Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Alchemy and naval power




Gunpowder : alchemy, bombards, and pyrotechnics : the history of the explosive that changed the world. / by Jack Kelly. Basic Books, N.Y., 2004. 261 pages, illustrations, sources, and index.

Before navies had canons, ships relied on boarding and armed combat, or even earlier, used the technique of ramming other ships to damage and sink them. Gunpowder was originally created to imitate and amplify the sudden snap and split of burning bamboo. Author Jack Kelly tells the story of pyrotechnics and artificial fire in thirteen chapters with initial and ending remarks:

Prologue -- Fire drug -- Thundring noyse -- The most pernicious arts -- The devills birds -- Villainous saltpetre -- Conquest's crimson wing -- Nitro-aerial spirit -- No one reasons -- What victory costs -- History out of control -- The meeting of heaven and earth -- Appalling grandeur -- The old article -- Epilogue.






Centuries of fascination with the power of this explosive stretched to cover one thousand years: in this time military inventions intensified its capacity, responsible for historical conquests among the European monarchies. Ships carried gunpowder as early as 1337, p. 92, and Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was noted as the inventor of waging battles principally with canon. The author’s account describes gunpowder’s use from the Medieval Period and the Renaissance, claiming that it supported colonialism and world-wide exploit. A sense of the rudimentary nature of manufacturing and utilizing gunpowder is seen in the illustrations below, pages 37 and 44.







Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available for borrowing by Museum members. See the book Gunpowder : alchemy, bombards, and pyrotechnics : the history of the explosive that changed the world. / by Jack Kelly, and other accounts of the Medieval, Renaissance, and colonical military history in our online catalog.

Navy ships: see expertly built models at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

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