Historic Cannon

The Pepys Visitor Centre, Old Royal Naval College

This cannon was originally made over 200 years ago for Ottoman Sultan Selim III – about 1790-91, if you like dates, but was captured in battle and brought back as a trophy in 1807. I guess it was all very heroic of Admiral John Duckworth to seize it and it is a splendid prize – but once it fell into the The Duke of Cumberland’s hands, I get the feeling it became one of those awkward presents that do the rounds of family and friends before finally making it back to the original donor. It could have been worse – a bottle of Old Spice, for example, a lamp in the shape of the Blackpool Tower or an elephant’s foot umbrella stand.

Cumberland finally gave it to the Greenwich Pensioners for the formal inauguration of the Hospital, thus killing two birds with one stone – finding a present for the Hospital’s birthday whilst getting rid of his own beautiful-but-a-bit-useless gift.

It hung around for over a hundred years – right through to the time when it stopped being the asylum and became the naval training school. The school kept it so long that when they moved to Suffolk in 1933, they took it with them. Maybe they didn’t really know what to do with it either – by now it had become a bit like that hideous ornament that you get as a present from someone you don’t want to offend.

They had to keep it somewhere where the donors could see how much they appreciated it, but it must have really been in the way, right in the middle of the entrance.

Handily, perhaps, for the Royal Hospital School, it’s exactly 200 years after Admiral John Duckworth acquired it, so perhaps that’s the excuse they have used to do a spot of decluttering. I can just hear them saying “No, no, really – we’ve deprived you for far too long. It’s your turn to enjoy it now…”

And I must say it does look rather handsome outside the Pepys Centre, which Lord knows needs all the glamour it can get just now, given it’s next door to the sad-looking polytunnel that covers the Cutty Sark’s modesty, but it bothers me that there doesn’t seem to be much more permanent information about the cannon than there are about any of the other sculptures/monuments/memorials in Greenwich.

It seems to me that it’s going to become very quickly one of those things you don’t even really see as you walk around, which is a shame. As cannons go, this is quite a doozy. I’m not saying I’d want it on my mantlepiece or anything – but somehow at Greenwich it looks just right. It already looks like it’s been there forever. Maybe it’s found a home at last.

Take a look at it next time you’re walking past. Before you forget to…


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