The name given to the thick rope used to secure the carriages of cannons in warships in the days of sail, and also to absorb the force of a gun's recoil. The centre of the breeching was passed through a thimble stropped to the cascable (the knob on the breech end of the gun) and the ends led through ringbolts on the sides or cheeks of the gun carriage and secured by clench-knotting to other ringbolts in the ship's sides. It was of sufficient length to allow the muzzle of the gun to be brought back far enough inboard so that it could be loaded and the shot rammed home, and also for housing and lashing the gun carriages inboard when the ship was on passage.
The strain on a gun breeching was tremendous, and one of the greatest dangers on board a wooden warship occurred when a breeching parted and the gun and its carriage took charge. This sometimes occurred during action through the force of the recoil or through damage caused by enemy shot, sometimes in very rough weather when the ship was rolling heavily. A 42-pounder gun and its carriage weighed several tons, and the scene on the gun-deck when one or more of these broke loose and took charge can be imagined. Hence the phrase a loose cannon, meaning someone who puts friends or colleagues, or a business, in jeopardy through his or her maverick behaviour.
Subjects: Maritime History.