Can our RN lads confirm this?

  Bingalau 21:15 02 Sep 2008

Or do I need to go to Snopes? That would probably have been more sensible I suppose. But I also thought it might be an inter sting topic.

It was necessary to keep a good supply of cannon balls near the
cannon on old war ships. But how to prevent them from rolling about the
deck was the problem. The best storage method devised was to stack them
as a square based pyramid, with one ball on top, resting on four, resting
on nine, which rested on sixteen.
Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small
area right next to the cannon. There was only one problem -- how to
prevent the bottom layer from sliding/rolling from under the others.
The solution was a metal plate with 16 round indentations,
called, for reasons unknown, a Monkey. But if this plate were made of
iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the
rusting problem was to make them of brass - hence, Brass Monkeys.
Few landlubbers realise that brass contracts much more and much
faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature
dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the
iron cannon balls would come right off the monkey.
Thus,it was quite literally, cold enough to freeze the balls off
a brass monkey. And all this time, you thought that was just a vulgar
expression, didn't you? You must send this fabulous bit of historical
knowledge to at least a few uneducated friends.

  bluto1 21:18 02 Sep 2008

Nice one, I believe it.

  Fruit Bat /\0/\ 21:24 02 Sep 2008

I was told this tale when touring Victory at Portsmouth.

  Jak_1 21:43 02 Sep 2008

That is the popular conception Bing, but a bit of Naval myth I'm afraid ...
click here

The only monkeys on a ship, apart from those kept by sailors as pets, were the Powder Monkey's. A powder monkey was the term given to any member of the ship's company who passed filled cartridges and shot during action from the magazines below decks.

Hope this clears things up for you.

  Woolwell 22:12 02 Sep 2008

Jak_1 I suspect that you may be right but the official RN site has Bingalau's definition click here

It may have come from ashore where the balls may well have been stacked in pyramids.

  Woolwell 22:15 02 Sep 2008

By the way a monkey was something small. Hence a powder monkey was a small lad.

  Forum Editor 22:38 02 Sep 2008

to keep a good supply of cannon balls on the deck near the cannon - that would have given rise to all kinds of problems, particularly in rough weather, and they would rapidly have rusted. In fact, cannon balls were stored in timber racks that had holes in them.

The difference in the relative contraction rates of iron and brass is nowhere near enough to allow cannon balls to roll out of indentations deep enough to hold the balls in the first place, no matter how cold it gets.

  Jak_1 00:47 03 Sep 2008

"By the way a monkey was something small. Hence a powder monkey was a small lad."

Not so...
Look here, scroll down the the bottom of the page. Another Naval myth exposed.

  Jak_1 00:49 03 Sep 2008

Forgot the link!

click here

  newman35 08:13 03 Sep 2008

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story - I'm with Bingalau's original explanation.
Think of the effort that must have gone into the hatching of such an apt explanation of an old saying!

  Woolwell 11:53 03 Sep 2008

My understanding is that monkey was slang for small.

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