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The 'Infant School' at Woolwich Arsenal
as seen by the Czar

Source: The Illustrated London News, June 27, 1874

'Woolwich Infant' gun

The Woolwich Infant School

The big gun that was built at Woolwich Arsenal for her Majesty's ship Devastation was called "the Woolwich Infant" by way of a joke upon its size. Its parents could not, indeed, have pleaded in their excuse as a young mother is said to have pleaded for her babe—that it was "only a little one;" but a fault it certainly was, for the experimental discharges cracked this mighty piece of ordnance in a most decisive manner. When we think of the explosion of a cartridge 2ft. 6 in. long, with 130 lb. of powder, to throw a 700 lb. shot from a tube 12 in. in diameter (a great bore, isn't it ?), we must see it is a rather forcible proceeding. Upon such an occasion the interior surface of the gun has to suffer a pressure in some parts of more than 60 tons upon the square inch, which few infants could endure without bursting. Not much blame, therefore, is due to the original bantling of Woolwich Arsenal, which was recast in a better form; but the great guns of more recent construction, weighing likewise 35 tons each, are designed to endure a more severe ordeal of their strength. When the Emperor of Russia visited Woolwich, a few weeks ago, one of the sights offered to his inspection was the assemblage of fifty guns, large and small, which some facetious officer has called "the Infant School." The very large one, suspended from the crane, is even bigger than those we have mentioned, its weight being 38 tons. Four 35-ton guns are placed in the middle of the row; the others are twenty-five guns weighing twenty-five tons each, and a score of those weighing 20 tons each. Shot and cartridges belonging to the largest guns are placed on the ground near their muzzles. At the feet of the gentlemen who stand looking upon this display of gigantic artillery weapons lies one of the small mountain-guns of steel, throwing a 7-lb. shot or shell, invented for the Abyssinian War, and lately used against the Ashantees. Its length is about 3 ft., and it may be carried with ease by two men, slinging it on a pole, or it may travel on the back of a mule; the gun-carriage forms a separate load. This miniature ordnance will be quite as useful, in its way, as the mightiest cannon in the Queen's naval or military garrison service. Our Illustration is from a photograph by Mr. H. Baden Pritchard, of the War Office photographic department.