Henry Shrapnel was born in Wiltshire, England. In 1784, while a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he perfected his invention of what he called "spherical case" ammunition: a hollow cannon ball filled with shot which burst in mid-air. When it was finally adopted by the British Army in 1803, it immediately acquired the inventor's name: the shrapnel shell.
Shrapnel was promoted to major on November 1, 1803 after eight years as a captain. After his invention's success in battle on April 30, 1804, Shrapnel was promoted to lieutenant colonel on July 20, 1804, less than nine months later.
In recognition of Shrapnel's contribution, the British Government in 1814 awarded him £1200 a year for life. He was appointed to the office of Colonel-Commandant, Royal Artillery, on March 6, 1827. He rose to the rank of lieutenant-general on January 10, 1837.