Ladies and Gentlemen, I present for your edification and leather working pleasure, Scottish leather cannon.
Double barrel type 2 leather cannon, West Highland Museum, Fort William.
The idea of leather guns was brought from Sweden to England in 1629 by Colonel Robert Scott. Witnesses of the guns said:
“These pieces are of very great use, and very easie and light of carriage. One horse may draw a peece, which will carry a bullet of a pound and halfe in weight, and doe execution very farre.”
Quoted in Firth, Cromwell’s Army, London, 1902
Sir James Turner, later spoke of the Swedish guns, “These guns which are called Leather-Cannon, … and are made with great art, and are light to carry, which is the greatest advantage they have” (Turner, Pallas Armata, Edinburgh 1683, p189).
Twenty-three leather guns are in collections in Scotland, all apparently of similar manufacture. Four are in the Scottish National Museum. They were designed for carriage by a horse for increased mobility. Records of their use in the UK span from 1643 through to the late 1680s.
Layers of hemp cord and woven hemp cloth show through the remains of the leather cover.
The barrel was an iron tube made of sheet riveted together, strengthened by iron rings, not unlike other stave built iron cannon. The breech block appears to have been screwed into place. The barrel was then bound with one or more layers of hemp cord before having a leather cover sewn on. The seam went along the underside, unfortunately it isn’t obvious in my photos. Over the leather was a layer of copper sheet.
The copper sheath is clearly visible at the muzzle, as is the strength of the reinforcing rings and the rivets on the barrel.
I know Mythbusters allegedly debunked the whole leather cannon “myth”, but I think they didn’t follow the construction correctly. Yes, I did shout at the telly, how did you know? I suspect they made the same mistake as the Irish at the siege of Ballynally Castle, County Clare, in 1642 by not including a properly sealed iron core.
If you are interested in reading further, get a copy of Stevenson & Caldwell, Leather Guns and Other Light Artillery in Mid-17th-Century Scotland from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 108 (1976-7), 300-17 from here.