundred years after Henry's death it was said to be Southampton's most elegant house for old people!

 

The General was buried in the family vault at Bradford-on-Avon close to the Wiltshire family home at Midway Manor then occupied by other members of his family. His date of death is wrongly recorded on the family memorial in Bradford-on-Avon Trinity Church.

 

Petition was made to Parliament in 1868 for compensation and due recognition of the General's efforts. Lord Cardigan should have presented this petition but his death intervened so another member who had little influence and was totally ignored presented it.

 

The family had clearly suffered much inconvenience from unfulfilled promises by the Government. In 1856 one of the General's sons, Henry Squires Shrapnel, was committed to prison for being unable to pay his debts. At the insolvency hearing young Henry said he had been promised a Government appointment in recognition of his father's inventions but this had not materialised which was why he was in embarrassing circumstances. Another son, Henry Needham Scrope Shrapnel, was said to have left his family in the most destitute of circumstances caused solely by the General's sacrifice of his private fortune. The third son, Zachariah Scrope Shrapnel died at Ventnor, I.O.W with effects under £450.

 

In 1908, some 66 years after the General's death, his grandson Edward was still writing to the London 'Times' from his Canadian home, trying to put the record straight. Edward was not born until 3 years after the General died.

HENRY SHRAPNEL (1761 - 1842)

THE GENERAL