Cumann Seandalaiochta agus Staire Phort Lairge

Monday, August 17, 2020

How the Cannon Got to Waterford by Pat Deegan

           The Russian Cannons in the People’s Park 

Over the years, many visitors to the People’s Park of Waterford have curiously wandered over to the pair of cannons situated near the bandstand. Generations of Waterford people have had their photo taken sitting on or beside the cannons – but what exactly do we know about these familiar landmarks? The plaque beside them tells us they were ‘captured in Sebastapol in 1856’ and they have certainly come a long way from the Aleksandrovsk Cannon factory in Russia, where they were made 163 years ago. This is their story.

Every year on Good Friday, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, the ancient ritual of Holy Fire takes place. Unlit candles suddenly burst into flame – some call it a miracle caused by a column of fire coming from Jesus’ tomb, others say it is symbolic instead and white phosphorous is used to create the flames. During the ceremony in 1834, a riot broke out between the Latin Christians and the Eastern Orthodox Christians, which ended with the death of a substantial amount of people. This sparked a debate with the Ottoman Turkish sultan on who should have the keys of the Holy Sepulchre church. Russia, which had been active for years in Jerusalem, was annoyed when Sultan Abdulmejid I gave the keys to the French in 1852 (after a 64 gun French man-of-war warship had sailed to the city of Istanbul). Russia gave the sultan an ultimatum: give the Holy Sepulchre to the true Eastern Orthodox Church, or risk being invaded.

There was a lot more to these rising tensions than one sacred building. The once mighty Ottoman Empire, ruled by Turkey, was losing its grip on power, with the Russian Tsar, Nicholas I calling the empire ‘the sick man of Europe’. France and Britain (though sworn enemies at the time) allied with the Ottoman Empire because they were worried that Russian expansion would damage their trade routes. In July 1853, Russia invaded the part of the Ottoman Empire which today is Romania. As Austrian troops advanced, the Russian troops withdrew and so French and British troops were sent to fight the Russians on the Crimean peninsula and take the city of Sevastopol, home of the Tsar’s Black Sea Fleet, which was seen as a threat to the British Navy.  There was some irony in this, since the ship yard and docks there were built by a British company.

British soldiers serving in Crimea 

The allies landed about thirty miles north of Sevastopol and fought the Battle of Alma shortly after arriving. The Russians were routed totally, but the French troops, unwilling to follow through, let the Russian army escape back to Sevastopol. The fall of the city itself would take another long year and many lives before it did capitulate. East Sevastopol would fall in late 1855 but the war would not end until a peace treat was signed in Paris in 1856.

The Crimean War is perhaps best known for the Lady with the Lamp, the nurse Florence Nightingale, who brought order to the deplorable conditions that the British army allowed war wounded soldiers to be hospitalised in. Less well-known until recent years, but just as tireless and heroic was the Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, who nursed the wounded men on the battlefield.  The two women did meet but they never worked together. The war is also famous for the Charge of the Light Brigade. This was made out to be a heroic sacrifice made by the British cavalry in order to hide the incompetence of the officers in charge: Lord Raglan, Lord Cardigan, Lord Lucan and the French general Armand de Saint-Arnaud (both Lord Raglan and the French Armand de Saint-Arnaud would die in the Crimean). Their incompetent lack of military strategy was very apparent and it brought an end to the nobility’s practice of buying commissions in the army, especially in cavalry regiments. The writing was on the wall for the gallant cavalry charge. A line of troops, facing a cavalry charge, could fire on them with their new 1853 rifle muskets (which had an improved firing rate), devastating the Calvary ranks. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 the limitations of the cavalry would become very apparent but this lesson was forgotten until WWI, when the great losses were witnessed in cavalry charges against the new modern machine guns in the fields of France in early 1914. 

Artillery at Sevastopol

The British and French captured hundreds of cannons in the the southern part of Sevastopol; the Russian were never in a crisis when it came to the replenishment of cannons. The Allies were not going to leave these cannons behind for the Russians, for the terms of the Paris Treaty stated that French, British and Sardinians troop would leave Sevastopol, and return Crimean lands to the Russians. However, the Treaty did allow the victors to take Russian cannons as war trophies. The cost to both the British and French exchequer was a very hard burden for these countries to carry. As for Russia, the cost of the conflict would in time lead Tsar Alexander II to sell the lands of Alaska in October 1867 to the United States for $7.2 million. The British Army shipped  all the cannons to the Woolwich arsenal in London. Their haul consisted of 10 bells, about 875 iron cannons, and 177 brass or bronze cannons (the British 89 and the French got 88 respectively). The iron cannons were of no monitory value. Now that they had these cannons, what to do with them?

The French were going to make a Boulevard de Sebastopol and line it with their cannons, like the Moscow Boulevard of 1812 that commemorated Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of the Russian Army (Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 overture was also written to celebrate this Russian victory). However, most of the Russian cannons in French hands were instead used to make the 22.7m high statue of the Virgin Mary, known as ‘Notre Dame de France’, at Le Puy‐en‐Velay, Auvergne, completed in 1860. Meanwhile the British used the cannons in various projects, most notably John Bell's London Crimean War Memorial, located on Waterloo Place, near Piccadilly, unveiled in 1861. William Theed's 1858 statue of Isaac Newton in the town of Grantham also used melted-down cannons, as did the bronze bell of St Mary's Church, Catherston Lewiston, Dorset, in 1858. The cannons also provided metal for the new Victoria Cross medals. Now the highest award of the British Army, it was created on the orders of Queen Victoria to commemorate outstanding acts of bravery shown by soldiers in the Crimean War.

The British government came out with another way of disposing of this war trophy: a small number of iron ordnance were granted to cities or towns in Great Britain and Ireland that had proper public places to put them in. Waterford city was quick to take up this offer. In May 1857, the then Mayor of Waterford, John Aloysius Blake, wrote to the War Department, requesting cannons from the Crimean War to decorate the city’s new park. Two cannons were sent over on the steamer ‘Citizen’, but they didn’t have gun carriages, only an accompanying price list for different types of gun carriages. The Mayor, who was also the MP for Waterford and was in England, made a visit to the arsenal at Woolwich, found two he thought suitable, and got permission from the War Office to ship them over to Waterford. 

The Waterford cannons are 24–pound (152 mm) short 1804 cannon. These guns were made in 1828 at the Aleksandrovsk cannon factory (which is now the Russian city of Petrozavodsk). The plant was founded in 1703 at the direction of Emperor Peter I and was engaged in the production of cast-iron naval cannons. On one side of the trunnions of the Waterford cannons is the name of the plant’s director for that period, Alexander Andreevich Fullon (he ran the plant from 1819 to 1833). On the other side of the trunnions, is the serial number (21192), its weight (120 pounds, approximately 1960 kilograms).  The letters ‘MA’ on the Waterford cannons denote the term ‘naval artillery’. Such stamps were placed on the guns that armed the warships. Being naval guns, could these cannons have been on a Russian warship during the Battle of Sinope in 1853? This cannot be confirmed but the cannons would have been removed from their ship to firstly, protect the fortress at Sevastopol and secondly, to stop them from being sunk along with their ship by the powerful British Navy. As for the damage on the trunk of one of the Waterford cannons, without a special analysis, it cannot be said with certainty that this damage is from the splinters of shells or bullets.   


To create these cannons, first a three-dimensional mould of the cannon would be made from wood. This would have been put in a steel clay box and moulding clay would be added to make the shape of the cannon. Molten iron would be poured in to these vertical moulds, to form the solid iron cannon (vertical line of cannon mould would be place below the smelter; when smelter was untapped the molten iron would have flowed directly into the moulds). The mould would be broken open and the casted cannon would be cleaned for the next process: lathing. It would be set up on the lathe, the cannon would be drilled out, then, using a boring bar, it would be bored the right size for the cannon ball, in this case 6 inches. The machine tools used to rifle bores (that is, to create spiral grooves inside the barrel, which spin the bullet or ball, and make the aim accurate for a longer distance) made all front-loaded muzzled smoothbore guns (without spirals) obsolete; this happened around 1860 with the introduction of the breach-loaded gun. Unlike front-loaded guns, breech-loaded guns had their bullets inserted from the back of the gun. Barrel rifling was invented in Augsburg, Germany in 1498. In 1520 August Kotter, an armourer from Nuremberg, improved upon this work. Though true rifling dates from the mid-sixteenth century, it did not become commonplace until the nineteenth century. 


These cannons are not Waterford’s sole connection to the Crimean War: Irish soldiers fought and lost their lives in the war as well. The Irish Garrison Towns blog tells the tale of one Waterford man who survived the war but ended his days in Waterford’s workhouse. When Patrick Hanlon died aged 83 in 1909, his coffin was placed on a gun carriage and buried with military honours in St Mary’s churchyard. Hanlon was a veteran of the Crimean War, so the Veteran’s Relief Fund paid for the funeral after the workhouse master, Mr Cosgrave, notified the War Office of his death. ‘Thus an elderly man who died a pauper was buried as a soldier.’

So, the cannon that we all love and have kind memories of have great memories of their own. These wonderful pieces of war memorabilia will be with us for many years to come and no doubt plenty of pictures will still be taken next to the guns.




  1. Great story on the Russian cannon's & very insightful piece connecting to wider historical events & military background.

  2. Very good and really enjoyable background to hear

  3. Great piece full of detailed information. John A. Blake was my great grand uncle. Sadly, on the other side of my family, a young man died in the Crimean War and his grave has never been found, though he is commemorated in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin.

  4. Very informative piece, as I'm from South Parade i have very many photos with the cannons at every age. Its an awful shame that the beautiful fountain is no more..

  5. Regarding the gun tube's weight being given as 120-Pounds,it should state 120-Poods,(not pounds),where a Pood is equal to 16.38-kg., or approximately 36-lb.


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