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Old 26th August 2009, 02:18 AM   #1
Anandalal N.
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Default Leather Cannon? Curiosa

The following are images I obtained, the beginning of this month, at the National Museum in Kathmandu, Nepal. They are called leather cannons. The title is LEATHER - CANNONS SEIZED IN THE FIRST NEPAL - TIBET WAR IN 1792 A.D. They are complete with trunnion and one with a cascabel etc. But see the interior of the cannons. It is all leather, no smooth surface, visible seams and no scorching? Could these be the outer covering of ordnance fired off the back of an animal for example? If so why the trunnion? Apologies for the bad photographs. The conditions were anything but favorable.
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Old 26th August 2009, 03:06 AM   #2
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Discovered 'after' I posted the images that these had been discussed before.

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...=LEATHER+CANNON

I guess what I have added are the images of the interior of the cannon which throw some light - pun intended - on the interior construction. Can the two posts be merged?
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Old 26th August 2009, 04:36 AM   #3
Jim McDougall
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What an interesting topic Anandalal, and I had forgotten the 2005 entries.
The subject on leather cannons goes back to the beginning of the 17th century, and though these innovative artillery became notoriously known from the armies of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, it was apparantly created in Switzerland prior to that use.

Apparantly these were copper tubes reinforced by ropes and leather alternatively...the problem with them was that these materials did not dissipate heat and after firing, especially consecutive shots, the barrel would become red hot. This would not only deform barrel but accidental ignition of powder was a danger.

In "The Army of Gustavis Adolphus" Vol.II (R. Brzezinski, 1993, p.17);
"...the leather cannon was superceded in 1629 by a weapon that did not have the same tendancy to overheat and burst".

I am wondering if these might have been props intended to present the image of artillery to attacking forces? They seem to represent the profile of European artillery down to the cascabel, but are there touchholes to ignite the charge? It seems odd that the somewhat legendary leather cannons of Adolphus would be known in Nepal, and be imitated, as well as it would seem fortunately not actually fired.

Would Chinese or other Asian groups have used leather artillery? and would they have looked so much like European superficially?

Best regards,
Jim
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Old 27th August 2009, 03:51 AM   #4
Anandalal N.
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Thanks Jim for the great start to this discussion. First to answer your question. The one with the numbers 2696 painted on it has a touchhole for ignition. I have not been able to photograph it. The other I do not recall and my notes throw no light on this. However, even if it was a covering, the opening for the touch hole would still be required; right?

As for pseudo cannon, why would someone have to go to such lengths in preparing it in leather when it could have been done easily with wood or even terracotta for example? Note the neat sutures at the breech of each cannon. Surely such sutures would have given way had an actual charge been ignited?

Also Jim do you think this post is in the right place or should it move; now that you are bringing in the European angle to it.
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Old 27th August 2009, 04:21 AM   #5
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Very good points Anandalal, and I share those thoughts...why go to these lengths for a false cannon to intimidate potential invaders? The answer is most plausibly, they probably wouldn't, which brings us to why would guns be made of this primarily inviable material?

First of all, I think leaving the thread here is OK, as the European leather cannons were essentially an anomaly which did not prove very effective, except in prompting introduction of a lightweight intermediate form of light artillery, of more suitable material.
The fact that these were captured in Nepal leaves them squarely in the ethnographic sector.

I think that there is always the possibility of apotropaic or votive use in temples, which also served as fortresses if I understand correctly. I do know that they were often repositories for weapons in Nepal.
As you have observed, these stitched barrels would not have withstood any significant powder charge, and I do not see any evidence of metal that might have added the rigidity for detonation.
Perhaps these might have held limited powder firing only for dramatic effect such as signal cannon, only these would have been intended for frightening away demons.

That is at this point the only possible use I can imagine for these as they clearly have no potential for combat.
I have heard of leather type guns it seems of this type, but cannot place the reference (other than the posts on these very guns years ago). I'll keep looking.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 27th August 2009, 06:02 AM   #6
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I decided to leave my previous post to illustrate that you never stop learning when researching this stuff!!

The mystery of the leather cannons continues:

These cannon are mentioned in a travel guide on Nepal, "The Rough Guide to Nepal" (D.Reed, J.McConnachie, 2002, p.134); "...these leather cannon captured during a skirmish with Tibet in 1792 are genuine rarities".

Perhaps not so rare, nor Tibetan, as noted as follows in a reference referring to the 1788-1792 war between Nepal and Tibet (it would seem more than a skirmish),
In "The High Road to China" (Kate Teltscher, 2007) on p.245, the author discussing The Qianlong emperor of Manchu China in his intervention against the Gurkhas in this 'skirmish', notes that "...special lightweight leather cannon were supplied for easy manueverability".

The suggestion is of course that these type cannon were in fact likely Chinese, and apparantly intended to be used.

In reviewing whether leather cannon were used in Tibet, I found the following article from New York Times, June 6,1904 ("Open War on Tibet") regarding the Younghusband expedition, "...two small cannon found concealed in Palla village represent the heaviest ordnance yet to be found used by the Tibetans. The report that they have ever employed leather cannon is incorrect".

Further, regarding the plausibility of leather as material for cannon, from "The Gun and its Development" (W.W.Greener, 1907), "...various substitutes for metal have been used for constructing cannon and mortars. Leather was probably the most successful; it was often used by the Venetians, sometimes with hempen rope, sometimes alone. A leather cannon was fired three times at Kings Park, Edinburgh in October, 1788".

Apparantly, leather was indeed viable, and it seems that these captured examples may have been the transportable Chinese examples.

Best regards,
Jim
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Old 27th August 2009, 01:49 PM   #7
Anandalal N.
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Dear Jim,

The following are some references that could merit further research:

Memoirs of the Duchess D'Abrantes Vol VII, London (1835) Note to page 358 states that the arsenal of Saltzburgh contains some specimens of leather cannon.

Napolean of the Other World - A Narrative Written by Himself, London (1827) refers to the first leather cannon employed by the Venetians against the Genoese.

Life of Oliver Cromwell by Rev. M. Rusell LLD, Vol II (1836) refers to "a traine of artillerie of some field-pieces and leather cannon ..."

What we do not know is whether these leather cannon refer to the same type of artefact that we are discussing.

Your Edinburgh reference does recount that the cannon was fired three times without the smallest apparent injury to the leather suggesting that one would normally expect to see some injury to the leather hence fired in the leather chamber and not within a leather covered metal chamber.

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Old 27th August 2009, 07:30 PM   #8
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Yup, look like we're onto something.......never really thought much on leather for cannon.....but I likes leather !!!

All the best
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Old 27th August 2009, 09:36 PM   #9
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Doesn't look like they'd survive for long once put into use, but on the other hand, one-use-only weapons see some use with present day armies.
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Old 27th August 2009, 10:56 PM   #10
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Perhaps these cannons were solely for ceremonial use, to fire off a small amount of powder for a salute or warning. Hence their imitation of large European cannons.
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Old 31st August 2009, 05:12 AM   #11
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It's possible that these were Tibetan guns, as a couple were captured by the Nepalese in the war of 1855-1856. The Chinese were not involved in that campaign.

Of course, in the earlier war of 1791-1793, the 10,000-strong Chinese army had marched a long way just to reach Tibet, entering in winter from what is now part of Qinghai, and crossing over high passes in several places, including when they later entered Nepal along with 7,000 Tibetans. They were undoubtedly familiar with the shortcomings of leather guns, still, carrying many larger field pieces and ammunition over that distance and in those conditions may have been prohibitively difficult. Of course, such conditions would always apply for the Tibetans themselves, who often had little more than muskets and jingalls, but they did have a number of field pieces in the early nineteenth century.
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