Freezing the balls off a brass monkey

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  

The 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 or rolling from under the  

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 realize 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.