In 2011, fishermen working off Newfoundland’s Grand Banks pulled in a 600 pound catch. However, what they caught was not a fish.
What they discovered was a heavily cemented and silt-filled crate of 20 Pattern 1853 Enfield muskets that date back as far as the 1850’s. The guns had been underwater at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for more than 150 years.
The archaeology department at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland has been working ever since to restore the relics that have been placed in a large container filled with a chemical solution that includes a bulking agent and corrosion inhibitor designed to stabilize them. After years of conservation work, things are looking good for the restoration process. The “3-band Enfield” got its name as it could get shots out to 500 yards if shot by a skilled marksman and the barrel was held to the wooden stock by three metal bands.
The Newfoundland Lynx, a 222-foot stern trawler operating on the famous Grand Banks fishing grounds, made the discover. Once they hauled it in, they turned the crate over to authorities. Martha Drake, Newfoundland’s Provincial Archaeologist said, “when Ocean Choice International dredged up these guns just inside the 200-mile limit, they contacted us.”
The guns were first taken to The Rooms Provincial Museum in St. Johns but they were not equipped to handle the task.
“It’s a really complicated project between the wood of the box, and the components of the rifles themselves,” Drake said.
Stabilizing the rifles would take years of treatment in a special tank. Dr. Barry Gaulton, who heads up the archaeology department at MUN, said the Enfields were not your typical project. The guns are raised and lowered back into the solution using a chain and hoist a few times a year.
“The ongoing conservation has revealed a remarkably intact case of P53s,” Gaulton said. This type of gun was used by the British Army for two decades and used in the Crimean War, the New Zealand Land Wars, and the Sepoy Munities. Both the Union and Confederate Army also carried them during the Civil War.
The many years in the water has seriously damaged the guns in the crate and require an ongoing process of restoration.
“The seawater has unfortunately eaten away the iron barrels and lock plates but all the brass furniture is in a remarkable state of preservation, as are the wooden stocks,” explained Gaulton. The desalination process has stripped away more than 300 pounds of silt so far.
“This soaking process will take many years and is done to prevent the wood from collapsing, cracking, or warping once dry and also to prevent any remaining iron from staining the wood surface,” Memorial’s Archaeological Conservator, Donna Teasdale said.