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Conserving a composite ‘minion drake’ gun 

The 17th century Marine Salvage Project focuses on three guns recovered from the river Thames and Goodwin Sands, off the Kent coast, all of which require technical conservation treatments. Fort Nelson Conservator Matthew Hancock’s paper titled ‘Do nothing or go the Full Hog and build a Replica’, investigates the current treatment trends in conservation, the options available to this gun and the issues arising from managing complex conservation projects. The paper was presented at the triennial Institute of Conservation conference in Birmingham in 2016.

Corroded cannon being prepared for conservation

The Dutch composite gun (XIX.983) sometimes known as a Minion Drake being lowered into the desalination tank.

Composite minion drake

The presentation used one of the Fort’s most interesting acquisitions, a mid-17th century composite ‘minion drake’ as a case study. This composite gun was chosen because a minimum of two different conservation techniques could be utilised to conserve it. Due to the history associated with the gun, it would also be desirable to build a replica for preservation of skills and historic research.

There are pros and cons behind administrating different conservation treatments. For example, in certain situations building a replica which conserves skills may outweigh moving the gun from storage in a desalination tank  for future generations to enjoy. Frequently a combination of different treatment techniques are utilised.

This image captures the level of corrosion on the composite gun. Treatment methods to conserve the intricate design would include washing out the chloride ions; pacifying the corrosion using either a pH neutral chemical or sensitive abrasive treatment. Finally a protective wax would be applied.

corrosion on canon

Many levels of corrosion shown on the gun’s intricate decoration

There was also a case of identifying the authenticity of the gun. Science combined with historical research was used to establish that the gun was in fact genuine. The combination of historical and scientific research is another current treatment trend within conservation. In this case, forensic XRF (x-ray fluorescence) technology was used to identify the different types of metal that make this gun a composite gun.

This project has been made possible with funding from The Arms & Armour Heritage Trust, The Radcliffe Trust and The Leche Trust.

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