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Sea Service Musket

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Small arms used by Marines.

One cannot say much with certainty about the small arms issued to the company of Marines serving on HMS Endeavour, or what arms were carried for use by seamen in times of emergency.

It seems most likely, however, that the majority of small arms were either sea service muskets, or possibly the newly introduced short land service musket.

Sea service muskets were essentially the same smooth bore flintlock muskets issued to British soldiers since the 1720s. They differed only in having a shorter barrel, making easier to use in sea-borne warfare. This weapon weighed about 4 kilos and fired a lead ball that was 75 millimetres in diameter and weighed about 30 grams.

The short land service musket was introduced in 1768, when efforts were made to reduce the overall load soldiers were obliged to carry. Like the sea service musket, the short land service musket differed from the earlier standard flintlock weapon by having a shorter barrel. It also had a stronger and lighter metal ramrod.

On Royal Naval vessels, Marines were drilled constantly so that they were able to load and fire their musket every twenty to thirty seconds. They also practiced firing in formation so as to inflict maximum casualties on an enemy by shooting numerous balls simultaneously.

Musket balls came in a rolled paper cartridge also containing a small charge of gunpowder. The cartridge was sewn at both ends with thread. Loading the musket involved biting off the rear end of the cartridge and placing a priming charge of powder in a small pan located on the right hand side of the weapon, above and just forward of the trigger guard. In the pan was a small hole into the musket’s barrel.

The remaining powder was poured in the muzzle followed by the ball. The empty cartridge paper was then packed down the barrel as wadding, using a ramrod. The weapon was then aimed and the trigger pulled. Pulling the trigger released a spring-loaded hammer that struck a piece of flint. The resulting spark ignited the powder in the pan. By virtue of the small hole leading into the musket’s barrel, the powder packed down behind the ball and wedding also ignited, causing an explosion that sent the ball flying out of the barrel with deadly force for several hundred metres.

If a musket was well aimed, the powder ignited and the barrel has been well made, it was possible for an experienced shooter to hit targets about 75 metres away. However, the weapon’s accuracy rapidly diminished when shooting at targets beyond this distance.

Related Entries for Sea Service Musket
Cultural Artefacts: Small Arms
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Prepared by: Turnbull, P
Created: 4 October 2001
Modified: 10 October 2001

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000043

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