Norfolk History and Past Times - Yesterdays - George William Manby of
Norfolk and his Manby Mortar
George William Manby and the Manby Mortar
For Norfolk or Suffolk Wildlife Parks and Nature Reserves - Click the What to do Link.George William Manby was born at Denver Norfolk on 28th November 1765. George had every intention of following in his father's footsteps; his father had been a captain in the Welsh fusiliers. As soon as he was able to George went into the army. At age 17 he volunteered to fight in the American war of independence but was rejected because of his youth and his diminutive size. So Manby had to be content with a commission in the militia. At age 38 he wrote a pamphlet ‘An Englishman's Reflexions' on the threatened invasion of England by the French under Napoleon. The secretary of war Charles Yorke was so impressed by this document that he recommended George Manby appointment Barrack master at  Great Yarmouth.

At this time Yarmouth was a busy place with warships coming and going and everyone preparing for the expected invasion by Napoleon. Manby lived close to the beach in Great Yarmouth in St. Nicholas road. (There is now a road named ‘Manby Road’ close to St. Nicholas road). Manby daily witnessed first hand, the tragic loss of life when ships that had snapped their anchorage in gales, broke up. Sometimes, entire crews were drowned less than a hundred yards from the safety of the shore.

However, it was the storm of February 18th 1807 that proved the catalyst for Manby. The gun-brig Snipe was anchored in Great Yarmouth, during a turbulent storm a merchant ship got tangled up in its anchorage. As the merchant ship began to sink the Snipe was forced to cut its cable. The Snipe was carrying French prisoners and a fair number of women and children. She drifted and then came aground near to the pier where she began to break up.

Manby was amongst the helpless onlookers who watched as the waves crashed over the Snipe. He was forced to listen to the screams of the women and children as they were hurled into the unforgiving sea to drown. There are conflicting accounts as to how many people drowned and how many people survived the Snipe disaster. But this disaster was the turning point for Manby who became determined to invent something that would stop these shoreline catastrophes. He remembered that as a young gunner he used to fire a line right over Downham Church. Could he use this prank to his advantage?

For Norfolk or Suffolk Bed & Breakfast - Click the B&B or Accommodations Link.s.So it was that Captain George Manby created the Manby Mortar that fired a line from shore into the rigging of a ship. Attached to the line was a stouter rope, which was hauled onboard. The crew and those on shore with the aid of a breeches buoy then used the rope to bring people safely to dry land.

It was not an easy invention as Manby had to work out a way for the line to pay our evenly, be strong enough not to break under the strain or be burnt up by the blast from the mortar used to fire the ball and for the whole apparatus to be carried on horseback. The first successful use of the equipment took place at Great Yarmouth, 150 yards from the shore when Manby saved the lives of sailors from the brig Elizabeth with his Manby Mortar.

Manby also invented an unsinkable boat, which was tested at Lowestoft with Manby onboard. It proved able to keep afloat because of its buoyancy tanks, even when mostly filled with water. Unfortunately for Manby the boatmen of Lowestoft had taken a dislike to him, perhaps because his inventions saved the lives of seamen who would have otherwise drowned. As some boatmen depended on the cargo left over from shipwrecks they may well have thought Manbys life saving invention a threat to their livelihood. So they deliberately began to rock the boat causing it to overturn. Hurling all the boats occupants, Manby amongst them into the sea. Manby could not swim and had admitted to a horror of water. The beachmen made no effort to rescue Manby and he had to do the best he could to get himself back to shore.

During his lifetime Manby then went on to produce various other life-saving devices and even became a fellow of the Royal Society. In a portrait of George Manby painted by an unknown artist the inscription on the painting records that at the time the painting was painted in 1818, 137 lived had been saved by Manby’s equipment. George Manby died in his home in Great Yarmouth on 18th November 1854 and is buried in Hilgay churchyard near Downham Market.

In later life Manby appears to have become obsessed with Nelson and filled his house in Great Yarmouth with Nelson memorabilia. Manby claimed that he attended the same school as Horatio Nelson in Downham Market and that they had been friends. He went on to say that Nelson would get the smaller boys to work the pump in the village street so that he could sail paper-boats in the stream of water and Manby was one of these small boys. However there is no record that this ever took place. Nelson was older than Manby and Nelson went to sea at age 12.

Obs. When ships were no longer made of wood but had iron hulls instead, enterprising Victorian inventors came up with a cork lined cabin trunk. Specially adapted they had extra buoyancy so that the men could safely paddle home.