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stinkpot


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A favourite weapon of the Chinese. It was an earthenware pot, part filled with sulphur, black powder, nails, and shot, while the other part was filled with noxious materials designed to emit a highly unpleasant and suffocating smell when ignited. Several of these bombs were wrapped in calico bags and were then hoisted in a basket to the truck of the mast. When an enemy ship was alongside, one of the crew climbed the mast and primed the stinkpots with lighted joss sticks. The stinkpots were then launched onto the deck of the enemy by cutting the rope by which the basket had been hoisted. The ensuing noise, flying debris, and smell would create, it was hoped, sufficient confusion for the enemy crew to be overcome.

More or less the same device, but fitted with a touch-hole and fuse, was employed by privateers during the 18th and early 19th centuries when attempting to board and capture a ship. ‘The fuses of the stinkpot being lighted, they are immediately thrown upon the deck of the enemy, where they burst and catch fire, producing an intolerable stench and smoke, and filling the deck with tumult and distraction. Amidst the confusion occasioned by this infernal apparatus the [boarding] detachment rush aboard sword in hand, under cover of the smoke’ (Falconer, Marine Dictionary (1771) ). Alternatively, the stinkpots were suspended from the yardarms (as done by the Chinese), and cut adrift when the two ships came together. As the yardarms projected over the vessel being attacked, they fell on the enemy's deck.

Subjects: Maritime History.


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