Historical fiction

A friend is writing historical fiction about an actual shipwreck. An American-owned & crewed 4-masted sailing ship struck a reef in the Marshall Islands in January 1884. No loss of life, not even much commotion, but the ship could not be freed from the reef & would soon be a total loss. The crew (22 men, 4 officers) methodically salvaged as much as possible over 2 days, packing the material into the ship’s four lifeboats.

My friend has generically described the removal of the ship’s armory and dividing the guns among the four boats. The ship was ultimately headed into waters where pirates still abounded. The armory had to contain guns sufficient to defend the ship from pirates. My assumption, lacking any historical record, is that the armory contained 4 revolvers, four 1873 Winchester carbines, Remington-Lee rifles for the crew, and two 12-bore shotguns. That was simple enough.

My interest is in describing the distribution of the cartridges. I’m assuming that there were .44-40 cartridges for the revolvers and carbines, .45-70 cartridges for the Remington-Lee rifles and 12-bore cartridges for the shotguns. How would the cartridges, enough for a two-year trip, have been packed? When did the sealed metal tins of cartridges appear?

1 Like

Kynoch was packing express rifle ammunition for the Africa and India safari trade in soldered tinplate cans ( rectangular) by the 1880s ( usually special order) in packets of 20 to 100 depending on cartridge size.
I don’t know about the US factories.
Research with the Hisrorical archivists of US Ammo makers
And period catalogues should give you some ideas.
Moisture proofing for military ammo ( lead/zinc/tinfoil, then actual metal liners), came about by the 1890s-1900s.Heavy Waxed Paper was also used as a crate liner.
Doc AV
An interesting area of research.

According to the British List of Changes in War Material, they started sealing cartridge boxes with metal liners as early as 1869.
On a two year sailing ship voyage it would certainly be wise to pack ammunition in waterproof packing. If US ammunition factories could provide such packing is unknown to me, but it could very easily be custom made by an outside source.

Skann_20200523|690x464

1 Like

AFAIK, the USN did not use sealed metal containers for its small arms ammunition in that period.
Commercial shipowners were notoriously thrifty, and unlikely to spend money for the new fangled Remington Lee rifles. I suspect they would be more likely to end up with cheaper surplus guns from the Civil War era which were plentiful on the market then.
Remington rolling block conversions were available, and inexpensive. Sharps carbines or rifles, both percussion/paper cartridge and conversions to breechloaders were available. Some .45-70 trapdoors were appearing on the market then, mostly cobbled together from various scrap parts by Schuyler, Hartley & Graham.
If he wants to keep a .45-70 story line, he could stick to Winchester, and the .45-70 Winchester Hotchkiss bolt action rifles in .45-70.
Ammunition would have been typical commercial/export pack for the period, cardboard cartons of 50 rounds for .44 WCF (.44-40), and 20 round cartons for .45-70, each in a heavy wooden crates, (3/4"-1" thick wood) probably dovetailed construction, quite sturdy, not the flimsy thin stuff you see with early-mid 20th century shotgun crates.

But, shipowners were free to buy and carry whatever guns they like. The yacht Niagara, for instance had a nicely stocked armory, with thirty five brand new 7mm Mauser Remington rolling block rifles engraved with the ship’s name, for an ultra extreme example.

It’s fiction, so use whatever you like!

1 Like

There would have been substantial numbers of .50-70 Trapdoor Springfield rifles and also Spencer repeating rifles and carbines on the surplus market at that time for a thrifty ship owner. Watertight crates for ammunition could have been easily fabricated.