General Henry Shrapnel was born in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire in 1761. In 1784, while a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he perfected - using his own money - the invention of what he called "spherical case ammunition”: a hollow cannon ball filled with shot which burst in mid-air. When it was finally adopted by the British Army in 1803, it immediately acquired the inventor's name - the shrapnel shell. Since then, the term ‘shrapnel’ as been applied to fragmentation from artillery shells in general.
The Duke of Wellington used the shells during the Peninsular War and according to Sir George Wood, commander of the brigade of artillery at Waterloo, its use was crucial in the British recapture of La Haye Sainte farmhouse.
Shrapnel received considerable recognition for his invention: he was promoted to major in 1803, to colonel in 1813 and to regimental colonel a year later. In 1815 he was awarded a pension for life. He retired from active service in 1825, progressing on the retired list to colonel commandant in 1827 and lieutenant-general in 1837.
He retired to Southampton in the 1830s, first living at a house in Bugle Street and then at Peartree House. He died there in 1842.

Henry Shrapnel

Image Unavailable

Portrait by unknown artist, 1817.


Further reading:
Southampton People, by John Edgar Mann, p84-85. (HS/t)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 50.


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