Archive of 19th-century British soldier, sailor, reformer, inventor and schemer Adderley Wilcocks Sleigh, consisting largely of unrecorded print materials

Adderley Wilcocks Sleigh (1807-1870) et al, [Archive of printed and manuscript material pertaining to Sleigh’s life, with particular emphasis on his maritime reform efforts, inventions and attempts at self-promotion.] England, ca. 1840-1891.
Archive of 20 manuscripts, pamphlets, books, a large watercolor diagram, and 2 large lithographs. Condition varies, but generally good to very good.

A substantial, fascinating archive of manuscript and unrecorded printed material by British naval officer, reformer, inventor and inveterate schemer Adderley Wilcocks Sleigh (1807-1870). Including material related to his efforts to reform the British Merchant Marine and Navy, his invention of a “system of floating structures”, a mining scheme, his proposal for a “Société pour l’Encouragement et le Développement de la Peche Maritime de l’Empire Francaise”, and his ongoing efforts at self-promotion.

Adderley Wilcocks Sleigh
I find no sustained biographical treatment of Sleigh online, so much of the following is based on a hand-written postmortem biography included in this archive, titled “A brief outline of the life and services of Captain Adderley Sleigh, K.T.S.” The “outline” was probably written by a family member and has a decidedly hagiographic tone; this should probably be taken with a grain of salt, as it doesn’t fully  dovetail with either the biographical “arc” suggested by the rest of the archive or the few other snippets I have been able to glean about Sleigh’s life.

The “outline” describes Sleigh as talented, energetic and public-spirited, possessed of “an admirable coolness and self possession in action_unfailing fertility of resources in moments of great peril; and, when under fire, an inspiration which instantly indicated when and how to act.” But the archive also reveals that he was a heavy-duty self-promoter and probably something of a schemer.

Sleigh was born in Ireland in 1807, one of 17 children. By 1820 the entire family had moved to England where, as a young man, Sleigh seems to have served for a time in the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, according to the aforementioned biographical manuscript, “having… experienced but little encouragement to lead him to hope for speedy promotion in the service of his own country, he sought, under the auspices of the Portuguese flag, the rapid advancement for which he so ardently longed…” He was wounded while commanding a Portuguese man-of-war during the Portuguese Gulf War and, according to the same source, emerged from the conflict “crowned with laurels.” Ever after he referred to himself as “Captain” and appended the acronym “K.T.S.” (Knight of the Tower and Sword) to his name, a reference to a knighthood conferred on him during his service for Portugal.

In the mid-1830s he joined Sir de Lacy Evans in the British Legion which volunteered to assist Isabella II of Spain in the First Carlist War (1833-1840). He was wounded again but received a Spanish Knighthood and emerged with laurels for a second time. Returning to England he served from ca. 1840-1842 as Assistant Commissioner to the Manchester Police Force, working with his comrade-in-arms Charles Shaw to keep order during the Chartist and Anti-Corn Law Riots, but also saving lives during a flood in the River Irwell, for which he was honored by the Royal Humane Society.

Sleigh was also a reformer and a serial inventor. He invented a portable field telegraph which apparently saw some use in Canada, and a lithograph of which is included in this archive. He also issued in 1840 the “Nautical Re-Organization and Increase of the Trading Marine; also a Practical Plan for Manning the Royal Navy without Impressment, and Proposals to Ameliorate the Present Condition of the Mariners of Great Britain, by a More Equitable Code of Laws”. Several items in the archive imply that this work catalyzed the Mercantile Marine Act of 1850 and the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854. Finally, he proposed a system for erected floating breakwaters as a more efficient means of creating harbors of refuge. All of these inventions and proposals are represented in the archive, with particular emphasis on the “Nautical Re-Organization” and the floating breakwaters.

All this seems to have done Sleigh little good, at least financially:

“… in the latter years of his adventurous career it was his lot to meet with no practical recognition of his claims or merits. In the midst of most depressing and cruelly painful circumstances he had devised and matured several works exhibiting remarkable inventive powers and great ingenuity both in construction and arrangement of parts.” (“A brief outline”, p. 7)

Several items in the archive support this picture of Sleigh’s ongoing and apparently unsuccessful scheming for recognition and financial gain. Three short texts by Sleigh, dating to roughly 1840, 1851 and 1863, compile testimonials to his accomplishments, apparently with an eye toward securing patronage. Another text from 1851 reprints his increasingly-testy correspondence with the President of the Board of Trade, in which Sleigh pesters the latter for a job, any job. There is an 1864 proposal in French for a “Society for the Encouragement and development of the Marine Fisheries of the French Empire”, which seems in fact to have been some kind of profit-making scheme but went nowhere. And finally there is a partially-completed but never signed license arrangement, dated 1870 (the year of his death) for Sleigh to mine lands owned by the Marquis of Devonshire. Reading between the lines, I get the sense that by 1864, the year of the French proposal, if not much sooner, Sleigh was getting desperate.

There’s still more to this story. A tantalizing anecdote from 1846 indicates that Sleigh was in significant financial and legal trouble:

“Thames.__General Flores’s Expedition.__Adderley Wilcocks Sleigh, who was bailed on Wednesday, surrendered before Mr. Yardley, to answer a charge of violating the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment and Equipment Act, and engaging and enrolling British subjects for a warlike expedition intended to be sent to the Equador [a reference to Sleigh’s alleged participation in a Spanish plot to unseat President Flores of Ecuador]. The witnesses were bound over to prosecute. The defendant tendered bail, and his sureties were accepted. At this moment a sheriff’s officer who had been in waiting all day for the purpose of arresting Sleigh on a Civil process for a debt of large amount, advanced towards him and laid hold of his arm. Roche, the jailor of the Court, said the defendant was in custody till the usual fee of 2 s 6 d, payable on entering into a recog[nizance?], was paid. An altercation ensued, and at last Roche complained that a sheriffs officer was interfering with his duty and had arrested the defendant. Mr. Yardley, the sitting magistrate, decided that the defendant could not be arrested in that office. The sheriff’s officer, therefore, was forced to let go his hold of the defendant, who retired into the gaoler’s room and paid his fee. He then went out at the back door and disappeared immediately. The sheriff’s officer and his employer waited in the passage of the Court until they were informed the defendant had made his escape, and they departed much chagrined.” (The Northern Star, and Leeds General Advertiser, Dec. 26, 1846, p. 6)

It’s all a little ambiguous, and after spending many hours with the archive I’m not quite sure what to make of the man. Given that most or all of the material in the archive is unrecorded, it presents a unique opportunity to dig deeper into his fascinating story, which incorporates elements of Great Britain’s patronage culture, obsessive self-promotion, and 19th-century entrepreneurship and marine technology.

Contents of the archive

Reform of the Merchant Marine and Navy

  1. Capt. Adderley W. Sleigh, K.T.S., Nautical Re-organization and Increase of the Trading Marine; also a Practical Plan for Manning the Royal Navy without Impressment, and Proposals to Ameliorate the Present Condition of the Mariners of Great Britain… London: Effingham Wilson, 1840. 2 copies. 8vo. Frontis,[8],169 plus errata slip. Brown cloth, each with leather label on front board (in both cases rubbed to illegibility). Both copies with extensive annotations, probably not in Sleigh’s hand. One copy with title page excised.
  2. [Sleigh]/Arliss and Tucker, Printers, “Correspondence between the Right Honourable Henry Labouchere, M.P…. President of the Board of Trade, and Captain Adderley Sleigh, K. T. S. (Late R. N.) Originator and Author of the Mercantile Marine Act and Re-Organization of the Merchant Service, as Recently Adopted by the Legislature.” London, 1851 or a bit later. Two copies of a pamphlet, 16pp, of which one bears annotations in ink, presumably by Sleigh himself. Reprints six months of correspondence between Sleigh and Labouchere, in which Sleigh pesters him for an appointment “either in the Mercantile Marine department of the Board of Trade, or in any other branch of the public service” as the latter becomes increasingly irritable. Along the way Sleigh appears to take much credit for passage of the Mercantile Marine Act of 1850. Not in Library Hub Discover or OCLC.
  3. [Sleigh], “Not for Publication. The only motive for printing this Correspondence is to place in a more condensed form a Statement of my Claim…” No place, no date, but probably 1851. 3pp, extensive ms additions in Sleigh’s own hand and signed twice by him. A heavily-edited proof of another compilation of testimonials, focused on his alleged contributions to the Mercantile Marine Act of 1850, with the hope that “it may lead to the obtainment of that reward to which it is avowed I am so indisputably entitled”. Not in Library Hub Discover or OCLC.
  4. [Sleigh], ““The Mercantile Marine Act of 1850,”… Framed on the Published Works and Evidence… of Captain Adderley Sleigh, K.T.S., F.R.S.L., M.R.H.S.” No place, no date, but 1854 or later. Pamphlet, 6pp. Sleigh recounts his alleged role in catalyzing Parliamentary reforms of the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine, reprinting endorsements and letters of appreciation from government figures. Not in Library Hub Discover or OCLC.

General self-promotion and puffery 

  1. [Sleigh], “Royal Humane Society, Instituted 1774…” No place, no date, but probably 1840. Bifolium, 4pp. Compilation of testimonials to Sleigh’s military service and his heroism in saving 21 citizens during the flood of January 1840.
  2. [Sleigh], “Appendix to a Statement of a Special Service from 1837 to 1847.” No place, but 1863 or a bit later. Bifolium, 4pp plus pinned-on addendum slip. Another compilation of testimonials: “Captain Adderley Sleigh’s services in the Royal Navy as Second Class Volunteer, Master’s Assistant, Midshipman, Second and Acting Master (frequently doing Lieutenant’s duty), and in other responsible posts under Government ; received honorable attestations from the undermentioned Officers and Noblemen… up to the year 1863.” Not in Library Hub Discover or OCLC.


  1. “Sketch of the Portable Field Telegraph”. No place, no date. Lithograph, extracted from a publication and mounted on linen or muslin.
  2. [Sleigh], “A Proposal of a System of Floating Structures Designed by Captain Adderley Sleigh”. No place, July 5, 1860. Letterpress pamphlet on blue paper, 12pp. These were “applicable to form harbours of refuge, mercantile harbours, temporary shelter for ships on exposed costs, and for batteries, fixed or moveable, humbly presented to the Right Honourable the Committee of the House of Lords, appointed “To enquire how far it may be practicable to afford better shelter for shipping upon our coasts than is at present afforded, by the adoption of some plan for the construction of breakwaters and harbours less costly and better adapted for certain localities than the system of solid masonry hitherto in use; and whether any such plan appears likely to be serviceable for the improvement of our national defenses.” Not in Library Hub Discover or OCLC.
  3. [Sleigh?], “Hastings and St. Leonards Floating Harbour Association. Limited.” No place, no date, but prob. late 1860. Bifolium, 4pp. Seeking subscriptions for 12,000 shares at £1 each, to fund construction at Hastings and St. Leonard in East Sussex on the south coast of England of “a small Floating Harbour, on the principle designed by Captain Adderley Sleigh, K.T.S., for the reception and protection of Fishing and Coastal Vessels, and Yachts, by laying down a Sea Barrier of one thousand feet in length…” Not in Library Hub Discover or OCLC. Long horizontal fold separation.
  4. Standidge & Co. Litho., 36 Old Jewry, “The Patent Sea-Barrier & Artificial Beach. For the Formation of Harbours &c. Invented by Captain Adderley Sleigh, K. T. S. Late R. N.” London, 1868. Lithograph, printed area 18 ½”h x 22 ½”w, uncolored. Toned, some staining at upper left, long mended tear, edge wear including a chip to lower margin. Large lithograph with four central illustrations of different views of Sleigh’s proposed floating breakwater, surrounded by explanatory text. Not in Library Hub Discover or OCLC.
  5. A.W. Sleigh Deltr., Plate No. 2. No place, no date. Lithograph, 15 1/8”h x 22 7/8”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Somewhat toned, folds, creasing and edge wear, lower-left margin excised as if for binding. Large lithograph promoting the efficacy of Sleigh’s breakwater, with vessels within its confines anchored in calm water while those outside are buffeted by wind and waves. Appears to have been removed from a publication, though item 8 above (“A Proposal of a System of Floating Structures”) shows no signs of having had plates bound in.
  6. [Sleigh?], “No. 3[:] Submarine Foundations[:] Amarrages Sous Marines”. No place, no date. Ink and watercolor, 9”h x 41 ½”w, large folding flap backed on linen. Toned, soiled and stained, some tears to the flap. Alas, drawing 3 only (of ?), but in itself visually striking.

Abortive mining scheme

  1. ALS to Sleigh from Henry M. Stephenson, writing in his capacity as agent of the Marquis of Devonshire, outlining the terms of a deal for Sleigh to mine lands owned the Marquis. Bifolium on line paper, 3pp.
  2. “Licence to Explore and Search for Mines and Minerals within certain Lands situate ___ for ___ months from the ___ day of 18___ with an undertaking to grant a Lease of the same”. London: The “Mining Journal” Office, no date. Bifolium printed in black with a red-ruled border, 4pp. Licence partially accomplished in ink (in Sleigh’s hand) but never signed or witnessed, permitting Sleigh to mine for minerals on land owned by the Marquis of Devonshire.


  1. M. le Capitaine Adderley-Sleigh/Imprimerie de Ad. Lainé et J. Havard, “Société pour l’Encouragement et le Développement de la Peche Maritime de l’Empire Francaise Fondée en 1864.” Paris, [1864?] Folio, 7pp, blue wraps (front wrap soiled and tattered, rear wrap perished). A proposal for a society for the promotion of French fisheries, which would then be transformed into a for-profit “Compagnie de Peche Maritime de l’Empire Francais”. I have not found any indication that this venture ever got off the ground. Not in Catalogue collectif de France, Library Hub Discover, OCLC.
  2. Photo-reproduction of a lithograph of the “Arms of Sleighs of Derbyshire; with the Quarterings, from the Monument at Sutton on the Hill”, the lithograph from an unknown publication.
  3. “Will Shortly Appear, First Volume. Presentations at the Court of Her Most Gracious Majesty Victoria…” London, no date [but ca. 1890-91?] Broadside in black and red, backed on linen. Soliciting subscriptions for said work, which was to include “biographic sketches by W. H. Adderley-Sleigh, F.R.G.S.” This may have been Sleigh’s son William Henry Horatio, born 1839.
  4. [Anonymous], “A brief outline of the life and services of the late Captain Adderley Sleigh, K.T.S.” No place, no date, but post-mortem. Ms in ink, 7pp (at least 1 or 2pp missing, if not more).

In all, a substantial archive including both manuscript and unrecorded printed material, featuring a talented-but-flawed protagonist and strong content involving 19th-century entrepreneurship and maritime technology.

Provenance and reference
Several of the items in the archive bear the ownership inscription of Sleigh’s grandson Henry J. Bowie Clarke (1878-1952) of New Milford, Pennsylvania. Clarke was the son of Henry John Clarke and Eliza T. Sleigh (1847-1914), the daughter of Sleigh and his first wife Eliza Helen Benson Sleigh (1813-1847).

Some background on Sleigh from Susan J. Dorey, “Sleigh Family of Emma Warner Sleigh”, pp.24-25, online at (accessed June 2023).