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A Manuscript Volume

The call number is VF145.I6. The work is entitled Instruction d’artillerie, 1818-1839. The volume was first encountered as a partially cataloged item in the Museum Archives and encountered purely by happenstance. The 38 centimeter-tall bound manuscript’s text is hand lettered, done in a bold style with almost mechanical precision.

Title Page.
VF145 .I6 Rare O (Mariners’ Museum Library and Archives)

The book’s decorative embellishments are folksy, yet almost modern in their whimsy. The drawings are superlative. Perhaps the work was copied from another source, but never allow that consideration to detract from its wonder.

Section heading entitled Movement by Crane, Loading and Unloading Cannons from Land.
VM145.I6 O Rare (Mariners’ Museum Library and Archives)

Instruction d’ Artillerie covers a range of topics relevant to the use of cannon aboard ships. The most impressive sections are the chapters on securing and moving cannon between shore and ship. The activity of moving multi-ton guns was conducted using pulleys, manpower, and lots (and lots) of rope. Once the gun was onboard, it was made fast to the deck and bulkhead lest a loose cannon go careening from the first rough wave with catastrophic results.

An illustration depicting lifting of a gun tube onto a ship.
VM145.I6 O Rare (Mariners’ Museum Library and Archives)

Beyond the information conveyed within the tome itself, the book’s date is an entrée to a wonderfully pedantic history exercise. The year 1818 was early in the Bourbon Restoration that followed Napoleon’s second abdication. The French Royal Navy had been reformed in 1816 to erase most of the improvements the Emperor had made to the force. There was however, a peculiarity to the French Navy that neither Napoleon nor Louis XVIII saw fit to eliminate.

Drawing of the 1816 Marine Artillery uniforms.
Courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Naval gunners belonged to a separate organization from the crews that manned French warships. The Corps Royal de l’Artillerie Marine served shipboard, overseeing the fighting of the cannon as well as maintenance and storage of the weapons. Ashore, the corps manufactured gun tubes and carriages as well as manned the artillery batteries that protected naval bases from attack. The cannoniers-matelots (artillerists-sailors) had their own uniforms, ranks, schools, and traditions separate from the navy.
The highly specific and technical content of VF145.I6 suggests the author-illustrator belonged to the Corps Royal de l’Artillerie Marine – an aspirant (junior officer in training), perhaps. If so, this individual understood the complexities of the job he performed. At least on paper.

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