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The square hole cut in the side of wooden men-of-war during the years of sail through which the broadside cannon were fired. Each had its own port, and they lined the gun-decks at the height of the gun's muzzle, being closed with a port-lid, hinged on the top, when not in use. Early gunports, being open to the sea, were a hazard and both the Mary Rose and the Vasa were swamped through them.

Until the Revolutionary War with France (1793–1801) the outside of the port-lid in the British Navy was painted the same colour as the outside of the ship; the inside was red, as also were the sides of the ship and, in a few cases, a strip of the gun-decks in the vicinity of the guns as well. The reason for this, it was said, was that any blood spilled in action would not show against the red paint and would therefore not have a depressing effect on the gun crews. Later the fashion changed, and port-lids were painted in contrasting colours on the outside, usually black against white or yellow wales level with the gun-decks. This was known in the British Navy as ‘Nelson fashion’, and was introduced around 1805 when Nelson fought the battle of Trafalgar. This gave the familiar chequer pattern of British ships of the line. At about the same time, the inside colour was changed to yellow. See also warfare at sea.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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