The restoration of the 13-inch mortar has been achieved thanks to generous financial assistance from Colin Maitland (a former Royal Marine) and the Friends of the Royal Marines Museum. The work has involved the creation of a new wooden base for the mortar – a replica of the original – and the refurbishment of the mortar’s barrel. The wood used for the base is oak and it has not been painted because this is how it would have looked originally. The cast-iron barrel has now been painted black rather than grey and this means it is back to its original appearance.
The mortar is returning to its position on the southern side of the parade ground that formed part of Eastney Barracks, constructed in the 1860s as the headquarters of the Royal Marine Artillery (RMA). This has been the site of the mortar since the pre-war period as evidenced by a photograph in the Museum’s collection dating to about 1930 that shows not only the mortar but also a couple of other historic items alongside it. However, its first location at Eastney was very different. In 1859, it was installed for the purposes of RMA training, just to the south of the so-called Garden Battery which was built near the east end of the village of Eastney. This means it was somewhere close to the modern day Melville Road, north-east of Eastney Swimming Baths. The mortar barrel was mounted on a turntable of the same pattern as those used in bomb boats during the Crimean War. The 13-inch mortar, together with two nearby 10-inch mortars, were fired at a disc on a pole on the glacis near the south gate of Fort Cumberland, about 700 yards range. The mortar shells were only fired with a time fuse, and were collected for future use from where they happened to fall.
As already hinted at, the Museum’s 13-inch mortar was a type designed for sea service. Positioned in the middle of a bomb boat, it could fire shells over a distance of 4,000 yards (3,700 metres). The shells possessed great penetration due to the high angle of fire. A good example of the use of bomb boats was in the Baltic during the Crimean War. A fine print in the Museum’s collection depicts bomb boats firing shells at the Russian occupied Sveaborg Fort which was part of Helsinki’s defences. The print records that the action occurred in August 1855 and it is dedicated to: “the officers of the Royal Marine Artillery who commanded the mortar flotilla at the bombardment of Sveaborg”.
By a nice coincidence, the Museum’s 13-inch mortar has the date 1855 stamped on the barrel. It was made by Walker & Company as evidenced by the “W Co” stamp on one of its trunnions.
Below are some pictures from the unveiling ceremony held on 26th January.
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