Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






THERE are a great number of cannon of all kinds and periods in the Tower, a correct list of which will be found in the Guidebooks, and only a few of them can here be noticed. One of the most curious is a very long and heavy gun, placed on the west side of the White Tower. By the inscription upon this gun, it appears to have been cast under the immediate auspices and direction of Solyman the Magnificent, for the express purpose of his meditated invasion of India. It is about eighteen feet long; and as it is evident that some portion of the muzzle has been sawn off, it must have been originally cast of longer dimensions than any even of the monster guns of our time. The reason assigned by tradition for the amputation of the extremity of this gun, was a supposition that from its peculiar yellow colour there was an alloy of gold in the metal, and it would seem, from the clumsy way in which the muzzle was cut off, that this portion had been stolen, in order to melt it down, and extract the gold it contained by chemical process. In his very interesting description of the military power and armament of the Turks,


Montecuculi observes, that they excelled all nations in the art of casting large cannon, and gives some remarkable details as to their bringing their gunmetal up the Danube, on the occasion of one of their invasions of the Austrian dominions, and actually casting cannon before the towns which they invested and besieged. This he tells us was done by sinking pits in the earth, and lining them with a composition which formed a mould for the gun. The casting of any very large piece of ordnance was treated by the Turks as a grand ceremony; the Sultan himself often attended, and on such occasions the great officers and pachas present were in the habit of casting purses of gold into the liquid metal, as a special homage and compliment to the presence of their sovereign. It is difficult to believe that large sums of gold should thus have been wasted, in what at best was an absurd piece of adulation; but the prodigality and ostentation of the Turks of that period, when, in the insolence of their riches and military power, they threatened to overrun the finest countries of Europe, would account for almost any display in honour of Solyman, whose ambition, ability, and spirit had elevated the military character of the Turks to a higher standard of renown than it ever attained before or after his long and glorious reign.

In order to clear up the question, and ascertain the existence or not of the supposed alloy, the Lieutenant- Governor of the Tower applied in June, 1865, to Mr. Graham, the Master of the Mint, who obligingly deputed Mr. Field, an experienced officer of that department, to


make the trial, by chipping off a small piece of the muzzle, where it had been, as before mentioned, sawn off, and subjecting it to the scientific tests so well understood at the Mint. After a close examination, it turned out that there was not a particle of gold in the metal, but a large proportion of copper, which had given it the colour by which the thieves, who sawed off the extremity, had probably been deceived into the belief that it contained gold.

There are two handsome guns on the Parade which were placed in the Tower at the end of the Seven Years' War, having been cast at Woolwich from some cannon captured from the French in the second expedition to Cherbourg in 1758. It was a strange notion thus to commemorate that affair, for, although the surprise of Cherbourg placed the French cannon from which these two guns were made in the hands of the English, yet the troops, when they afterwards sailed round and landed near St. Malo, which they found too strong to attack, behaved with such irregularity, and such gross carelessness and bad arrangements occurred on their march to St. Cass, that the Commander, General Bligh, surprised by a superior force hastily collected by the Duc d'Aiguillon, was in his turn defeated with loss, and his soldiers driven into the sea in attempting to regain their transports. General Dury, the second in command, made a gallant endeavour to rally a battalion of the Foot Guards, who were covering the rear, but the confusion was irretrievable, and, being much weakened by a wound received in the conflict, he perished in trying to swim off to a boat.

In the Tower collection there are many fine specimens


of ornamental casting, but that which specially attracts notice from an admirer of art, is a superb 12-lb. gun captured at Malta, in the upper room above the Horse Armoury. Nothing can be more bold and masterly than the shape of the dragon which forms the main portion of the carriage, and it is evidently from the design of a master-hand.

As a proof how few inventions have not had some former origin in one form or another, there is preserved, in the upper chamber of the Horse Armoury, a revolver, which dates from the reign of James I. It is of course a clumsy affair, but the principle is exactly similar to Colonel Colt's celebrated invention.

The banqueting-hall and council-chamber of the White Tower have been admirably fitted up (and without any sacrifice of their original architectural features) as armouries for the conservation of the store of rifles for the direct regimental supply of the army; nor is it by any means a mere display, for every musket (and there are 60,000) is in the best of order, and fit for immediate use. For practical purposes this is in every respect a far better arrangement than the old plan of keeping the arms in chests, for whatever care might be bestowed on the packing, it was hardly possible to make sure of the exclusion of damp; and it is needless to observe on the mischief which arises with so delicate a machine as the present musket, from the smallest effects of rust on the highly finished steel-work of the lock.