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Stink Vessels

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Charles Stephenson introduces a plan for chemical warfare in the Napoleonic navy, devised by Thomas Cochrane, Lord Dundonald, the model for Patrick O’Brien’s Jack Aubrey.

Many accounts of the origins of chemical warfare claim that the practice was evolved in antiquity, usually citing references from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Later examples of where the method was applied often include the siege of Constantinople in 1453, and attempts to foil Cromwell’s miners at Edinburgh Castle in 1650. More modern attempts are rather better documented: for example, the Playfair proposal to utilize ‘cyanide of cacodyl’ during the Crimean War, various schemes put forward during the American Civil War, threats to utilize ‘grand chemical agents of wholesale destruction’ during the 1870-71 investment of Paris, and the Japanese use of burning material ‘soaked in arsenic’ at the siege of Port Arthur.


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Historical dictionary: Peloponnesian War


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