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Curious Characters: Sir Samuel Morland

Sir Samuel Morland by Sir Peter Lely, 1845

Sir Samuel Morland, 1st Baronet (1625-1695), or Moreland, was an English academic, diplomat, spy, inventor and mathematician of the 17th century, a polymath credited with early developments in relation to computing, hydraulics and steam power.

The son of Thomas Morland, the rector of Sulhamstead Bannister parish church in Berkshire, he was educated at Winchester College and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1649. Devoting much time to the study of mathematics, Morland also became an accomplished Latinist and was proficient in Greek, Hebrew and French—then the language of culture and diplomacy. While a tutor at Cambridge, he first encountered Samuel Pepys who became a lifelong acquaintance.

While serving as secretary to John Thurloe, a Commonwealth official in charge of espionage, however, Morland became disillusioned with the Government of the Commonwealth, allegedly after learning of a plot by Sir Richard Willis, Thurloe and Richard Cromwell to assassinate the future King Charles II. As a double agent, Morland began to work towards the Restoration, engaging in espionage and cryptography—activities that later helped him enter the King’s service.

Morland’s multiplying machine

On 18 July 1660 he was created a baronet and given a minor role at court, but his principal source of income came from applying his knowledge of mathematics and hydraulics to construct and maintain various machines. These included:

  • “water-engines”, an early kind of water pump. He was, for example, engaged on projects to improve the water supply to Windsor Castle, during which time he patented a ‘plunger pump’ capable of “raising great quantities of water with far less proportion of strength than can be performed by a Chain or other Pump.”
  • a vacuum that would suck in water (in effect the first internal combustion engine)
  • ideas for the future development of a working steam engine. Morland’s pumps were developed for numerous domestic, marine and industrial applications, such as wells, draining ponds or mines, and fire fighting. His calculation of the volume of steam (approximately two thousand times that of water) was not improved upon until the later part of the next century.
  • a non-decimal adding machine (working with English pounds, shillings and pence)
  • a machine that made trigonometric calculations
  • a “Multiplying Instrument”
  • an ‘arithmetical machine’ by which the four fundamental rules of arithmetic were readily worked (regarded by some as the world’s first multiplying machine, an example is in the Science Museum in South Kensington).
  • a design for making metal fire-hearths
  • the speaking trumpet, an early form of megaphone.

He also corresponded with Pepys about naval gun-carriages, designed a machine to weigh ship’s anchors, developed new forms of barometers, and designed a cryptographic machine.

From The Vauxhall Papers:

Sir Samuel being a great mechanic, every part of his house shewed the invention of the owner: the side-table in the dining-room was supplied with a large fountain, and the glasses stood under little streams of water. His coach had a moveable kitchen, with clock-work machinery, with which he could make soup, broil steaks, or roast a joint of meat. From the this description of Sir Samuel’s character, an impression prevailed… that his house was the identical spot of the present Vauxhall Gardens; and a history of Lambeth, published in 1827, thus summarily disposes of the affair:—“The matter is put beyond the question of doubt from the information of one of the late proprietors, that the present dwelling belonging to the garden was built by Sir Samuel Moreland. The house is large, and from the back kitchen a lead pump was removed about 1794, bearing Sir Samuel Moreland’s mark, viz:—

HOWEVER, the editor of The Vauxhall Papers, Mr. A. Bunn, proves that the two were not the same property, using public documents from the Duchy of Cornwall.

VAUXHALL HOUSE, of which Sir Samuel was… the tenant, was leased to Mr. Kent, a distiller, for 28 years, in the year 1725, and the site thereof subsequently leased to Mr. Snaith: while the Spring Garden, Vauxhall, was leased by Mr. Jonathan Tyers in the year 1730, which fact may also be proved by a reference to the office of the Duchy of Cornwall. Here is proof positive, and utterly undeniable: but we can bring down the present property in direct descent, without any reference whatever to Sir Samuel Moreland, whose estate (VAUXHALL HOUSE), was a total distinct property.