Behind the Line – A Linstock for Firing Cannon

“When satisfied, they affixed the smoking cords to their linstocks and then inserted the long staves into special slots in the gun carriage. There, the slowmatches waited, ready to touch off the explosions that would launch the heavy iron cannonballs towards their targets.”

The Day the Pirates Went Mad, Chapter 8: Cannon Competition, pg 68.
#TDTPiratesWentMad - Linstock and Cannon - Cannoniere 1652
Scanned by: Steven J. Plunkett from “The Compleat Cannoniere (1652)” by John Roberts,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Saker, minion, and culverin – these are just some of the names for the different shapes and sizes of cannons used on land and aboard ships at sea.

In 1745, the gunlock firing mechanism, which was triggered by pulling a cord or lanyard, was introduced. This and other changes continued to improve the loading and firing of such weapons until we arrived at the breech-loading, rifled artillery we largely still use today.

Use a Linstock Before That

However, at the turn of the 18th century, when “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” takes place, cannons were still fired by using a slow-burning fuse, or slowmatch, to ignite a trail of priming powder that led to the inside of the cannon through the touchhole.

Measures of black powder, loose or bagged, were shoveled in through the muzzle of iron and bronze cannons alike, followed by the cannon balls, and each rammed in with a bit of cloth or wadding to hold it all in place. And then, the order to “FIRE!

The cannon would recoil violently in response to the explosion of powder and the expulsion of the iron shot. Therefore, when lighting the powder, the gun captain would understandably prefer to stand back a bit. 🙂

This was possible by affixing a slowmatch to the end of a long stick, called a linstock, to be able to touch the burning end to the powder from a safe distance.

And that’s what’s behind the line in the quote above. 🙂