Designs for Block Machinery adopted by Government — Question of Remuneration – Referred to Sir Samuel Bentham-Accepted by the Admiralty
The Government having consented to adopt Brunel’s plans for a block machinery, it became necessary to determine the nature and extent of the remuneration to which Brunel should become entitled. With this view, the following letter was addressed by him to the Lords of the Admiralty, in June 1802:
“I beg to inform their Lordships that the invention and execution of models, and of machines on a large scale, have been attended with considerable expense and labour ; and that my time for the two last years, has been almost entirely employed in bringing them to their present state of perfection. I will trust to their Lordships’ liberality to decide on the remuneration which they may deem adequate to the merit of the discovery
“I hope their Lordships will take into consideration the time I have bestowed in making the several drawings which I have had the honour to lay before them; and that the whole of my time will become indispensable in surveying and directing the execution of the machines till they are entirely completed.”
To this no immediate reply appears to have been made. The question was referred to Sir Samuel Bentham, who, in April 1803, sets forth at full length his views in the following communication addresssed to Sir Evan Nepean.
“Admiralty, April 30th, 1803.
“In answer to yours of the 7th instant, enclosing a letter from Mr. Brunel, soliciting some remuneration for the labour and expense which he has been at, in the invention and perfecting of his machinery for the manufacture of blocks for the use of His Majesty’s Navy, and signifying the commands of my Lords of the Admiralty, that I should consider and report my opinion of what may be proper to be done in the subject of that application ; I would beg leave to state, for their Lordships’ information, that having examined the several articles of the machinery in question, and having seen them at work, I am fully satisfied that they are adequate to the making blocks more perfect in regard to accuracy and uniformity of shape, as well as at a much cheaper rate, than they could be made by any other means hitherto in use.
“As to the particular blocks which Mr. Brunel has sent as specimens for their Lordships’ inspection, they appear from their form and the proportion of their parts, to be better suited to their intended purpose, than the blocks in general use ; but although the particular form which Mr. Brunel has adopted in the first instance, should, after farther consideration or experience, be deemed anywise objectionable, the engines could, on any day, be set to any other form or proportions, which may be decided on as preferable ; and whatever that form or those proportions may be, there will be no doubt but that the blocks manufactured by these engines will, every one of them, be made in future of that exact form, until there be found reason to change it.
“In regard to the compensation to which Mr. Brunel may seem entitled for the invention of these machines, considering the great ingenuity displayed in this invention, the length of time which it must have required to bring such an apparatus to its present state of perfection ; and considering that although the saving of expense in the manufacturing of the article in question is the principal object of the invention, yet that the quality of the article is at the same time improved ; considering also that Mr. Brunel has obtained a patent, giving him the exclusive right of affording the advantages of his invention on his own terms, which, although it gives him no power of preventing the use of it for His Majesty’s service, yet leaves him good grounds for claiming from Government what may be deemed a reasonable compensation for the use of his invention, I take for granted that their Lordships have no doubt respecting the expediency of allowing Mr. Brunel some compensation; and, therefore, that it is respecting only the most eligible mode of remuneration that their Lordships have been pleased to require my opinion. On this supposition, therefore, it seems incumbent on me to endeavour to devise such a mode, as should not only prove satisfactory on the present occasion, but which should also be calculated to afford encouragement to persons of ability in general for the production of other inventions tending to the diminution of dockyard expenses; while, at the same time, such remuneration should not hold up a precedent whereon claims for compensation could be founded in any case where the reality of the advantages had not been previously ascertained.
“In consequence of these considerations, and in conformity to the above-mentioned objects, which seem requisite to be held in view, I am induced to propose as follows:
“1st. That the time for giving the compensation should be deferred until the savings on which the claims for compensation depend have actually been realised sufficiently to ascertain their extent.
“2nd. That the amount of the compensation be made equal to the amount (as near as can be estimated) of the savings which the public will derive from the use of the invention during some specific period, such as their Lordships may be pleased to allow, and which I would venture to propose should not be less than one year.
“3rd. That for the purpose of ascertaining the amount of the saving, the average number of blocks of each description which have been actually supplied every year by contract during the last five years, be considered as the average demand for blocks
for one year.
“4th. That the cost of this average number, according to the prices of the last contract, be taken as one year’s expenditure for blocks, according to the present mode of obtaining them.
“5th. That as soon as Mr. Brunel’s apparatus shall be reported by him to be in proper order, and the men who are to work it sufficiently trained to their work to afford a fair specimen of the despatch, and thereby of the rate of expense at which the manufacture may be continued, the proper officers on the spot be directed to note accurately the whole of the expense which shall be found to attend the making, by means of this new apparatus, à certain number of the blocks of each description.
“6th. That in making out this expense there be noted, not only the current expense of men’s labour and cost of materials, as well as of fuel for the steam engines, but also an addition of ten per cent. per annum on all the capital laid out in the machinery for giving it motion ; as also, in the way of rent, a like percentage on the cost of so much of the building in which this manufacture is carried on as is occupied for that branch of service.
“7th. That according to the rate of expense so ascertained, there be calculated the total expense of making a sufficient number of blocks of the several descriptions requisite to supply the average yearly demand as above specified.
“8th. That this total of expense be considered as one year’s expenditure for blocks manufactured according to Mr. Brunel’s method.
“9th. That the difference between this yearly expenditure according to Mr. Brunel’s mode, and that according to the present mode, estimated as above mentioned, be considered as the yearly rate of saving which will arise from the adoption of this new mode.
“10th. That although it appears advisable that the compensation should not be given till experience shall have afforded sufficient data for the true estimation of it; yet, should this mode of compensation meet with their Lordships’ approbation, it seems expedient that Mr. Brunel should forthwith be informed of the conditions of it, in order that he, being thereby assured that the amount of his compensation will depend entirely on the clear amount of the advantages which shall be derived from his invention, and that the time of his receiving that compensation will be no longer delayed than is necessary for the ascertaining that amount, he may have the strongest inducement to use his utmost endeavours for the completion of every part of his apparatus with the greatest despatch, as well as economy; whereas were the conditions of the compensation left altogether undecided, he might, under the apprehension of not reaping the fruits of his labour, be led to direct his attention, in preference, to some other object. In favour of such a mode of compensation I would take the liberty of observing, that the greater the sum to which it may be found eventually to amount, the greater, in the same proportion, will be the advantage which the service will derive from the invention ; and the expense which such a compensation would occasion to the public would be no new expense, but only the continuation for a short and limited time of the same rate of expense which has heretofore been looked upon as necessary, and which, unless some such invention as this of Mr. Brunel’s were to be introduced, must of course have been continued for a long and unlimited time, without any prospect of its diminution. It should also be observed, that the superior uniformity and accuracy of workmanship which would be given to the blocks manufactured by this apparatus is an advantage which would be obtained immediately, as well as continued afterwards, in addition to that of the saving of expense as above mentioned.
“In case their Lordships should think proper to adopt this mode of compensating Mr. Brunel for his invention, in giving their directions to that effect they would have only to decide on the period during which they may be pleased to allow him the amount of the saving according to the yearly rate estimated as above.
“With regard to Mr. Brunel’s application for some allowance for his time and travelling expenses since he has been engaged in the erection of his apparatus ; considering that, according to the mode of compensation which I have ventured to recommend, the amount of it cannot be ascertained for several months to come; and that Mr. Brunel, in consequence of the satisfaction afforded to their Lordships by the inspection of his apparatus in miniature, has been employed since that time in directing the execution of this machinery here in town, as also in the superintending the erection of it at Portsmouth, I would recommend that he should be allowed at the rate of a guinea a day during the time he has actually been so employed; as also travelling expenses at the rate of ten shillings a day, and coach hire for his journeys to Portsmouth ; which expense, in estimating afterwards the compensation, will of course be considered as capital sunk in the introduction of this invention. And though I look upon this rate of payment as the greatest which can be well allowed him, considering the extent of pay and allowances given to persons employed in and about the dock yards; yet I cannot but look upon it as the least which Mr. Brunel is entitled to expect in consideration of the value which would be set upon the time of a person of his talents when employed in a private concern.
“As to the period at which the allowance should take place, Mr. Brunel in his letter has mentioned the latter end of August; but as, on questioning him on the subject, I find he has, since that period employed a portion of his time, amounting to about three weeks, on another business of his own, I would propose that the 16th September should be the period from which the allowance in question should commence.
“I am Sir, your very obedient servant, ,
– SAMUEL BENTHAM. ”
To Sir Evan Nepean, Bt.
“Mr. Brunel’s letter is herewith returned.”
In accordance with the suggestions made by General Bentham, the Admiralty issued the following instructions to the Navy Board.
“Admiralty Office, 7th May, 1803.
“Whereas upon our referring to Brigadier-General Bentham an application we received from Mr. Brunel, soliciting some remuneration for the labour and expense which he had been at in the invention and perfecting of his machinery for the manufacture of blocks for the use of his Majesty’s Navy, the General has, in his letter to our secretary of the 30th of last month, represented, for our information, that having examined the several articles of the machinery in question, and having seen them at work, he is fully satisfied that they are adequate to the making of blocks more perfect in regard to accuracy and uniformity of shape, as well as at a much cheaper rate, than could be made by any other means hitherto in use, and he has in consequence suggested such means for ascertaing the compensation to which Mr. Brunel might be entitled for the ingenuity and utility of his invention as appeared to him the most eligible and which can only be fairly determined by a year’s trial of the machinery according to the experiments and calculations of labour, materials, and other charges pointed out by the General.
“That with regard to Mr. Brunel’s application for some allowance for his time and travelling expenses since he has been engaged in the erection of the apparatus, the General has proposed, for the reasons he has set forth in his letter, that he should be allowed one guinea a day during the time he has actually been so employed; and also travelling expenses, at the rate of ten shillings a day, and coach hire for his journeys to Portsmouth; and the General has further proposed, that the 16th of September last should be the period from which the allowance in question may commence.
“We send you herewith the General’s aforementioned letter, and do hereby desire and direct you (without admitting the principle recommended by the General for remunerating Mr. Brunel) to instruct the officers of the Portsmouth Dockyard, to keep account conformably to the suggestion contained in General Bentham’s letter ; and you are to report to us the particulars thereof as accurately as possible, in order that by the advantages derived to the public from this invention, we may be enabled to form a judgment of the extent of the reward which may hereafter be proper to be given to Mr. Brunel for his ingenuity. And you are to make him an allowance of one guinea per diem during the time he may be employed in erecting his apparatus, to commence from the 16th of September last, agreeably to Brigadier-General Bentham’s proposal ; and also an allowance of ten shillings per diem for extra expenses during his absence from town on the public service; together with the amount of coachhire actually incurred on his journeys, to and from Portsmouth, upon his producing certificates from the General, of the several journeys he may undertake in completing his work. “We are your affectionate friends,
And at the same time the following communication was made to Brunel.
“Admiralty Office, 5th May, 1803. Sir,
“I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, to acquaint you, that they have given orders that an allowance be made to you of one guinea per diem during the time you may be employed in erecting your machine for the manufacture of blocks in his Majesty’s dockyard at Portsmouth, to commence from the 16th of September last, and to continue until the same shall be completed ; together with the amount of coach hire actually paid, or to be paid, by you in your journeys to and from that place; and also, an allowance of ten shillings per diem for extra expenses, during your absence from town; and that their Lordships will consider what farther reward may be proper to be made to you for your invention, whenever the extent of the advantages likely to be derived by the public from it, shall be fully ascertained.
I am, Sir, your very humble servant,