‘Important’ find salvaged from 17th cent shipwreck
PHOTO CAPTION: Raising the gun with air bags. CREDIT: Dr Colin Martin.
Archaeological historians have discovered a 17th century iron cannon, which is believed to be one of the most significant underwater archaeological finds recently made in Scotland.
The cannon, thought to be the only one of its kind still in existence, has been recovered from the wreck of the Swan, a small Cromwellian warship lost off Mull while attacking the royalist stronghold of Duart Castle in 1653. The important find was made by Dr Colin Martin of the University of St Andrews, who has been excavating the eroding wreck since 1992, in collaboration with the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) and Historic Scotland.
Earlier finds from the wreck (which are also being conserved by the NMS) have been of such importance and quality that the Swan has been nicknamed ‘Scotland’s “Mary Rose”‘.
Conservators at the NMS are currently working on the iron cannon, painstakingly removing layers of concretion which has built up over hundreds of years. The conservation work so far has revealed that it is probably the only iron example of this type of gun known to have survived into modern times. The cannon was unveiled today (Friday 10th January, 2003) at The Granton Centre, Edinburgh.
NMS Conservator Dr Theo Skinner said: ‘The Swan is a very exciting shipwreck, and there have been many amazing discoveries over the past few years ¿ but this cannon is proving to be one of the most important finds so far.’
Dr Martin said: ‘At first sight it looks like a very ordinary cannon, with two inscribed marks. One records its weight of 3 cwt 2 qtrs 23 lbs (totalling 415 pounds). The other consists of the letters ‘IB’ set on either side of the touch-hole. These are the founder’s initials, and are almost certainly those of John Browne, King Charles I’s royal gunfounder. In the 1620’s Browne developed a completely revolutionary new type of gun, one which was much lighter for the weight of shot it fired, allowing more to be carried on the king’s ships,’ said Dr Martin.
These stronger and lighter new guns were called ‘drakes’, and the secret of their success was a tapered end to their bores, where the pressure of the gunpowder explosion was greatest. This greatly increased strength at this critical point and allowed the overall weight of the gun to be drastically reduced. The cannon recovered from the ‘Swan’ has a bore of 82 mm (3 1/4 inches), showing that it fired a 4-pound shot.
“John Browne cast drakes in both metals, including the 92 bronze drakes (plus 10 non-drakes) cast for Charles I’s mega- battleship ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ in 1637. The ‘Swan’, built in 1641, was the ‘Sovereign’s’ much smaller sister, and was the last ship to be built for Charles I before he was overwhelmed by the Civil War. Her guns were exclusively iron,” said Dr Martin.
It is hoped that the conservation process will determine whether or not the cannon is indeed a drake – and if so, it is probably the only iron example of this type of gun known to have survived into modern times. It will also act as a starting-point for further metallurgical research into this 17th century example of scientific armament development.
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DR MARTIN AND DR SKINNER WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW AT THE PHOTOCALL TODAY (FRIDAY 10TH JANUARY 2003).
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