Guns have been around for an incredibly long time, and they started with the cannon. It has been reported that the first significant use of a cannon was at around 1350 AD, making it one of the oldest pieces of modern technology still in use.
Imagine our delight, when we discovered that one of these remarkable, yet destructive devices was in permitted residence; under all the correct safety requirements in a garage in Pukekohe. Albeit not one of the Schwerer Gustav railway guns, intended for sinking ships or dealing with charging cavalry or infantry, but an amazing feat of engineering ingenuity nevertheless.
A cannon is a remarkably simple device. It consists of a strong metal tube with a plug at one end. There is a small hole for a fuse drilled through the tube. You load gunpowder into the tube from the open end of the cannon and then insert a cannon ball so that the gunpowder and ball are pressed against the plugged end. You stick a fuse in the small hole and light it to ignite the gunpowder (or you can pour a little gunpowder in the hole and light the gunpowder instead of using an actual piece of fuse). The explosion shoots the cannonball away from the cannon at high speed, initially over the speed of sound and for some distance over 100 metres. This particular cannon takes 7,000 grains to a pound of gun powder and shoots a 10-ounce lead ball. You would normally use about 1,000 grains, so you would only get about 7 reloads from a pound of gun powder.
This cannon has been with its current owner for some time. It is It is 66cm or 26 inches long and can be lifted and carried (but don’t do that if you don’t have to).
Its recent history includes being used on several occasions as a starting gun for the Pukekohe Cosmopolitan raft race on the Waikato River. Occasionally it was used for target practice and proved surprisingly accurate at 100 metres.
It is also claimed to originally be a signal gun from the HMS Endeavour making it about 250 years old and although not designed for actual combat it sure packs a punch!
“I have seen a ball fired from this gun chop a large branch off an old Scots Pine tree at about 200 metres range. The thickness of the branch was considerably greater than the diameter of the cannon ball which is slightly smaller than a ping pong ball,” claims its current owner.
“The plan is to obtain the necessary, appropriate gun powder and make some suitable cannon balls to demonstrate the guns capability in a safe environment. For example, smokeless powder is absolutely wrong for the cast iron cannon because the pressure can easily get too high for the strength of the metal. On top of that there is almost no smoke and smoke is definitely a requirement. Ships cannon and field guns normally fired cast iron balls, hence the origin of the field athletics competition – shot put. But lead balls are easier to make and can be reused if they can be found. Nor are we trying to break anything,” he smiles.
Like any firearm, there are huge safety considerations for any such undertaking and of course, strict safety measures in place for any people or property in the vicinity and the environment in general. But when it is finally fired it will be done with a feeling of awe and wonder about the journey such a powerful and significant artefact in New Zealand’s history has made and how it can be used in the future to continue to share its story.
“I have seen a ball fired from this gun chop a large branch off an old Scots Pine tree at about 200 metres range”