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Men-O-War Gunners 1485 - 1603



Men-O-War Gunners In Elizabethan Times


'The guns of the main batteries were pointed through portholes. The lower tiers of guns pointed through square ports, fitted with heavy swinging port-lids. The upper tiers seem to have pointed through small round ports, not fitted with lids. The guns were mounted on four-wheeled wooden carriages which could be run out by means of side and train tackles attached to the carriages and ring bolts in the deck and bulwarks.


To elevate and depress the gun, the gunner had to raise his piece by iron crows, or by wooden hand spikes, so as to thrust (or to remove from) underneath it, a wedge of wood known as a quoin.


To load a gun, the gun's crew had first to run the piece in, so that the loader could pass the cartridge (usually made of flannel, canvas or parchment) down the muzzle. On top of the cartridge, a wad of oakum or rope yarn was rammed down, then the shot; and lastly another wad. the missile was generally a smooth ball of cast iron, kept (free from rust) in racks about the hatches and along the sides of the ship; but there were many varieties of bar, chain and hail shot, each with its special use, and the English gunners knew how to make and fire shells containing quickfire or other combustibles.


The Gunners of yesteryear.Priming and Firing

When the gun was loaded, the gunner primed it. He thrust a wire down the touch hole, to prick the cartridge; and filled the touchhole with fine mealed powder from a horn which he carried in his belt. the gun was then run out by means of the side tackles. it was brought to bear upon the mark by the insertion or withdrawal of the quoin or by the slueing of the carriage aft or forward.


When aim had been taken, the gunner took his linstock or wooden fork, about which his match was twisted and applied the burning end of the match to the priming in the touchhole. the gun recoiled violently, when fired; but the force of the recoil was checked by a stout rope called the breeching, which kept the gun from flying back too far. After each discharge it was sponged out with a sheepskin mop, sometimes wetted in ley.






The guns did not fire very true, for the shot was always so much smaller than the bore of the piece thatit wobbled inside the gun, and made it impossible to aim exactly. Scales were cut upon the quoins, and perhaps upon the guns themselves, to help the gunner lay his piece with accuracy.Large guns were generally painted about their touchholes with the royal arms and the name of their ship.


The largest gun in general use in the navy during the reign of Elizabeth 1 was the demi-cannon, which threw a ball of about 30 pound and had a range of about a mile. Nelson's chief weapon was the 32 pounder gun, which carried about a mile and a half, when elevated 10 degrees. The big muzzle loading guns could be fired about once every five or six minutes. The ships were generally mounted with more guns than they needed, and the excessive strain must have shortened their terms of service.


The Royal Navy's sea victories in this reign were directly due to the comparative excellence in their sea artillery, and to their recognition of the fact that a warship is a movable battery rather than a floating parade ground or battering ram.