Reply To: Gun port spacing c1790.

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Michael Leek

    I have copies of most of the accepted texts relating to the design and construction of Royal Navy sailing men-of-war (Endsor, Gardiner, Goodwin, Lavery, Steel and even Longridge, etc, etc). None give any indication that the rules laid down specific distances between centres for gun ports, relative to weight and size of canon to be carried (although weight may not be as important a consideration as actual size relative to gun port dimensions, etc). The only conclusion I can come to is that distances between centres, and the actual width of gun ports, was determined by each of the Establishment rules relating to the room-and-space frame dimensions which were set against different Rates and/or classes of vessels. If my interpretation is correct then it implies that size and weight of canon was not a determining factor in the dimensions or spacing of and between gun ports, but by the spacing between the double or main frames (scantlings and spacing of the filling frames being determined by the main frames, particularly for larger vessels). However, by checking against a number of lines plans of vessels classified as being of the same Rate, there are ‘discrepancies’, albeit minimal. This suggests that the various Establishment rules regarding room-and-space were loosely applied, or, maybe, implying that some official draughts are not as accurate as we think.

    Interestingly, even accepted texts relating to the construction of French equivalent ships between approximately 1700 and 1820, I can find no reference to any rules regarding the distances between centres for gun ports relative to the size of canon carried.

    This question has intrigued me for some years, prompted by Harold A Underhill’s set of plans for what seems to be a generic 40-gun frigate (but claimed to be based on the Endymion). These plans show a gun port spacing that seems too tight compared to official Admiralty draughts. Whilst many of Underhill’s plans of named sailing ships are, by and large, very accurate, we do not know for sure if the same reliability applies to his generic plans, particularly of the two sailing warship sets he produced.