Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: NC, U.S.A.
There were essentially three different types of grapples or grappling irons found on ships. Most were the small, dainty ones used to retrieve a lost bucket or to haul over small items from another ship or shore. A slightly larger version (the French called this one a 'grapin a main'), while the largest, such as my example, was far too large and heavy to be thrown. This example had two uses, first as an anchor in smaller craft or as a support anchor to assist the main anchor. Secondly, they were used to secure two ships together during a boarding action. They would be hung from the tips of the mast spars so that as the they came alongside their enemies, the giant grapples would catch their enemies sails/ropes and snare them. Info on these can be found in 'French Warship Crews 1789-1805' - T. Crowley, Osprey Publishing, pg.63, also plate H, #7. See also 'Pirate'- R. Platt, DK Eyewitness Books, pg 7 for an excellent example.
My example stands 40" tall, about 18" wide where the spikes flare out, has the said ribbing to the main body of the hook and appears to be partially cast. Where so much confusion comes in, even with the literature, is in trying to find out the facts. Most people associate cast iron with late 19th, yet cast metal certainly dates much earlier. Rebar is also associated with modern construction/late 19th, yet rebar has existed since the 1600's. Here we have this giant grapple, nice blackened brown patina of an early construction (spines end in spikes on two of them, flattened flukes on the other two).
I'm just trying to age this thing! If early 19th, as I suspect, it could easily have been used for boarding. If more mid- to late 19th, probably just an anchor.
Pics of the spikes...