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Governors Cannon

Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit Waterloo, the Governor's Residence on Grand Turk, will probably have noticed a small bronze cannon mounted on a wooden naval gun carriage just beside the main entrance.

Cannons, like
Coins, frequently contain a great deal of information about who made them, where, when, and why. Bronze cannons are relatively rare, perhaps because bronze retains considerable value as scrap metal and is frequently recycled, particularly during times of war. Those guns that have survived often provide a wealth of historical information. They are almost always more ornate than common iron guns. Because they corrode only very slowly, the markings remain visible even after the passage of centuries. The "Governor's Cannon" is no exception.

In order to decipher the information embedded in such a cannon, it is necessary to know a little about technology, a lot about
History . . . and to have friends in Europe who can be called upon to look things up! The trick to wringing information from a cannon is not having an encyclopedic knowledge of all cannons, but rather knowing how to record it in sufficient detail to show someone on the other side of the world exactly what it looks like. Photographs are nice, but cannon experts prefer to work from detailed scale drawings. Such a drawing will require something on the order of one hundred measurements—everything from the diameter of the vent to the length of the first reinforce.

There is a specialized vocabulary for the different parts of a cannon. Without getting carried away with terms like chaplets, acanthus patterns, and ogees, these are a few basic terms: the end from which the projectile emerges is the muzzle the end with the round knob is the breech the round knob attached to the breech is the cascabel, which means bell in
Spanish the short arms projecting from the sides of the barrel about half way down its length are the trunnions. They allow the cannon to be mounted on a carriage. When a military unit was in danger of having its guns captured, it was common practice to knock off the trunnions, rendering the cannons useless.

For better or for worse, firearms have been with us so long that they have become part of our culture and our vocabulary. For example, everyone is familiar with the phrase, "lock, stock, and barrel." While some believe it refers to the furnishings of an old-fashioned general store, it actually names the three principal parts of a gun:

the lock is the trigger and firing mechanism, the stock is the wooden part, and the barrel is—the barrel.                                


Anyone who has not already guessed the origin of the term "a loose cannon" to describe someone unpredictable and out of control needs only read a brief but lively eye-witness account by Victor Hugo of how a loose cannon nearly sank a ship on which he had taken passage. Beethoven wrote the sound of artillery into his famous 1812 Overture. Fireworks on the Fourth of July are non-lethal recreations of cannon fire.

Using our photos, drawings, and observations, Mr. Robert Smith (Head of Conservation at the Royal Armory in Leeds, England) and Mr. Rudi Roth (then Secretary of the Ordnance Society and world-class authority on muzzle-loading ordnance) told us when, where, and by whom the cannon was made.

The cannon's markings from the muzzle to the breech:
A raised design cast into the cannon's surface consisting of a cursive L surmounted by a baronet's or First Lord's crown.


"The crowned L on the chase is the cipher of the Master General of the Ordnance at the time John, 1st Earl Ligonier, in office from
the 1st July 1759 to 13th May 1763. " —Rudi Roth

The cipher of the Master General of the Ordnance narrows the period of King George III's reign (see immediately below) during which the gun could have been made to 1759–1763. However, the precise year in which the gun was cast appears as the last four characters of the base ring inscription described further below.

Another crown and the number 3 intertwine with the letters G and R.

"The GR entwined with a 3 under a crown is, of course, the cipher of King George III." —Robert Smith


Thus, we know the cannon is English, was paid for by the Crown, and was cast during the reign of King George III (1760–1820).
 

A raised decoration surrounds the vent, the point from which the powder charge inside the cannon is ignited. The vent, or touch-hole, was sleeved with another type of metal.

"The No. 147 [J47?] on the right trunnion face is the Unit Number of the gun as applied by the Foundry. It is not known what system of numbering Gilpin used. Most common is chronological numbers of each caliber and sometimes also for each length/pattern. Under this assumption, one may conclude that Gilpin cast at least 147 six-pounders of different lengths and pattern or, less likely, 147 six-pounders of the above pattern." —Rudi Roth

"The markings on the breech are the weight of the piece in hundredweight, quarters, and pounds. . . it looks like the gun weighs 5–I–5, the dashes between the numbers are quite normal." —Robert Smith

The weight stamped into the breech would translate to 593 pounds of 454 grams each. A British hundredweight is 112 pounds and quarter-hundredweight is 28 pounds: 5×112 + 1×28 + 5×1 = 593.

Both authorities agreed that the cannon is an English bronze light 6-pounder of the


No 147

Armstrong/Frederic pattern of 4'6" and 4 3/4 hundredweight. The odd ring located beneath the neck of the cascabel is an elevation screw lug, which enabled gunners to elevate or depress the barrel to change the gun's range. The presence of this screw lug means that the cannon was designed to be mounted in a field carriage, not in a naval carriage, as it is presently displayed.

Partially illegible raised markings (see photo above) on the base ring appear to read in a clockwise pattern:

R.GII P I
CII.1761

"What I can see (somewhat easier if one knows what one is looking for) is the following: )R. GIL --- ---CIT.1761(. There is no other gun founder's mark of this or other periods which fits the remaining letters. The visible parts of the gun confirm its pattern, period, nationality, and once more the fashion and location of the weight and trunnion mark. I am quite certain that the inscription was or is indeed: R.GILPIN FECIT.1761" —Rudi Roth

Mr. Smith verified that the first part of the inscription on the base ring gives the first initial and last name of the gun founder who made the cannon: Richard Gilpin, a brass and shot founder of Stoney Street, Southwark, London, active from about 1751 to 1770.

Mr. Roth also provided the preliminary results of efforts to identify the cannon through archival research. His research located an entry in the Bill Books, in which are recorded payments by the Crown to all private contractors, to the effect that a Warrant or order issued to R. Gilpin on 17 July 1760 for 12 6-pounder cannons of 4'6" with an average weight of 568 pounds, was paid on 7 April 1761. It is possible that this entry is as close to a "birth certificate" for the founding of the Governor's Cannon as will ever be found, because cannons were usually ordered in lots and payments were made for the weight of cast metal, not for individual guns.

Hence, we can be certain that the Governor's Cannon was cast in 1761, making it over 240 years old.

"What I can see (somewhat easier if one knows what one is looking for) is the following: )R. GIL --- ---CIT.1761(. There is no other gun founder's mark of this or other periods which fits the remaining letters. The visible parts of the gun confirm its pattern, period, nationality, and once more the fashion and location of the weight and trunnion mark. I am quite certain that the inscription was or is indeed: R.GILPIN FECIT.1761" —Rudi Roth

Mr. Smith verified that the first part of the inscription on the base ring gives the first initial and last name of the gun founder who made the cannon: Richard Gilpin, a brass and shot founder of Stoney Street, Southwark, London, active from about 1751 to 1770.

Mr. Roth also provided the preliminary results of efforts to identify the cannon through archival research. His research located an entry in the Bill Books, in which are recorded payments by the Crown to all private contractors, to the effect that a Warrant or order issued to R. Gilpin on 17 July 1760 for 12 6-pounder cannons of 4'6" with an average weight of 568 pounds, was paid on 7 April 1761. It is possible that this entry is as close to a "birth certificate" for the founding of the Governor's Cannon as will ever be found, because cannons were usually ordered in lots and payments were made for the weight of cast metal, not for individual guns.

Hence, we can be certain that the Governor's Cannon was cast in 1761, making it over 240 years old.

How did it get to Grand Turk? Here, we can only speculate. The cannon design is that of a field piece, so it was never mounted on a naval gun carriage or used at sea. This information is supported by the fact that although the cannon's surface of the Governor's Cannon is badly worn, there is no evidence of marine encrustation, so it does not appear to have come from the sea or to have been involved in a shipwreck.

Mr. Smith suggests that
"it could have been taken there by a regiment or similar force either in the 18th century or subsequently. It was not intended as a battery piece and so was not used in fortresses. It is also likely that it could have been sent as a decorative piece at some stage." Mr. Roth's observations about the post-service histories of such cannons suggest still another possibility: "Such nice-looking brass guns were then used to decorate private mansions, [and] army establishments but they were also used as signal guns on signal stations and lighthouses along the coast because they were easy to maintain, did not rust like iron guns, looked good and were perfectly sufficient for the purpose."

Could the Governor's Cannon have been sent to Grand Turk as an accessory to the lighthouse built at the northern tip of the island in 1852? Or was it brought as an ornament to the Governor's residence? Perhaps more research will reveal the answer to the question of how the cannon arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Contents of this story:
Turks and
Caicos National Museum

 

Lost Spanish Caravel and Cannons found in Panama may be from 4th Voyage of Columbus

For the past few years, Panamanian salvage divers have been recovering remains of the wooden hulk of a wrecked Spanish caravel, found in 1997 under 6 meters of water at the Caribbean port of Nombre de Dios. Little by little, archaeologists from the National Cultural Institute of Panama at nearby Porto Bello have accumulated evidence that this may have been one of four ships used by Columbus during his last voyage in 1502-1503, when the Genoese mariner sailed along the coast from Honduras to Panama.

On May 9, 1502, Columbus and 135 men left the Spanish port of Cadiz with a small fleet of four caravels named La Capitana, Santiago de Palos, La Gallega, and La Vizcaína (Morison 1942). Caravels (fig.1) were high, square-rigged ships about 60-70 ft long, with 50-70 tons cargo capacity. Other examples were the Niña and the Pinta of Columbus’s first voyage (see AR 1,3 p.39).   By July 30 the Spaniards had reached the Bay Islands off Honduras, where they encountered Maya-like traders carrying textiles, cacao beans, and copper implements in large canoes with awnings (see AR 2,1, p.33). As reported in the memoirs of Columbus’ nephew Ferdinand Colón, the Spanish ships then turned east along the so-called Costa de las Orejas (“coast of the ears”), named for the long earlobes of Jicaque and Payan natives wearing egg-sized ear spools.

Sailing south from Honduras to Panama (often amid bad weather and contrary winds), and landing at a few shore points to barter for gold ornaments, in January 1503 the Spaniards stopped at the mouth of the Río Belén. There, learning of rich gold sources through local Guaymis, they attempted to found a colony called Santa Maria de Belén. By the spring of 1503, however, hostilities had commenced with parties of Quibián (Guaymi) warriors. The Spaniards took hostages, and a boatload of Spaniards were killed a few miles up the Río Belén. Columbus decided to evacuate, and after abandoning one of the ships (the Gallega) which had been careened behind a sandbar, sailed from Belén on April 16, 1503.

Fig.1: Drawing of a Spanish Caravel ca. 1493 (Letter of Columbus, Lenox Library).

A week later, upon reaching Porto Bello, the Vizcaina was leaking so badly from wormholes it too was abandoned, and on April 23, 1503 the Spaniards crowded into the remaining two ships and sailed for home. It is the scuttled remains of the Vizcaina which Portobello archaeologists now think they have found. Artifacts from the wreck seem consistent with this theory. Lying on a shallow sandbank, the twin-masted, wooden caravel hulk still held its anchors, but had been stripped of all rigging and material possessions of the crew. Archaeologists from the Instituto Cultural, working with salvagers from Conquest Panama Inc. and Investigaciones Marinas del Istmo S.A, believe this shows evidence of deliberate abandonment or scuttling. A variety of other details on hull construction, cannon types, pottery, and food remains all appear to corroborate that this ship may indeed be La Vizcaina. Stone cannonballs were among the first artifacts recovered from the site. Five cannons of two early types called Versos and Lombards were left on deck, now encrusted with coral and barnacles. The swivel-mounted, breach loading Lombard was a fault-prone weapon known to have been used on Columbus’ expeditions. Due to their tendency to misfire (and sometimes blow up the shooter), the Spanish stopped using them after about 1520.

Construction details have also helped date the ship. Its hull timbers, hammered together with wooden pegs, were not sealed in lead, which protected the hulls against wood-boring worms (such as had infested all four ships on the 1502-3 voyage). Lead sheathing became mandatory among Spanish shipbuilders by royal decree in 1508. Shards from pottery amphorae for olive oil, typical of early 16th century New World voyages, have also come from the sunken vessel. Food remains including coconut husks and shellfish show Spaniards were living off local resources by the time they reached the spot where they abandoned La Gallega. Based strictly on chronology, the wreck could also be that of a ship known to be lost by Francisco Pizarro en route to Cartagena, Colombia as part of the attempt by Alonzo de Ojeda to colonize that region (1508-1509). Whether or not it is confirmed to be La Vizcaina, it would in any case be the first ship to be found from the early part of the Spanish Conquest, for which there are few contemporary images or related material remains.

[Gaynor, T. in The Guardian, 5 Nov. 2001; Fernando Colon, 1530, Journals; Morison, S.E., 1942, Admiral of the Ocean Sea; “New World Explorers I: The First Voyage of Columbus,” Athena Review Vol. 1, no. 3 (1997); “New World Explorers II: The Fourth Voyage of Columbus,” Athena Review, Vol. 2, no. 1 (1998)]

A SMALL IRON CANNON RECOVERED
FROM SAN DIEGO BAY

By James R. Moriarty and William L. Crocker*
*The University of California at San Diego

In January of 1947 a small cast iron cannon was recovered from the sunken remains of an ancient wooden sailing vessel. (see fig. 1) The cannon is now at the Junípero Serra Museum. In January of 1965 the author and his assistant were requested to research the probable origin of this small piece of ordnance and prepare a detailed report of their findings. It is hoped that this report will reach others who have information about similar discoveries.

Until the end of the 17th Century cannon were known by a number of exotic names such as bastard, shaker, falcon, serpentine, etc. Standardization in the 17th Century reduced the number of types manufactured, and cannon were classified by the weight of their projectile. By the close of the experimental period in heavy artillery (late 1500's) iron as well as bronze and brass were all being cast to make ordnance. Iron was more subject to corrosion than either bronze or brass, and, was liable to fracture dangerously. Its advantages for smaller cannon were great enough, however, to outweigh the foregoing. Iron was cheap and could withstand rough service. Small pieces could be cast heavy enough to reduce the possibility of fracturing. Small cannon, such as wall guns, were made to load at the breach until the 1550's. Breech loading, though, proved extremely impractical due to the existing knowledge of metal working at that period. By the early 1600's cannon were almost exclusively muzzle loaders with the length of the gun controlling the size of the smooth bore. (see fig. 2)      

There were three basic problems in the method of manufacturing cast iron cannon. First, a new mold had to be made for each gun as the techniques of bronze founders were employed by the iron founders during the 1600's. Secondly, impure and highly carbonized iron was poured into the mold and as the metal received no further treatment the cast tended to be weak and brittle. Third, early iron cannon were cast over a prepared cylinder of clay which created a rough bore. This was then reamed out and the gun, as a consequence, was often very erratic. Each cannon's idiosyncrasies had to be known by the gunner before he could lay the gun accurately enough to hit the mark. The Dutch are credited in 1747 with beginning the general practice of boring out solid cast guns. Hollow casting was still in general use in England, France and Spain until after 1770.

There are many references relating to the use of muzzle-loading cannon during the early days of the Spanish occupation of Baja and Alta California. One of the earliest is to be found in the log of The Voyage of Francisco de Ulloa in 1539.

"Seeing that we delayed, the natives fired a few arrows at the ship ... but not satisfied with this, many of them waded waist deep into the water to fire arrows at certain sailors who were in a boat raising an anchor. . . ."

"In view of this and of the bad treatment we received from them the first time we arrived here2 . . . and also in order to protect the men in the boat, I decided to let them have some punishment. . . in consideration of their conduct, past and present. We let loose on them a few shots3 from the ship, which did some damage, and would have done more, but, thinking that the skies were falling on them, upon hearing the shots and seeing some fallen among them, they fled in a fashion worth seeing! . . . "

Cannon played an important role in the protection of the first fortified structures at San Diego. Upon the arrival of Captain Rivera y Moncada, in 1769, he began construction of a stockade at the newly established camp. The cannon he utilized were small bore, muzzle loading, swivel guns which he removed from the bulwarks of the San Carlos. (see fig. 3) As we have said elsewhere, this type of cannon was not always dependable. Indeed, it was extremely dangerous both to the defender as well as to the aggressor.

Shortly after the establishment of the Mission of Our Lady of Loreto in Baja California, an Indian uprising brought into play a small cannon which exploded at the critical moment and nearly caused the destruction of the Mission. This was a small swivel gun mounted on a mesquite stump. On November the 12th, 1767, the little garrison at Loreto was attacked by four band of Indians. They were surrounded, the captain estimated, by about 500 Indians. The gunner fired in an attempt to frighten them with a few well directed shots from the swivel gun. The breech exploded, knocking him down and seriously wounding him. The Indians, observing that none of their number was hurt, grew confident and assaulted the stockade from all sides. The soldiers fired a volley with their muskets. A number of Indians were killed and wounded; the rest fled and the garrison was saved.

The small cannon recovered from San Diego Bay was a hollow cast, muzzle loading, swivel gun (bow or stern chaser). (see fig. 3) It was manufactured from a highly carbonized and very brittle cast iron. Due to its long submergence, corrosion had removed all identifying marks including muzzle or barrel roundels. Only one of the trunnions still remains in part. (see fig. 1) The ball of the cascabel is totally reduced so that only the necking remains. Investigation of the first reinforce showed the touch hole or fire aperture to be completely filled with fine oxidation. The angle of aperture appears to be approximately 15' from a vertical line projected perpendicular to the bore. Diameter of the bore is 1.75 inches. This would allow for a ball of approximately one pound.

GENERAL OVERALL DIMENSIONS

Cascabel, ball diameter 2", length 2.75"
First reinforce, length 5.25"
Second reinforce, length 10"
Chase, length 17"
Swell of muzzle, length 3"
Base of breech, diameter 7"
Fire aperture, diameter 3/8", angle approximately 15'
Chamber, and bore, diameter 1.75"
Trunnion, diameter 2", length 3"
Bore at muzzle, 1.80"

After careful examination it was determined that the Serra Museum cannon was probably manufactured sometime prior to 1770. As the life (i. e., in the sense of its use) of such a piece of ordnance was probably as much as 50-75 years, or longer, it seems reasonable that the cannon found its way to the bottom of San Diego Bay within the first fifty to seventy-five years after the establishment of the Royal Presidio of San Diego. A cannon of this size and type was probably used as bow or stern chaser on one of the supply vessels, which from time to time, arrived at San Diego during the early Spanish occupation. Such small guns were often used for line casting and saluting, as well as fighting. They were mounted on a u-shaped stirrup which was attached to a pivoting bar (see fig. 3). The recoil of these cannons was negligible. This was due to the fact that the weight of the gun was more than enough to compensate for the explosive recoil of the powder charge. Additionally, black powder was used which is relatively slow in detonating when compared to modern cordite or smokeless powder. Taking into consideration the amount of surface metal loss due to corrosion, a good estimate of this cannon's original weight would be close to 150 pounds.

A number of points to be considered in determining the general age of this piece have to do with the environment in which it was found, its type and style, and the fact that examination disclosed that the piece was still charged with a small round shot. Information taken from the finder indicated that the cannon was recovered from the wreck of a very old vessel lying in the relatively shallow waters in what is known to have been the primary anchorage used by the early Spanish. The informant stated that the curved ribs of the hulk were still discernable. Only a careful underwater investigation can add more weight to the probability that this indeed is an early Spanish ship. There is no question in the mind of the authors that this is an early piece of Spanish ordnance. All of the available references show that the cannon must have been made sometime in the late 1700's. Finally, there is no reference to any vessel (known to the authors) having sunk at or near this anchorage excepting for two references to a Spanish vessel which went down at a very early period. We are at present investigating these references.

In conclusion it should be noted that one other piece of evidence is also in existence. Near to the point where the cannon was recovered another informant found a small hand-wrought iron anchor. It is generally accepted that this anchor is related to the earliest period of Spanish occupation. Considering the close association of these two objects (i. e., the cannon and the anchor with the wreck) it is well within the realm of possibility that both are from the same vessel.

A careful examination of the bottom by scuba diving by the Scripps archaeological divers is being planned. We hope to be able to discover the answer to the mystery of the cannon and anchor sometime this year.

NOTES

1. Henry W. Wallace, then Chief Warrant Officer, now retired was skin diving in San Diego Bay for recreation. He brought the cannon to the surface, and then took it to Texas. When he returned to San Diego he gave the cannon to George Stollard a Chula Vista fireman who in turn gave it to Larry Areingdale also a fireman of Chula Vista. Through his interest the research and study on the cannon was made possible, in turn leading to the restoration of the piece for exhibit.

2. This incident took place at Punta de la Trinidad, on the east coast of Baja where they had previously watered.

3. Spanish -- versos, a small cannon in use at that time.  

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