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A most unusual historical find is slowly nearing it’s first appearance in public after spending about 150 years on the sea floor off Canada’s east coast .
A full crate of Pattern 1853 British Enfield muskets was hauled to the surface in the net of a Newfoundland fishing trawler operating in the Grand Banks in late 2011.
The P53 guns of the 1850’s and 60’s were deemed to be the best of their time. Since they were first hauled up, the guns were sent to the provincial archaeology office in Newfoundland, and then later transferred to the archaeology faculty at Memorial University in St John’s.
Since then they’ve spent much of their time in a chemical vat designed to preserve the remaining wood and occasional being raised to remove grease, silt, and other debris.
The iron barrels and firing mechanisms had long rusted away, but the brass fittings are extremely well preserved, as is surprisingly, the walnut stacks.
There are three theories about how the guns came to be on the sea floor in 800 metres of water, inside Canada’s 200 kilometres economic limit off the Canadian east coast.
Known as 3-band Enfields for the three metal bands holding the barrels onto the wood stocks, these were prised firearms at the time and used throughout the British Empire and also by both sides in the U.S. Civil war. Reproductions are still being made for black powder enthusiasts and re-enactors.
One theory is that these rifle-muskets were destined to Canada for the British regular forces, or newly formed Canadian militia in the 1850’s, or alternatively were being sent back to Britain for refurbishing from muskets to cartridge loading mechanisms which was taking place in the later 1860’s. But other than a ship foundering, why they would be on the sea floor is a bit of a mystery. Researchers are studying various inspectors marks stamped into the brass butt plates to help determine dates and thus more information about their history and possible fate.
A third possibility however is that these were guns aboard a blockade runner destined for the Confederate army in U.S. Civil war and may have been tossed overboard when challenged at sea by a Union ship. A similar crate of P-53 Enfields was found in the harbour at Charleston South Carolina in the 1980’s also destined for Confederate forces They are now in a special tank on display in a Georgia State Park.
The antique crate has spent the last several years undergoing preservation and as the process is eventually completed, they may end up on public display at Newfoundland’s history museum called The Rooms.