Life in the Navy Great Guns and Small Arms Pay and Prize Money
The Impress Service Ships and Tactics Crime and Punishment
Frigate Warfare Patronage and Promotion Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of the Nile An eyewitness at Trafalgar  Victories and Casualties


Ships of this era were armed with two main weapons.
The long cannon and the carronade.

68 pounder carronade Mounted on a slide instead of a carriage the Carronade was a short barreled weapon of limited range, typically half to a third the range of a long gun. However its lighter weight allowed it to be mounted on a higher deck. They were manufactured in the usual naval caliber's 12, 18, 24 and 32 pounders, with some smaller and heavier versions.
The Victory's two 68 pounders are mounted on the fo'c'sle and could unleash a storm of grapeshot across an enemies deck prior to boarding. At the battle of Trafalgar Victory devastated one of the Bucentaures' gun decks when it fired a 68 pound round shot and a keg of musket balls through the stern gallery.

A carronade mounted on a slide .


As with the Carronades the Long Guns took their description from the weight of round shot they fired, from 32 down to 6 pounders. The length of the barrel varied as well, the 24 pounder was manufactured in 6 different lengths, three of which were in common use.
The 32 pounder fired a shot just over 6 inches in diameter and with a full charge of 10lb 11oz could make an extreme range of 2000 yards.
A 32 pounder Long Gun
Different weights of powder were used, 'distance with one shot' was the full 10lb 11 oz charge, 'full with one shot was an 8lb charge, 'reduced with two shot' was a 6lb charge ( to avoid bursting the gun), 'exercise and saluting' was 6lb, and 'scaling and blank' which was fired to remove rust or attract attention was 2lb 12oz. They were fired with a flintlock mechanism.
In the picture above grapeshot is in canvas bags on the gun carriage, and the bar shot (for destroying the enemies rigging) on the deck. The 32 pounder guns were mounted on the lower gundeck about 6 feet (2 metres) above the waterline. Lighter guns being mounted on succeding decks.
The recoil on these guns was controlled with ropes, a 32 pounder with a standard charge and restrained would recoil approximaletly 11 feet (3.3 metres) as it was fired. Unrestrained with a full proof charge (the charge used when the gun was proofed before being used in a ship) the 3 ton gun would recoil over 50 feet (15 metres).
types of shot Extreme ranges were seldom used in battle, a pistol shot or thirty yards was more common. Distances were often described by reference to various of the ships guns, so a pistol shot was 25 to 30 yards, a musket shot about 200 yards and a gunshot about 1000 yards. At such close ranges the power of penetration of roundshot was impressive, at 30 yards an 18 pound shot would penetrate four oak planks 32.5 inches thick (just under 1 meter thick), hurling a shower of splinters up to thirty yards. At 300 yards range a 32 pounder firing grapeshot could penetrate 5 inches of fir planking and 4 of oak.

The pictures below show a cannon being operated by its gun crew.

cannon with crew cannon firing

Pictures reproduced with kind permission of the Historical Maritime Society.

Small Arms
In close quarter actions the fighting might require the men to board or repel boarders from an enemy ship. For this purpose they were armed with cutlasses, pistols, tomahawks, and pikes. The muskets were generally used by the Marines.


The cutlass was a simple straight sword with a 28 inch blade, an iron grip and guard, worn in a leather belt diagonally across the shoulder. It was designed as a slashing and thrusting weapon and was not intended for subtle fencing.

boarding axe
picture kindly provided by John Haskell

The Tomahawk, officially known as a boarding axe, had a wedged shaped head with a slightly curved blade and a sharp spike on the back, it could be driven into the hull of an enemy vessel to make steps if there were no hand holds.
The pike was about 7 and a half feet long and designed to be used as a stab and move on weapon. The pikes were stowed on vertical racks on the main deck around the masts.

The pistols came in long and short barreled versions, 9 inches and 12 inches long, with a bore of 0.56 inches. The butt had a metal base (known as a skull crusher butt cap) so the pistol could be used as a club once fired. The muskets also came in two barrel lenghts, 3 feet 1 inch and 2 feet 2 inches, both could take a bayonet, and the effective range was around 100 yards. Marine sharp shooters were placed in the rigging to fire down on enemy ships, Nelson was killed by a French marine this way, firing from the rigging of the Redoubtable.

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