On board a warship you might stuff charge bags for gunpowder, gun wads, tampions or shot into a gun. Invincible had three different sizes of guns on board. Ramming the wrong sized equipment into a gun in the middle of battle leads to accidents – and a useless gun.
Complications in battle
18th-century guns were inefficient and produced a lot of acrid smoke. Imagine being in the middle of battle with guns going off over and over again in an enclosed gun deck. With so much billowing smoke it was difficult for gun crews to see anything. Three sizes of gun – 32, 24 and 9 pounds – added to the confusion, with their three different sizes of charge bags, gunwads and shot. How did the gun crews make sure that the equipment delivered by the ‘powder monkeys’, the youngest crew members, was the right size?
Solving a problem
The Royal Navy avoided mistakes by making sure everything was clearly labelled. Labels were often carved out of wood, making them waterproof and easy to either read or feel in low light levels. (You don’t want to light a candle to read a label when you’re standing next to gunpowder!) We have found the labels with the number 32 and 24 on them as well as blank, smooth labels that were probably used for the 9-pound guns.
An interesting discovery
Archaeologists raised some of the six swivel guns found in Invincible’s hold. These are small guns designed to be mounted on the rails around the main deck that stop you from falling into the sea. This type of gun was for close-range action – in other words, shooting at an enemy trying to board your ship. To stop the guns getting wet and rusty, they were kept in Invincible’s hold when they weren’t needed.
Swivel guns weren’t particularly popular with the crew. They were difficult to shoot straight and, because they had smaller, weaker barrels than larger guns, could blow up in your face if over-used. But – unlike Invincible’s larger guns – they were easy to move to where you needed them in the heat of battle.