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Balls & Brass monkeys

Amongst the years gone by that we now refer to as history, it was necessary to keep a good supply of cannon balls near the cannons on old war ships. How to prevent them from rolling about the deck was the problem.

The best storage method devised was to stack them as a square based pyramid, with one ball on top, resting on four, resting on nine, which rested on sixteen.

Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. There was only one problem — how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding/rolling from under the others.

The solution was a metal plate with 16 round indentations, called, for reasons unknown, a Monkey. But if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make them of brass – hence, Brass Monkeys.

Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannon balls would come right off the monkey.

Thus, it was quite literally, cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Either this is a quaint piece of historical logic or for all this time you thought that was just a vulgar expression, didn’t you ?   


9 Responses

  1. …and on a totally unreleated subject, i’m starting to feel the pressure exerted on me from the balls, i mean senior management, above. It doesn’t help when the only thing holding us together is a thin blue piece of string, eh!

  2. Yes, I knew about the said ‘brass monkey’.

    Similarly, the original ‘cock ups’ are said to have occurred when spars of square riggers were stored at a skewed angle (cocked up) in port, so as to avoid hitting quayside buildings or the spars of other passing ships… (which, of course would have been a major cock up).

  3. Thus, it was quite literally, cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Either this is a quaint piece of historical logic or for all this time you thought that was just a vulgar expression, didn’t you ?


  4. ‘Fraid, me too!

  5. Lesley, cocking the yards was usually done in ports with a large tidal difference (and no floating pontoon) as the yards would be at risk of hitting the quayside itself.
    Quayside buildings would not be close enough, and other ship’s yards are more easily avoided by bracing sharp up to one side (bracing is swivelling the yards horizontally) which is lighter work and less wearing on the rigging.

    Though it’s never done these days as floating pontoons are everywhere, modern square riggers do still have the lines (called ‘lifts’) rigged in to do this.

    Arwen “Yes I sail squareriggers how did you guess?”

  6. And a cunt splice is a knot, not just what that slag Donna called Shazne last week.

  7. Arwen…I should have known that, having sailed the Bristol channel for yearsI… Have you ever been into Morlaix? I think I remember that the warehouses are very close alongside the dock on both sides

  8. Sir! Sir! I knew that!

    I also know what a stern chaser is! 😦

  9. @ Rogerborg

    And a cunt splice is named because it looks like……a…..um…….well, you know.

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