In 1849, Robert Parker Parrott (1804-1877) became interested in rifled guns after observing the success of Krupp in Germany. Parrott was superintendent of the West Point Iron and Cannon Foundry in New York, and over the following years he developed his own rifled gun, the 10-pounder, which first appeared in 1860. This was a field gun of conventional size, but he quickly began experimenting with larger calibres, and within a year the 30-pounder had appeared, to be closely followed by larger sizes up to a massive 300-pounder. Parrott rifled guns were relatively cheap to produce and so widely used, even being copied by the Confederates, but they earned a distressing reputation for bursting, especially the larger pieces. The 30-pounder was the smallest of the siege guns, and used both for conducting sieges and defending against them, yet it was sometimes placed on a field carriage and used as a large field piece too, first seeing action at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July 1861. Hundreds were made, and large numbers still exist today on public display.
In this particular set there is much to say about the gun, but less about the crew, so we will get the crew out of the way first. This gun used a crew of nine, so the seven poses here (six really as one is a senior officer) are a bit short-handed. The first figure holding the handspike is surprising because he is smoking a pipe – we must hope he is not near any cartridge bags or powder! The next is our favourite – a man leaning against his long sponge, waiting for his moment, although he will be a bit too relaxed for some. The third man is lugging a shell, which is rather too fat and certainly would not fit into the barrel of this weapon. The second row starts with a mystery. Here we have a man pulling on a rope. Exactly why we are not sure. He seems to be holding the very end, as there is no rope beyond his hands, which would be an unusual way to do it. Presumably he is moving the gun in some serious way (i.e. more than the handspikes could do), but this is hardly a useful pose for the normal operation of the weapon. We did wonder if this was supposed to be the man pulling the lanyard to ignite the gun, but the rope is far too thick and far too low to achieve this, so a poor choice in a set without the numbers to carry duds. The next two are generic ones covering their ears against the blast, and are okay as far as they go, but better choices could have been made here. Finally we have a senior officer, holding a telescope and directing the activity. An oddball collection of poses, with some at the moment of ignition while others seem relaxed as if nothing is going on, so these make no sense placed together.
The uniform of these men presents no problems happily. They wear an assortment of items, as must have happened a good deal, giving a quite natural feel to the crew. Three wear the short shell jacket much favoured in the artillery, one wears a waistcoat (probably civilian) and the other two are in shirt sleeves. All of this is reasonable, as are the fatigue or forage caps they all wear. None of the men have any form of kit, so no canteens, and particularly no large haversacks or bags for any of the tools that some at least of the crew might be expected to have to hand. The officer has a similar cap and wears a frock coat. He also has a sword and a revolver to hand, and an ammunition pouch at the back. Around his waist he has a sash under his belt, which was regulation officer issue but was not often seen in the field. However this one has no tie-up or lose ends anywhere – it is like a wide crumpled belt under his other belt, suggesting the sculptor did not understand what he was sculpting.
The sculpting of the men is quite good, with most of the little detail such men demand. Facial hair is fairly well done, and the proportions are not too bad. The figures have virtually no flash.
All of which brings us to the gun. It’s pretty big, as you can see, and is the correct size with a barrel length of 44mm. It is mounted on a number 2 siege carriage, as they often were, which is also of about the right size. The general look, with the characteristic reinforcement round the breech, seems to be correct too, but start to look closer and there are a lot of problems. There were two types of 30-pounder Parrott during the war. The early type had a muzzle swell, and the later one had a straight barrel. Since the barrel on this model is straight this must be the later model. However the other difference between the types was in the shape of the cascabel (the round bit on the breech), and you will observe that this gun does not have one of those! Why? It is certainly essential, and we could think of no reason why it is not there. However the sprue also includes a small ball, which is quite separate and not even mentioned on the box or the Strelets website. This is very odd, but we came to the bizarre conclusion that this ball must be the cascabel, separate, and requiring gluing. This is madness. There seems no point, and it will just annoy anyone wanting to put the thing together.
Our attention next turned to the elevation screw – the long thin bit behind the barrel. This is what was used to adjust the barrel elevation, and it connected to the cascabel to achieve this. Well we don’t have a cascabel, and even if we did, the screw should be off-centre so it is to the side of it, but this one is plumb in the middle, so very poor. Again it implies the sculptor did not understand what he was producing.
The list of complaints grows. The barrel has no trunnions, but the sprue includes a short piece of plastic which we must assume is the material by which we are expected to make our own. Again, why? Perhaps they would have made the sprue too wide for a very thin mould, but it just adds to the annoyance for anyone wanting to put this together, especially if you want to drill out the holes to make this work.
Because the barrel has no trunnions, it would have no means of attaching to the carriage, so Strelets have devised a long peg which inserts into the carriage below the barrel. This means the position of the barrel, by which we mean the elevation, is fixed, and that elevation is about -5 degrees. Yes, the gun can only point down! For a weapon with a famously great range this is a killer mistake, and it is no better if you remove this long peg. Now you can move the barrel, but the design of the carriage means you cannot elevate the gun beyond the horizontal, and the barrel is now loose!
The tale of woe continues when we inspect the carriage. The basic design is OK, and it has a nice solid feel to it. There is a little flash to remove here, but nothing too terrible. It includes the bolster block mid-way along the trail, on which the barrel rested when being transported, but again the sculptor has not understood this and has made it far too deep for the barrel diameter. At the end of the trail are two bolts for use by the handspikes, but these are stubby and poorly done here. Since we tend to count buttons, this time we have counted spokes, and the wheels here have 16 of those, when 14 seems to have been virtually universal. Not the most obvious mistake to notice we would agree, but another example of lack of quality here. Naturally some smaller parts such as any form of sight are missing, as they usually are, so apart from all our observations the gun is OK.
The 30-pounder (or 4.2 inch) rifled gun was a great weapon that could throw a projectile with remarkable accuracy over very long distances, and played no small part in the civil war. The gun in this set, with no ability to set the barrel at a reasonable position and an elevating screw that goes into thin air, can hardly be described as a fair representation of that weapon, and an inadequate crew that includes a man pulling on a rope for some reason and another smoking a pipe only makes matters worse. Some really poor design decisions here, and some bizarre assembly requirements make this a singularly unimpressive product that will be very hard to redeem in any way.