William Cantelo

A real Victorian mystery! William Cantelo (born 1839) was from a family of Isle of Wight gunsmiths. He had a Northam engineering yard of 40 people. He also had a French Street shop, the Old Tower Inn pub by Arundel Tower and was a good musician, holding band practices in the Tower.

The pub had an underground passage and behind locked doors Cantelo worked on his inventions. Locals would hear the noise of guns he was making in secrecy.

One day he said he was off for a three month holiday, he left his wife and three children and disappeared – saying he was off to Europe! They later found he had taken a large amount of money.

Then news broke that an American man had developed a machine gun in London. This inventor was Hiram Maxim and when the Cantelo family saw a picture they were convinced this person was in fact their lost father. Two sons went to London and they thought they had sighted him (Maxim) at Waterloo station and even spoke to the man. The sons visited Maxim’s home in Bexley, Kent only to see him leave by a rear entrance.

The real Maxim (1840-1916) came to England in 1881, naturalised in 1900 and became a Knight in 1901. The Maxim gun was the world’s first fully automatic machine gun and made him a fortune. He also invented the humble mousetrap! Maxim’s son wrote a biography of his father, ‘A Genius in the Family’, which was made into a 1946 Hollywood biopic film.

Was it mistaken identity? Or were Cantelo and Maxim one and the same? In a strange twist the real Cantelo was fond of quoting witty maxims and carried a book of them around with him!