Before the invention of self-igniting matches in 19th century, match meant cord impregnated with saltpetre, which allowed it to smolder for a long time. A length of such match was set in the 'lock' or firing apparatus of soldiers' muskets to touch off the charge. Such 'matchlocks' were superseded in the 18th century by flintlocks, but the use of match continued in other circumstances where the sudden need for a reliable source of fire might arise; sailors, for instance, still employed match for their cannon in the Napoleonic wars.
Its use as an instrument of torture in the 17th century is described thus in James Merse, The Covenanters of the Merse, 1893.
The prisoner’s hand was bound firmly to a plank of wood, with one of these matches between each pair of fingers. The ends of the matches were then lighted, and allowed to smolder away, while a soldier blew them in case they should burn too slowly. As the matches consumed they destroyed successively the most sensitive parts of the fingers and not ceasing until, in the case of a heroic sufferer such as this seems to have been, the very bones were charred by the intense and confined heat thrown out by that villainous saltpeter.