I’m James Fenner, a PhD student at the Science Museum researching the models, figures and displays in the former British Small Craft Exhibit. Now that the gallery has closed (after nearly 50 years) I thought I should share with you some of its highlights.
This little model doesn’t look like much but it represents a small boat that packs a punch! At 1:24 scale, the model represents a canoe-like craft with a flat bottom and a maximum width of the hull just forward of the middle section. This extra width was necessary to accommodate the eight-foot gun mounted to the hull which essentially acted as a gigantic one-shot shotgun. As the accompanying label says, ‘this type of craft … is employed on shallow waterways for stalking and shooting wild fowl.’
Essentially, what you would do is paddle up quietly to your quarry (a flock of wildfowl) in a marsh or river, under the camouflage of the reeds, lying prone. The gun would be primed and ready for action, with the two-inch barrel rammed full of a pound of shot and charge. You would tap the side of the hull; the flock would fly up startled and … BOOM! You’d open fire. If you were lucky you could hit as many as 50 birds in one go.
The recoil was so powerful and violent it sent the boat backwards for several yards. This meant that the gun had to be fixed to the hull which, in turn, meant you had to manoeuvre the punt to aim again. Unfortunately, as well as the risk of missing altogether there was the added problem that you had to take the vessel back to shore to reload.
More on the British Small Craft displays in a future post.