Few localities can boast a privately-owned artillery battery. Waterman's battery consisted of 14 three-pounder field guns, each weighing 8 cwt and capable of firing a shot for the distance of a mile. They were specially manufactured for William Waterman by Messrs Napier (possibly D Napier and Sons, precision engineers of York Road, Lambeth), cast and bored on the same principle as similar pieces in the British army. Its first recorded use is in May 1856. A collection of 16 national flags - those of Denmark, Prussia, Austria, England, Spain, the United States of America and the Royal Standard can be identified - added to the visual impact. Each flag was 15 feet by 9 feet. William Waterman was an unlikely owner of such an exotic display. He was in his own words "only a working man, and in but humble circumstances" (letter to General Knollys, 10 April 1864 quoted in Hampshire Independent, 16 April). In early life he had been an agricultural labourer in Romsey. By the time of the 1861 census he was in Crown Street, Shirley as a journeyman brewer. He was just shy of his 52nd birthday when the guns made their first publicized appearance, saluting Lord Palmerston on arrival at his country seat of Broadlands. The battery was not a financial speculation. It was an expensive, middle-aged indulgence, the means to express a deep patriotism for the locality, the country and the royal family. Twenty-one gun royal salutes from the battery were a feature of coronation day celebrations - as on the cricket ground adjoining the Roebuck Inn in Winchester in 1858 and on the Antelope Cricket Ground in Southampton in 1859 and 1860 - and royal events such as the marriage of the Prince of Wales in March 1863. Similar royal salutes fleetingly greeted the Prince Consort in August 1856 and July 1857 as his entourage travelled, unstopping, through Romsey station. There was a connection too with Lord Palmerston. Salutes accompanied the inauguration of the construction of the Andover and Redbridge Railway near Broadlands in July 1857 and the opening of the Hartley Institution in Southampton in September 1862. The Skelton engraving of the battery has Broadlands as a backcloth. Waterman estimated in March 1863 that more than a ton and a half of gunpowder had been expended in firing salutes.
Threat of war with France in late 1859 prompted Waterman to put his battery on a war footing. The guns were tested by artillery officers at Aldershot and pronounced highly serviceable. They were offered, with the accompanying banners, to Southampton Corporation as a basis for a volunteer artillery corps. The unit was to be known as the Southampton Artillery Battery and the proprietor alone was "to have the care of the guns, to keep them in order, and to clean and command them on all occasions, for which he would accept any reasonable annuity" (Hampshire Independent, 3 December 1859). The annuity was in partial recompense for the £300 or more the the battery and flags had already cost him. The offer was rejected. It was referred, "amid some merriment", by a full council meeting on 30 November to the general purposes committee, from which it never emerged. Waterman continued to keep the guns in a state of readiness. He referred to himself as 'Proprietor of the Shirley Field Gun Battalion' in correspondence with Southampton Corporation on his plan to bring up his guns - "formed in a fighting order" - to support Palmerston in the opening of the Hartley Institution (letter of 24 September 1862. Southampton Archives: TC MIsc Box 37B). In April 1864 Waterman offered his battery to the King of Denmark to help his beleaguered country in its unequal war against Prussia. Diplomatic preliminaries were carefully observed. Waterman first sought assurance (3 April 1864) from Lord Palmerston on the propriety of such a gift. Palmerston's private secretary, Evelyn Ashley, replied that the prime minister saw no impropriety "but that he should be inclined to think that the Danish Government is sufficiently supplied with field artillery". A week later (10 April) Waterman wrote to General Knollys with a request that the Prince of Wales forward his offer to the Danish government. It was not an idle offer. The battery was sent to "Mr Squire's gun factory in Whitechapel" to be converted from smooth-bore to rifled artillery using an experimental system invented by Squire (The Spectator, 12 May 1864). Notwithstanding conversion, the offer was rejected. A final offer - to the 2nd Surrey Volunteer Artillery Battery - was successful. The guns were handed over on coronation day (28 June) 1864 in the grounds of the major-commandant Frederick Andrew Durnford (better known as a painter of seascapes). The complement of guns was raised from six to 20, "more than double the number of those belonging to any other corps" according to Durnford. Waterman was guest of honour at the presentation and the subsequent regimental dinner. He gave his guns a fulsome valediction. "He hoped the time was far distant when it might become the duty of the fine body of men he saw before him to use their guns for other than drill or practice; but he was sure that, if that time should ever come, the volunteers would do even more than their country expects from them" (Morning Post, 30 June 1864).

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from the Hampshire Independent 04/06/1859


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