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Names of English cannons

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 6:21 am
by Demi-Saker
When did the English Navy make the transition from "Culverin", "Demi-Culverin", etc. into "18-pdr", "12-pdr", etc. ?

So far the entries on threedecks pre-1700 have all been in the named version, rather than the pounds (although the odd 3-pdr, 24-pdr, and 12-pdr). That's as far as I've researched, so I'm not sure when the transition happens in the threedecks entries.

A book I'm reading at the moment (To Rule the Waves) mentions that the named versions were replaced with "-pdr" around the second Anglo-Dutch war - is this correct, or was it much later?


Re: Names of English cannons

Posted: Sat Mar 16, 2019 5:09 am
by Navclio
Frank L. Fox, A Distant Storm: The Four Days' Battle of 1666 (Rotherfield, East Sussex: Press of Sail Publications, 1996), has a table of "ordnance and manning" for each fleet. For English ordnance, the following mixture of names and shot weight designations is used (with Fox's conversion weights):
Cannon-of-7 [42-pounder]
Demi-Cannon [32-pounder]
Culverin [18-pounder]
Demi-culverin [9-pounder]
Saker [5¼-pounder]
Minion [4-pounder]
Falcon [2½-pounder]
So it seems that names were still being used in the Second Anglo-Dutch War. My understanding is that the Dutch introduced the shot-weight designation, and Fox's ordnance tables for the Dutch fleet are all in X-pounder format.

The best explanation of the transition from names to numerical shot-weight designations in the English navy would probably be Adian B. Caruana, The History of English Sea Ordnance, 1523–1875 (3 vols.; Rotherfield, East Sussex: Jean Boudriot Publications, 1997), vol. 1, if you could find a copy.

Re: Names of English cannons

Posted: Sat Mar 16, 2019 10:44 am
by Demi-Saker
Thanks Navclio, I've had a look around for that book, but only ones I could find were $300!

It seems like the threedecks entries for the English change to "-pdr" after about 1700, so I'll probably choose a conflict around then or after to make the cut off. The ships I looked at still listed "Demi-Culverin" instead of ~9-pdr, but that would be easy enough to change for consistency. Dutch cannons, and pretty much all other nations seem to all be in the -pdr format, even as far back as the first ADW.

Thanks again for your input :)

Re: Names of English cannons

Posted: Sat Mar 16, 2019 1:48 pm
by Cy
One thing to remember is that in the 17C the terms Cannon and Culverine indicated different types of armament as well as different shot weight. Cannons were shorter in calibre, 18-28 against a culverines 32-34, more squat, and therefore had a lower muzzle velocity and lower range but with a greater smashing effect, a bit like late 18C carronades. Sakers and minions were small culverines and other weapons such as port-pieces, perriers, falcons etc were anti-personel.
Culverines on the other hand were longer, more accurate and with a longer range and consequently less 'smashing effect', later ships cannons were all effectively culverines.

Mostly from Robert Gardiners The Line of Battle. Somewhere I have a table of weapon ranges from the period, but I can't find it.


Re: Names of English cannons

Posted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 10:46 am
by Demi-Saker
Thanks Cy - good overview, helps me make sure I'm treating these things correctly in the game :)

Re: Names of English cannons

Posted: Tue Apr 02, 2019 5:03 pm
by carlbrechler

Sorry for the late reply - midterms followed by spring break . . .

The change in nomenclature took much longer than you would imagine. It would appear to have started in the First Dutch War. Remember, Charles I had let the navy stagnate at the end of his reign during his fight with Parliament. Further he had used recasting of guns to help fund his administration. The government would melt down the older guns, recast them as drakes, increasing the caliber at the same time. However, three older cannon would provide (say) enough brass for 4 guns after recasting. Return three "improved, modern" guns to the fleet, and sell the fourth for income. I seem to remember reading that Charles did this to the point that he depressed the market for brass cannon. However, while the fleet was armed, there was not much in reserve.

Enter the Dutch War and the need to expand the fleet. While the Commonwealth had done some to rectify the situation, they hadn't been in power that long. So, the English took guns wherever they could find them. Including from the Dutch. At this point you start to see ships armed with poundage guns as well as named guns.

The dual identifying of the guns continued much longer than you would expect. The Great Survey of 1696 (1694 or 1695 to 1702) listed guns by both name or poundage. So did the Establishment of 1703. It is not until the Establishment of 1715 that you see the switch to a uniform poundage identification. Coincidentally, or not, this happened with the change to George I and the Hanoverians. Did Hanover use the poundage system?


Re: Names of English cannons

Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2019 11:48 am
by Mulherin
What do you think the reason was for them to change the nomenclature that slowly, Carl?

Re: Names of English cannons

Posted: Sun Oct 13, 2019 7:09 pm
by carlbrechler
At this point, force of habit and no overwhelming need to change. I had thought that it was the succession of George I to the throne, but a deeper dive into the situation does not support the idea. John Churchill became the Master General of the Board of Ordinance upon George’s arrival (he maintained it until his death), but he had also held the post during the reign of Anne I (1702 to 1712, from the ascension of Anne to his dismissal due to change from a Whig to Tory government and the fall from favor of his wife with Anne). There was an influx of new people about this time, however the Board appears to have been neglected for the previous few years, and this may represent merely bringing it back to full strength. It is notable that the people I have been able to identify in the higher offices had SOME link to the future George I, mostly through the War of Spanish Succession. It should be noted that during most of Churchill’s first stint at the Board of Ordinance, he was elsewhere, campaigning against the French (you may know him better as the Duke of Marlborough. One may assume that he had little direct oversight of the Board at this point.

So, what was the impetus in 1715 that wasn’t there in 1702? One might suggest that it was a branding change? The 1703 pattern of guns was an unqualified disaster (actually, the smaller guns were good, but the larger ones were prone to burst. Anyway, only moderate number of 6-pound guns were cast to this pattern). Perhaps it was a Windows Vista/Windows 7 thing. Make corrections and slap a new name on it so people think there was a major change?

Beyond that, I got nothing. Maybe, with exposure to the Allies during the war, it became popular to refer to a gun by its weight?