20th Congress.]

No. 367.

[1st Session.



Mr. Dorset, from the Committee on Naval Affairs, to whom was referred the memorial and documents of Uriah Brown, relative to a system of harbor and coast defence of the United States, by means of "impregnable and invincible fire ships," reported:

That they have examined, with much interest, the subject referred to them. It appears that, during the late war, the inventor, then a resident of Baltimore, conceived the plan of a ship to be propelled by steam, to be proof against cannon shot, and to throw liquid fire upon the ships of the enemy, by the means of an ejecting fire apparatus of very great force, placed within the vessel.

To test the inflammable properties of the liquid when projected, experiments were made, and proved highly satisfactory. A committee was organized, and subscriptions to a large amount made, to build a vessel upon the plan proposed.

The termination of the war arrested any further progress in the building of the vessel.

It appears to your committee that the invention has been examined by scientific men, and its practicability and utility sustained by the concurrent testimony of enlightened theorists and practical engineers. They, therefore, deem it their duty to submit to the consideration of Congress the expediency of authorizing the President of the United States to cause experiments to be made, under the direction of a board of engineers, to ascertain if the interest of the United States would be promoted by adopting and incorporating this invention with other means of national defence: and for that purpose they beg leave to submit a bill.


A committee having been requested by Mr. Brown to examine his mode of harbor defence, met at the mayor's office on Saturday, the 1st inst., and made the following report:

Mr. Uriah Brown having made several experiments in the presence of a vast concourse of the citizens of Baltimore, showing satisfactorily the practicability of communicating fire to ships-of-war, we, the subscribers, having been requested by Mr. Brown to examine the model of a boat to be propelled by steam, and to resist the fire of an enemy, have accordingly examined the same, and respectfully offer an opinion to the public on the subject.

It is impossible, perhaps, to decide, with absolute certainty, upon the success of any such project before the trial has been made; but it appears to us that both the boat and the mode of applying the fire afford the strongest grounds for believing that it will effectually answer the purpose; and we recommend the project to the patronage of the citizens of Baltimore, as presenting, in all probability, the means of insuring the waters of our vicinity an absolute exemption from the hostile visits of the enemy's ships.

EDWARD JOHNSON, Mayor of the City of Baltimore.
WM. H. WINDER, Brigadier General United States Army.
C. DESHON, Merchant.
R. T. SPENCE, Post Captain United States Navy.
JAMES MOSHER, President of the Mecnanics' Bank.
JOHN DAVIS, Civil Engineer.
WM. STEWART, Colonel United States Army.
JOHN SNYDER, Merchant.

J. H. NICHOLSON, Judge United States District Court.

THORNDIKE CHASE, Pres't of the Market Bank, Baltimore.
WM. PECHIN, Editor of the American Daily Advertiser.
T. SHEPHARD, Merchant.
WILLIAM FLANIGAN, Naval Architect, &c.
JAMES CORDERY, Naval Architect, &c.
WM. PARSONS, Naval Architect, &c.

Baltimore, July 3, 1814.

Personally appeared before me, H. W. Bool, jr., of the city of Baltimore, who deposes that the above is a true copy from the files of the American Daily Advertiser, published in this city now, and was at the above date. This copy was read by William Bose, one of the editors, the whole of which was copied by this deponent.

H. W. BOOL, Jr.

Baltimore, January 11, 1827.

Sworn to and subscribed before me, this 11th January, 1821.

WM. A. SHAEFFER, Justice of the Peace in and for the City aforesaid.


Navy Department, December 23, 1814.

Sir: In obedience to an order of the honorable the House of Representatives, of the 6th instant, referring the memorial of Uriah Brown, "and such part thereof as relates to operations on the water," to the Secretary of the Navy, I have the honor to report:

That the system of annoyance presented by Uriah Brown appears to combine principles of science distinct in their nature, and which may be classed under the following- heads:

1st. The construction, capacity, and stability of the vessel for the purposes proposed.

2d. The power of the machinery for propelling, and the security of the enginery for ejecting the inflammable fluid successfully to its object.

3d. The efficacy of the whole system, and its probable effects on the enemy's vessels in our waters.

First. The construction of the vessel of a sufficient thickness to render it impervious to the shot of an enemy, of a capacity to contain the whole machinery, with men, fuel, &c., and covered with sheet iron to prevent combustion, appears well calculated, upon the principles of an inclined plane, to reflect shot at any possible angle at which they can be fired from a ship to be assailed; and, upon the well-known principles of Richochet firing, if a ball be fired and impinge on a plane of oak timber, at an angle of about forty-five degrees, it will be reflected at nearly the same angle as the angle of incidence, and will continue to rebound until its force is overcome by its gravity and the resistance of the atmosphere.

The guns of a ship-of-war cannot be depressed more than ten, or, at most, twelve degrees, which angle, meeting the approaching vessel at any point, cannot penetrate the mass of wood and iron so as to endanger her safety or impede her progress; and the means of defence are ample to defeat an attempt at boarding with armed boats, and to destroy those who may be in them.

Second. The power of the machinery for propelling, and security of the engine works within the vessel for ejecting the inflammable fluid. The propelling power by steam is practically known. The security from injury by the shot of an enemy's ship is clearly demonstrated in the plan and drawings; while the rapidity of approach by steam, at the rate of five miles an hour, and the low surface presented to the enemy's fire, lessen the chances of any one shot taking effect injuriously: while this vessel, pursuing her course in the night, or approaching an enemy in a calm, and choosing the point of attack, combines more advantages than any other plan, in proportion to the expense, that has been offered to the Navy Department.

Third. The efficacy of the whole system, and probability of success in operating against the enemy's vessels. As respects the security of the machinery, in connection with the power necessary to effectual operation, the care of the artist, the solidity of the workmanship, and a thorough knowledge of its principles, are all so essential, that the operator must combine the talents and mechanical knowledge to direct and decide these important points for self-preservation.

The experiment having recently been made, in the presence of thousands, of the irresistible power of Mr. Brown's liquid fire, to envelope in flames any combustible object at which it is directed, appears to have produced conviction of its efficacy.

I humbly conceive that it may be successfully applied to drive the enemy from our bays and harbors; and more particularly on the lakes, it may be the means of obtaining our absolute ascendancy.

Should Congress, in their wisdom, patronize the attempt, the result would probably justify the means and the expense.

All which is respectfully submitted.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,

BENJAMIN HOMANS, Acting Secretary of the Navy.

The Hon. the Speaker of the Souse of Representatives.

Washington City, December 25, 1826.

I have examined the plan of Mr. Uriah Brown, having for its object to communicate fire to ships-of-war.

It seems to me that this plan combines strength of construction against an enemy's shot, with security to the propelling engine destined to reach within the proper range of the incendiary liquid.

I deem that Mr. Brown's plan offers fair chances of success; and, should experiments prove its efficiency, I believe that it might become a very valuable auxiliary in the defence of our harbors and open bays.

BERNARD, Brigadier General.

I fully concur in the foregoing opinion of General Bernard.


On the 29th of December, 1826, Captain Partridge, principal of the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, at Middletown, Connecticut, who was on a visit to this city with his pupils, delivered a lecture on National Defence, in the hall of the House of Representatives, to a numerous and highly respectable audience. The following is an extract from his lecture, as published in the National Intelligencer:

"In addition, and in connection with land batteries, he recommended floating batteries and fire ships as preferable, in point of utility and economy, for the defence of our bays, rivers and harbors. He said it was impossible to defend every assailable point that an enemy might attack with a movable force; and, therefore, recommended a similar force, calculated to arrest his progress. He remarked that the powerful effects produced by the Greek fire ship upon the Turkish navy had been made apparent by repeated trials: that they are calculated to strike terror into an enemy.

"Connected with fortifications, he said, steam frigates, floating batteries, and fire ships, the latter as lately improved by Mr. Uriah Brown, of Baltimore, constituted a system of defence to be relied on for defensive and offensive operations within our own waters. He had examined Mr. Brown's plan, and had no hesitation in joining his opinion to that of others—men every way qualified to decide on a subject of


so much importance to the nation. This gentleman had submitted a memorial to the House of Representatives, requesting that the subject might be taken into consideration.

"Experiment, the great test of all inventions, had proved that this plan was susceptible of the utmost utility as a means of coast and harbor defence. It had been submitted to the examination and investigation of many scientific men of great repute, who had pronounced an unequivocal opinion in favor of its utility.

"The plan of this vessel was predicated on the principle of inclined planes, and calculated to resist the shot of an enemy by reflecting them at any and every angle at which they might be directed by the ship to be assailed. The size of the vessel was calculated to be 125 feet in length, and 50 in breadth; to be propelled by steam power.

"The inflammable liquid matter, ejected from this machine by means of steam or any other adequate power, was calculated to operate with complete effect upon any combustible material, at a distance of 200 yards, and instantly to envelope in inextinguishable flames any vessel subjected to its operation. A shot striking this body would ricochet or rebound so as to do no injury to the machine or vessel; and the probability was that, from the low surface presented to the enemy's fire, not one shot in 300 would take effect.

"Captain Partridge said he felt fully satisfied in his own mind that this system of auxiliary defence was capable of great utility, perhaps of some improvement, and certainly worthy of the notice and attention of those to whom the defence and protection of this nation were entrusted."

Engineer Department, Washington, February 3, 1827.

Sir: In compliance with your instructions to me, given under the order of the House of Representatives, of the 29th of December last, directing "that so much of the petition of Uriah Brown, this day presented, as relates to his system of annoyance and destruction of an enemy on land be referred to the Secretary of War, to report his opinion thereupon to the House," I have examined Mr. Brown's project of a fire ship, called the "Navis Conflagrator," a description of which will be found in the enclosed paper, marked A, and am of opinion that the principles upon which it is founded are correct: but how far it may be practicable to put into operation such a machine, can only be determined by experiment.

Should experiment result in a favorable exhibition of the practical powers of the machine, I have no doubt it would, in the hands of skillful and brave men, prove a very valuable auxiliary in the defence of ports, harbors, anchorages.

As far as I am informed, the invention of Mr. Brown is new; and if an experiment could be made without involving too great expense, of which I have no means "of forming an estimate, I would recommend that it should be made.

I return Mr. Brown's petition to Congress, with the drawings and other papers relating to the subject of it, which were referred to me,

And am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

ALEXANDER MACOMB, Maj. Gen., Chief Engineer.

Hon. James Barbour, Secretary of War.

"War Department, February 3, 1827. Sir: In relation to the subject of the order passed by the House of Representatives, on the 29th of December last, directing "that so much of the petition of Uriah Brown, this day presented, as relates to his system of the annoyance and destruction of an enemy on the land, be referred to the Secretary of War, to report his opinion thereupon to the House," I have the honor to transmit herewith a report of this date from the chief engineer, and another from Brigadier General Bernard, dated the 25th December last,

And am, very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant, JAMES BARBOUR.

Hon. John W. Taylor, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Washington.

Estimate of expenses to be incurred in making experiments for the purpose of testing the correctness of the principles involved in the plan invented by Uriah Brown for the structure of an engine of war, adapted to the defence of the coasts and harbors of the United States.

1,200 cubic feet of white oak timber, to construct a plane for a course of experiments in firing,
at 25 cents per foot

$300 00

2,800 pounds iron bolt, for the above plane, at 5 cents per pound

140 00

4,000 pounds quarter-inch rolled iron, for the above plane, at 12½ cents per pound

500 00

200 pound spikes, for the above plane

20 00

1 cross-barred grating, for the above plane, weight 3,545 pounds, at 12½ cents per pound

443 12

1,650 pounds powder, (150 rounds of cartridges) at 25 cents per pound

412 50

4,800 pounds of thirty-two-pounder balls, at 5 cents per pound

240 00

2 hollow spheres, (for testing the effect of the inflammable liquid) constructed of the besthalf-inch rolled iron,
|contents 1,100 gallons, weight 6,690 pounds, at 25 cents per pound.

1,672 50

4 cast iron flanges, for the above spheres, weight 1,500 pounds, at 6 cents per pound

450 00

5,000 pounds of cast iron pipe, at 6 cents per pound

300 00

1 adjutage pipe, with ball and socket joint

40 00

3 large stop-cocks, at $20 a piece

60 00


1,000 gallons inflammable liquid, at 15 cents per gallon

$150 00

Expenses of making the necessary experiments for testing the principle of propelling
vessels upon the plan proposed, including the cost or charter of a vessel suitable for
the purpose, condensing pump, propelling wheel, air chamber, packing boxes, fuel, labor, &c.

2,611 88

Total amount

$8,000 00


Washington, May 6, 1828.