From the Collections is a continuing series highlighting artifacts on display at Brantford’s Canadian Military Heritage Museum
and Thom Gordon
FOR BRANT NEWS
The first lighter was not invented until 1823.
Döbereiner’s lamp, invented by German chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, involved a jar, within which zinc reacted with sulfuric acid to produce hydrogen gas. It was cumbersome and dangerously explosive.
Primitive friction matches made their appearance a few years later.
For a soldier in the field in 1812, these marvellous scientific advances lay decades in the future and fire was a daily concern. In a world before propane, let alone electricity, fire was the sole provider of heat and light, and skill with the flint and iron striker its most common source.
Items in the Canadian Military Heritage Museum’s War of 1812 200th anniversary exhibit include a two-century-old lighter and light, a candle and candle holder, an iron striker, a flint and a tinder box with lichen tinder.
The entire set – candle, striker, flint and tinder – fits into the tinder box, with the candle holder as its lid.
In the evening prior to a game of cards the kit could be broken out, the flint and striker used to produce a spark (a red hot shard of iron oxidizing after it is struck off by the flint) and the candle lit.
The above photograph illustrates a sophisticated application of the ancient art of striking a flint against iron. Pictured is the firing mechanism of the “brown bess,” the classic British flintlock weapon of the War of 1812.
The flint protrudes forward from the arm on the left and when the trigger is pulled it hits the priming pan. Sparks pass through the touch hole and ignite the main charge in the barrel, firing the musket ball.
During the War of 1812 the ancient practice of striking iron with a flint persisted in the arms of the day and the soldiers’ domestic lives.