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Scottish Leather Cannon

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present for your edification and leather working pleasure, Scottish leather cannon.

Leather Cannon, West Highland Museum, Fort William

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.

Leather Cannon breech, West Highland Museum, Fort William

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.

Leather Cannon muzzle, West Highland Museum, Fort William

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.

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2 thoughts on “Scottish Leather Cannon

  1. Huzzah! You have DONE IT AGAIN! Fantastic post.

    Mythbuster safety protocols–at least in the first two seasons–drove me bonkers! When they debunked this I was furious and by the end of the show I had been relegated to another room to watch the recording after the rest of the family was finished. (I do take my leather seriously apparently!)

    Thank you for the photos and the additional details, definitely have my mental cogs spinning as my son really wanted to create a leather canon to launch potatoes using compressed air. Your post sparked a handful of ideas.

    Warmest regards from the states,

    John

  2. I am glad I was not the only one yelling at the mythbusters on that episode…
    there is a gentleman in california that made a very nice replica from california which
    came to a reenactment in staunton va. back in ’97 … and it looked nothing like the mythbusters cannon.. it followed what you posted above… =0)

    Chris

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