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Cannons, sometimes also known as “great guns” or “long guns”, formed the main battery armament of most frigates and ships of the line, as well as that of some smaller vessels, during the Napoleonic Wars. Their barrels were usually made from cast iron, although bronze (sometimes erroneously referred to as “brass”) was at times used, and they were mounted on wooden wheeled carriages. The technology of the era did not permit efficient breech-loading guns, so the cannons were loaded through their muzzles in a laborious and time-consuming procedure that greatly limited the speed of fire. Numerous patterns of cannon were tried, but the specifications given below were typical of those often used in Royal Navy vessels:

 Shot Wt.(lbs) Barrel Length	Barrel Weight (lbs)	Crew	Range at 6 Degrees Elevation 
      3	            4’ 6”	     812	       2 or 3	            1225 yds
      4	            6’	            1372	          4	            1250
      6	            8’	            2464	          4	            1500
      9	            7’ 6”	    2744	          8	            1730
     12	            9’	            3584	         10	            1820
     18	            9’ 6”	    4704	         10	            1920
     24	           10’	            5824	         12	            1980
     32	           10’	            6496	         14	            2640
     42	            9’ 6”	    7280	         16	            2740

The cannons were generally designated by the weight of the solid iron round shot usually fired at long range, although other types of ammunition, such as grape shot, could be fired when the circumstances warranted. The typical specifications for round shot were:

 Shot Wt.(lbs)	Shot Diameter (ins)	Bore Diameter (ins)
      3	               2.78	               2.91
      4	               3.05	               3.22
      6	               3.50	               3.67
      9	               4.00	               4.22
     12	               4.40	               4.62
     18	               5.04	               5.29
     24	               5.55	               5.82
     32	               6.10	               6.43
     42	               6.68	               6.90

The standard powder charge for firing cannons was one-third the weight of the shot, but charges were frequently reduced when the guns became heated (to reduce the recoil) and sometimes when the target was close (a slower projectile created more deadly splinters when the shot hit the enemy’s hull). During the Napoleonic Wars, long guns were often supplemented by the shorter, lighter weight carronades, and sometimes on small vessels carronades completely replaced full length cannons (except possibly for one or two long guns retained as “chasers”).

In the Canon

"Regulations confined Jack to a hundred round-shot for each of his long eighteen-pounders, and he had to hoard them with jealous care, for there was no certainty of any more at the Cape – a wretched situation…."[1]


  1. O’Brian, Patrick. The Mauritius Command. ©1977. William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., St. James’s Place, London: p. 45
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