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Green, William Pringle (1785–1846), naval officer and mechanical engineer, was born apparently at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the eldest son of Benjamin Green (d. 1794), treasurer of the province of Nova Scotia, a member of the house of assembly, and a justice of the court of common pleas. Green entered the Cleopatra as a midshipman in 1797, then served for three and a half years in the West Indies in La Topaze. He was afterwards in the Circe and the Sanspareil. After the peace of Amiens was signed he served in the Trent, and later the Conqueror, in which he took part in the capture of the Bucentaure during the battle of Trafalgar. He was promoted lieutenant for his services on 8 January 1806, and appointed to the Formidable. He afterwards served on the American coast as first lieutenant of the Eurydice; it was during this period that he communicated to Sir John Borlase Warren, the squadron commander, his plans for bringing British ships up to the same gunpower as those of the Americans. In 1811 he commanded the brig Resolute, and carried out his plans for training the crew to the satisfaction of the Admiralty. The Resolute was paid off in 1815, and Green devoted his time to inventions, until he was appointed in 1829 to a Falmouth packet. After nearly three years' service she was paid off, and Green was then on half pay until 1842, when he was appointed lieutenant of the Victory. He fell into financial difficulties, however, and had to resign a year later.

Green was an officer of great mechanical ingenuity. In spite of constant discouragement he devoted the greater part of his life to the promotion of inventions and improvements connected with the service, many of which were introduced throughout the navy. The Society of Arts in 1823 presented him with a silver medal for his improvements in rigging ships, as they subsequently did for his ‘tiller for a disabled rudder’ and his ‘gun-carriage and jointed ramrod for naval use’. In 1836, and again in 1837, he took out patents for improvements in capstans (no. 7193), and in machinery employed in raising, lowering, and moving heavy objects (no. 7400). He had previously, in 1833, published Fragments from remarks of twenty-five years in every quarter of the globe on electricity, magnetism, aerolites, and various other phenomena of nature. He died at Landport, Portsmouth, on 18 October 1846, leaving his widow and ten children with a pension of just £50 a year.

Despite his inventive turn of mind and the early patronage of the duke of Kent, Green lacked the political support necessary for a successful naval career, and gained no tangible benefit from his work in an era when intellectual property rights could only be upheld with powerful financial backing.

James Burnley, rev. Andrew Lambert


O'Byrne, Naval biog. dict. · GM, 2nd ser., 27 (1847), 209


portrait, repro. in W. P. Green, Fragments… on electricity, magnetism, aerolites, and various other phenomena of nature (1833)

Wealth at death  

pension of £50 p.a.: DNB