This is definitely a comment upon British workmanship

But which comment?

When a Canadian construction team came across a giant cannonball as they excavated a building site in Quebec, they did what anyone else would do in this age of Snapchat and Instagram.

They moved the 200lb projectile into better view and posed with it for photographs.

It was only later, when an archaeologist was studying the missile, the workers learned of their lucky escape: The cannonball was still live, packed with a charge and gunpowder just as it would have been when fired by British gunners during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.

Still ready after 250 years? Ah, the craft, the workmanship.

Or 250 years late in working?

15 comments on “This is definitely a comment upon British workmanship

  1. And black powder is super stable over time, and there’s no risk of it just going off unless you do something really stupid with it like put it in a fire or drill into it without lashings of coolant.

  2. I’m no historian so ICBW, but I didn’t think cannon balls ever had gunpowder in them. Pure Hollywood.

    In those days they had no fine control over the fuse to time it so it would explode close to the enemy rather than near the gunners, nor did they have a method to keep the fuse lit whilst the cannon ball flew through the air, nor did they have a method to light the fuse whilst it was in the cannon. In fact wouldn’t the fuse in the cannon have set up the gunpowder used to fire the ball?

    Feel free to correct me, but I suspect the “archaeologist” is not a weapons expert.

  3. Sorry sbml but there is a reason why cartoon terrorists use ball shaped bombs with fuses hanging out of them and this is it.

  4. @sbml – blackpowder-filled spherical shells were used at least as early as the English civil war. The fuse was as you’d expect – a bit of cord soaked in stuff to make it burn quickly but with a reasonably-predictable rate.

    Dangerous to all concerned, of course…

  5. In fact wouldn’t the fuse in the cannon have set up the gunpowder used to fire the ball?

    They were loaded unlit. Firing the cannon charge would ignite the fuse on the shell.

    Lt Shrapnel invented his anti-personnel round in the 1780s, which was a development of existing exploding shells. So there is no problem with the British Army having had them in 1759.

  6. A 200lb ball? And someone manhandled it up a footpath, together with a suitable cannon? Sounds way too big to have been used by the British in that action.

  7. Ah, reading it properly, the ball was fired from a siege battery well before the actual battle.

  8. I also get annoyed at the explosions due to cannon fire in period films. (I’d also have thought the more accurate portrayal of a column of soldier being destroyed by solid shot would in any case have made for more visceral viewing.)

    But this device was fired by a mortar, in which case it would have been explosive.

  9. TJ and Wat Dabney have it: this is a mortar projectile, loaded into a short-barrel mortar, fuze last, so the fuse could be lit before the weapon was discharged. Mortars are large-bore, short barrelled, weapons. Black powder becomes inactive when wet and doesn’t recover when dried as the saltpetre dissolves out and the charcoal and sulphur on their own don’t then constitute an explosive.

  10. “the charcoal and sulphur on their own don’t then constitute an explosive”: nowadays they probably constitute a superfood. Let’s ask Gwyneth Paltrow.

  11. “With time, humidity got into its interior and reduced its potential for exploding, but there’s still a danger”

    You damn right it was dangerous!!! Else the Telegraph would have no story.

  12. Thanks for correcting me. Nice to learn more stuff. Still think the archaeologist isn’t a weapons expert. But neither am I.

  13. Black powder becomes inactive when wet and doesn’t recover when dried as the saltpetre dissolves out

    No, it doesn’t.

    The historical production of black powder involved soaking it, and then drying it out and powdering the resulting cake. It’s called “corning”, and ensures that the constituent parts don’t separate in transit.

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