The 1844 rocket designed by Hale improved on Congreve's by removing the need for a stick to support it, and by adding vents that caused the rocket to spin like a rifle bullet (see photograph left, from the National Air and Space Museum website). They were highly accurate and had the added benefit of improved portability. The only downside was that they Hale rocket did not travel as far as the Congreve design, although it did travel up to 2000 yards. Even though it was an important step forward, it took the British government some time to take it up, and it was employed first in US invasion of Mexico in 1846, although the Hale rocket was employed unofficially in the Crimean War. In the meantime Hale had financial difficulties, going bankrupt at least once.
On April 15th 1853 the factory was raided by the police and became the centre of a major scandal that was discussed in Parliament and was widely reported, and referred to by Karl Marx as the "Rotherhithe Gunpowder Plot" in his New York Daily Tribune piece on the subject. The above illustration, to accompany one of those reports, appeared in the London Illustrated News. The report states that several thousand rockets were found, together with 257lbs of gunpowder. The latter was illegal on its own, the amount of gunpowder within a three mile radius of the City of London being restricted to 200lbs.
Hale and his son were arrested and charged with both the illegal manufacture of rockets and the possession of illegal quantities of gunpowder. At Bow Street Magistrates' Court Hale argued strongly against both accusations. In particular he argued that the material identified as gunpowder was something that he called "rocket composition." However, what caused the scandal was the connection between Hale and a Hungarian called Lajos Kossuth, with Hale being accused of collusion with Kossuth and manufacturing rockets for foreign powers.
It is unclear how Kossuth and Hale first came across each other, but piecing together different accounts it seems clear that a lot of foreign refugees were employed at the factory, amongst them Hungarians, and that some of them may have been recommended to Hale by Kossuth. In particular was one of the factory's employees, named August Usener. Usener had served in the Hungarian military as an officer. He had been imprisoned for theft in Maidstone, but was recommended by Kossuth to Hale, becoming a worker at his factory. He gives a bizarre account of the initial meeting between the three men, in which he states the he was told to keep the manner of his appointment secret, and that all three men were instructed to leave the premises separately in order to avoid being seen together and connected with one another.
Usener was at the root of the raid on the factory. He informed the Austrians, who had been experimenting with the Congreve rocket, that Hale was providing Hungary with his rockets. The Austrian Embassy complained to the British government and this led directly to the raid on the factory. Because Hale had already been made bankrupt once, and was always in financial difficulties, it was considered very suspicious that he was able to store manufacturing materials that totaled a value of some £1000-£2000. The inventory discovered in the raid included: 1543 loaded rockets, 3629 rocket heads, 2489 rocket bottoms, 1955 empty rockets, 22 iron shot and 2 firing instruments as well as 257lbs of gunpowder. The entire haul was removed to the Woolwich Royal Arsenal for analysis.
|Woolwich Royal Arsenal in the 19th Century|
Hale again went bankrupt after paying the fines (he was charged 2 shillings for every pound he held above the legal allowance, which came to 57lbs) but he eventually secured a British contract in 1867 for his rockets that ensured his financial security until his death in 1870.
There's a rather good description, in Ismailia (1874) by Samuel White Baker, of his use of a Hale rocket in the Khartoum area of the Sudan against some unfortunate elephants:
The elephants having gained the island, remained some time exposed, before they made up their minds to cross to the other side. Unfortunately, the boats had followed the carcases of the elephants down the river, which were two miles distant before they could be secured; therefore we had no means of reaching the island. Our vessels could not have crossed, as there were many rocks below stream.
I therefore took a few shots with Hale's rockets, one of which just grazed the rump of an elephant, and sent them off in great astonishment.
More consistent with its intended military purpose, the Hale 24lb rocket was employed in the Zulu war of 1879, was painted red with black lettering, and measured nearly two foot long with a diameter of nearly 4 inches.
Hale was buried at Old Brompton Cemetery, where he is never listed as one of the famous names to be buried there, which is very typical as he is rarely remembered, always falling under the shadow of Sir William Congreve, who was better known and far more revered for his achievements.