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Firing a cannon

A gun crew prepares to fire a cannon. The gunner aims the gun and lights the match. His crew are on hand to load the cartridge...Read More >>A gun crew prepares to fire a cannon. The gunner aims the gun and lights the match. His crew are on hand to load the cartridge and shot into the muzzle and then haul the gun into its firing position. Several men were needed to fire a cannon on a 16th century ship. First, a loader packed gunpowder into the barrel, followed by the ball. A “sponger” used a long stick called a rammer to push both powder and ball down the barrel. The gun crew hauled on ropes to pull the cannon to the gunport. The gunner held a burning taper to a hole at the end of the gun, lighting the gunpowder.



Opening the gunports

The ship’s cannon were mounted on carriages with wheels. A rope called a breech rope was run through the carriage and secured to ringbolts fixed to the hull on either side of the gunport. Before engaging an enemy ship, the lids covering the gunports (the openings in the ship’s hull) had to be removed.
 

With both ship and target rolling up and down in the waves, the timing of firing was crucial to accuracy. In high seas, the gunner fired just as the target ship was rising on a swell.

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