Team member Robin King with a concretion from the wreck.  The curved sides of a powder flask can be seen on the left.

Team member Robin King with a concretion from the wreck. The curved sides of a powder flask can be seen on the left.

Three types of powder flask have been found on the wreck. The first was the small, conical, sheet-metal canister, that was hung from a bandoleer across the chest and which contained the precise amount of powder for one discharge. These are often known as apostles and have been given their own section. The second (of which three examples have been found) was the large, nozzled, concaved-sided, flat-bottomed, wooden-bodied flask which, like the apostles, held coarse-grain propellant for the barrel. The third (of which three examples have so far been found), was a smaller version of the last, but was used to contain fine-grained priming powder for the flash-pan. This was the powder which conveyed ignition, via the touch-hole, to the main charge within the breech. In John Derricke’s well known, 1581 woodcut of ‘English Troops on the March’, we can see the larger flask slung over the right hip, and the smaller one, on the same shoulder strap, midway down the back. As an aside, it is worth noting that this woodcut and its distinctive powder flasks, have been taken by specialists at the Royal Armouries, as further evidence that the Alderney wreck is of English origin.

Wooden powder flask recovered from concretion by the conservation unit of York Archaeological Trust

Wooden powder flask recovered from concretion by the conservation unit of York Archaeological Trust

Because of their iron nozzles, fastenings and open-work decoration, all the wooden powder flasks were found fully covered in corrosion products. An example conserved by the York Archaeological Trust (inv. no. 529) was found to have maple wood sides (Acer campestre sp.) and an oaken base (Quercus sp.). It had sheet-iron edgings, possible iron decorative devices on the main field of the body, and there was evidence to suggest that it had been covered in leather. Traces of hair, believed to be horse, were also found. The flask was empty, but none the less gave off a clear smell of gunpowder, confirming it had seen previous service. The front of a second flask of similar size and shape (inv. no. 1091) was covered with fine iron plating that featured a mounted warrior in gilded relief (Monaghan and Bound, 2001, 94, pl. 54). With both flasks, the tapering iron nozzle and rectangular shoulder cap, did not survive. If they had, they would very likely have featured spring-loaded, thumb-operated, cut-off devices at the base of their spouts to measure out the precise amount of powder necessary for a successful discharge. In 1592 (the year the Alderney ship sank), one, Reynold Huxton, was granted a patent for the improvement of powder flasks, ‘by the help whereof any (be he never so unskilful) may charge any such peece with a just proportion of powder and bullet at one instant, without removing his hand or danger of fireing of himself or any of his fellowes’.

Small wooden flask for priming powder. An image of the flask can be seen on the X-ray screen.

Small wooden flask for priming powder. An image of the flask can be seen on the X-ray screen.

It might be wondered why we have found both apostles and large wooden powder flasks on the Alderney wreck when they served the same purpose (i.e. to charge the barrel). The Elizabethan texts consulted by the writer were not that helpful, but in the illustrations accompanying Jacob de Gheyn’s Exercise of Arms that were prepared in the 1590s, but held back from full publication and distribution until 1607 (for fear of aiding the enemy), the distinction is clear. The large, wooden flasks were used for calivers (and one might safely assume harquebuses), while apostles were used to charge muskets for which the right amount of powder was critical.