Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Moorsom, Constantine Richard

MOORSOM, CONSTANTINE RICHARD (1792–1861), vice-admiral, born 22 Sept. 1792, was the son of Admiral Sir Robert Moorsom, K.C.B., who, after being present as a midshipman in Keppel's action off Ushant in 1778, and as a lieutenant at the relief of Gibraltar by Darby in 1781, and by Howe in 1782, commanded the Revenge at Trafalgar in 1805, was master-general of the ordnance in 1809, and died an admiral on 14 May 1835. His mother was Eleanor, daughter of Thomas Scarth of Stakesby, near Whitby, and William Scarth Moorsom [q. v.] was his brother (Gent. Mag. 1835, ii. 321). At the date of the battle of Trafalgar Constantine was nominally with his father on board the Revenge; actually he was at school, and in July 1807 entered the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, then newly organised under the care of Dr. James Inman [q. v.] From the college he carried off the first medal and three mathematical prizes, and was appointed in November 1809 to the Revenge, employed on the coast of Portugal and at the defence of Cadiz. In May 1812 he returned to England in the Warspite, and on 6 June was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. He was afterwards in the Superb on the Cadiz station, in the Bay of Biscay, and on the coast of North America, till 19 July 1814, when he was promoted to the command of the Goree sloop at Bermuda. In June 1815 he was moved into the Terror bomb, which he took to England, and in July 1816 he was appointed to the Fury bomb for service in the expedition against Algiers, under Lord Exmouth [see Pellew, Edward, Viscount Exmouth]. In the bombardment of that stronghold of piracy, on 27 Aug. 1816, the Fury in nine hours threw 318 shells, or double the number thrown by any other bomb. This difference gave rise to an admiralty inquiry, when it was found to be due to the fitting of the mortars on a plan which Moorsom had himself devised. It was forthwith adopted for general service, but Moorsom did not receive post rank till 7 Dec. 1818, after he had commanded the Prometheus on the home station.

In April 1822 he was appointed to the Ariadne, and during the summer carried out a series of experimental cruises, with the Racehorse and Helicon under his orders. The Ariadne was originally built as a corvette, but had been converted into a frigate by the addition of a quarter-deck and six guns, thus increasing her draught of water, and most seriously affecting her sailing qualities. She appeared a hopeless failure, but Moorsom, by a readjustment of her stowage and ballast, 'succeeded in making her sail as fast, work as well, and prove as good a sea-boat as could possibly be expected.' He afterwards went out in her to the Cape of Good Hope, was for some time senior officer at the Mauritius, and on the death of Commodore Nourse, the commander-in-chief, in December 1824, he moved into the Andromache and hoisted a broad pennant, which he continued to fly till relieved by Commodore Christian. From December 1825 to the summer of 1827 he was captain of the Prince Regent, carrying the flag of his father as commander-in-chief at Chatham. He had no further service at sea, though advanced in due course to be rear-admiral on 17 Aug. 1851, and vice-admiral on 10 Sept. 1857. During his later years he was a director and afterwards chairman of the London and North-Western Railway. He had thus also the direction of the steam-packets from Holyhead to Dublin, and was led to consider the question of steam navigation. He was chairman of a committee on steamship performance appointed by the British Association, to which he presented reports in 1859 and 1860. He was also the author of an essay 'On the Principles of Naval Tactics,' privately printed in 1843, and published, with additions, in 1846. He died suddenly in Montagu Place, Russell Square, London, on 26 May 1861. He married in 1822 Mary, daughter qf Jacob Maude of Silaby Hall, Durham, and by her had a large family.

His first cousin, William Moorsom (1817-1860), born in 1817, was a lieutenant of the Cornwallis in the first China war, was captain of the Firebrand in the Black Sea, and served with the naval brigade in the Crimea during the Russian war; was a C.B., an officer of the Legion of Honour, and had the Medjidie third class. In 1857 he was appointed to the Diadem frigate, in which, when just recovering from a severe attack of small-pox, he was sent to the West Indies and to Vera Cruz. There he contracted a low fever, which, on his return to England in October 1859, compelled him to resign his command. He died on 4 Feb. 1860. Moorsom was the inventor of the shell with the percussion fuze which bore his name. This shell, though long since superseded by the advance of rifled ordnance, was the first in which the difficulties inherent in the problem were satisfactorily overcome. He also invented the 'director,' an instrument for directing the concentration of a ship's broadside. In an improved form, and in combination with the system of electric firing, it is still used in our navy, and is believed to be the origin of the celebrated Watkin position-finder. Moorsom was the author of 'Suggestions for the Organisation and Manoeuvres of Steam Fleets, 1854, 4to, and of 'Remarks on the Construction of Ships of War and the Composition of War Fleets,' Portsea, 1857, 8vo.

[O'Byrne's Nav. Biog. Dict.; Gent. Mag. 1860 pt. i. p. 309, 1861, pt. ii. p. 88; information from the family; Memoir of Captain William Moorsom privately printed, 1860).]

J. K. L.