Viscount Ingestre (1803-68) was an Ultra-Tory MP whose greatest claim to fame was as the tireless champion of the dubious inventions of the charlatan ‘Captain’ Warner which would supposedly revolutionise naval warfare. Lord Stanley, the earl of Derby’s heir, noted that ‘he had a passion for speculations of all kinds, and was the dupe of every projector who came to him with a plausible story’.
Born Henry John Chetwynd-Talbot, Ingestre developed his rough manners in the navy, which he entered at a young age. After the death of his elder brother he became heir to his father, 2nd Earl Talbot, and was known by the courtesy title of Viscount Ingestre. Despite his brusque reputation, Thomas Babington Macaulay was pleasantly surprised on meeting Ingestre in 1843, commenting that he was ‘extremely cordial’ although ‘he is a violent Tory and passes for a rough surly man’ . Others were less complimentary. For example, the Staffordshire Tory William Dyott described Ingestre as ‘a shallow man, and in his profession, tyrannical’.
Aided by his High Tory aristocratic relations, Ingestre represented Hertford, Armagh city and Dublin city in the unreformed Commons. He was again returned for Hertford in 1832 after a notoriously violent and corrupt contest, but was soon unseated. He was elected for South Staffordshire in 1837.
A staunch supporter of Protestant and protectionist causes, Ingestre was an active participant in navy debates. Most notably, he became the leading parliamentary champion of the inventions of Samuel Alfred Warner (1793/4-1853), a self-styled navy captain. Since the late 1830s, Warner had been lobbying the British government for money for his ‘invisible shell’, the details of which were kept a closely guarded secret. Ingestre made a number of speeches on Warner’s behalf in 1841 and 1842 but stepped up his campaign after the spectacular experiment at Brighton, 17 July 1844. A large crowd on the shore apparently witnessed the destruction of a vessel by Warner’s ‘invisible shell’. In fact the ship had been structurally weakened beforehand and rigged with ropes beneath the surface to effect the deception.
However, Ingestre argued that the invention was of ‘paramount importance to the nation’ in the House, 31 July 1844. He later unsuccessfully proposed an investigation into the merits of Warner’s invention in July 1846. The following month, Warner’s claims were widely discredited by a public exhibition of his other invention, the ‘long-range’. This was revealed to be a wayward hot-air balloon randomly dropping missiles. Even so, Ingestre persisted with his campaign, although he had few supporters when he called for a secret committee on the ‘Captain’s’ inventions, 25 June 1847.
After succeeding as 3rd Earl Talbot in 1849, he continued to lobby on Warner’s behalf, writing to The Times, 30 Jan. 1852, that through the invisible shell ‘the largest ships may be instantaneously, certainly, and cheaply destroyed’. He moved for another inquiry in the Lords in May 1852, and was spared further embarrassment by Warner’s death in December 1852. He succeeded as 18th earl of Shrewsbury in 1856 and died in 1868.
A. McConnell, ‘Warner, Samuel Alfred (1793/4-1853)’, www.oxforddnb.com.
S.A. Warner, Facts and documents relating to our national defences (1853).