Photographs of
Blockhouse Hill


Cast iron

Town of Lunenburg
Lunenburg County
Nova Scotia

Located at the top of Blockhouse Hill

GPS location:   44°22'41"N   64°18'16"W

Lunenburg: Blockhouse Hill cast iron cannon

Photographed on 14 June 2005

Lunenburg: Blockhouse Hill cast iron cannon

Photographed on 20 March 2003

Lunenburg: Blockhouse Hill cast iron cannon
Looking past the cannon on Blockhouse Hill toward the Montbeliard Monument

Photographed on 17 May 2003

Lunenburg: Blockhouse Hill cast iron cannon
Cannon manufactured for Victoria Regina
(Queen Victoria reigned 1837-1901)

Photographed on 17 May 2003

Lunenburg: Blockhouse Hill cast iron cannon

Photographed on 17 May 2003

Lunenburg: Blockhouse Hill cast iron cannon

Photographed on 14 June 2005

This cannon weighs 2337 kg.

The foundry marked this cannon's weight as 46 - 0 - 0,
meaning 46 hundredweight plus zero quarters plus zero pounds.
One hundredweight equalled 112 pounds, and one quarterweight
equalled 28 pounds. Thus this cannon weighs 5152 pounds.
One kilogram equals 2.205 pounds.

This cannon's weight works out to 2337 kilograms
(at the time of manufacture, not much changed now).

Defence of Lunenburg, interpretative panel

Photographed on 17 May 2003

Defence of Lunenburg, interpretative panel

Photographed on 17 May 2003

Defence of Lunenburg, interpretative panel

Photographed on 17 May 2003

Defence of Lunenburg, interpretative panel

Photographed on 17 May 2003

Also see:   Montbeliard Monument

Mistakes in the
Interpretative Panel

Lunenburg: Blockhouse Hill interpretative panel

Parks Canada got it wrong.

This interpretative panel contains an historical error.
<<hundredweight>> (unité équivalant à environ 100 livres)
That is false.

A hundredweight was equivalent to 112 pounds, not 100.

The hundredweight was part of a system of measures of weight that
was in commercial use throughout the British Empire, including
Nova Scotia, from ancient times (as legally defined in 1340 by
King Edward III, the hundredweight was equal to eight stones
of 14 pounds each) through the 1960s and into the 1970s.

For example, through the first half of the twentieth century and into
the 1970s, coal for heating (homes, schools, offices, etc.) in Nova
Scotia was bought and sold at retail by the short ton of 2000 pounds,
but wholesale transactions (the sale of coal from the mine to the local
fuel dealer) were measured by the long ton of 2240 pounds.

The long ton was defined as twenty hundredweight.
Twenty times 112 is where the 2240 pounds comes from.

There is a spelling error in the English text.
"Hundredweight" is one word, not two.

Other Old Cannons in Nova Scotia

What's the big deal about cannons?

Nowadays, cannon and other forms of artillery from the 1700s and 1800s
are nothing more than quaint noise-makers. We see them only in the movies
and on TV, or at occasional demonstrations at historic sites.

In their day, cannons were the most powerful, far-reaching and fearsome
weapons available.

From clumsy beginnings in the mid-1300s, by the 1700s cannons had become
products of sophisticated technology that required advanced design and
manufacturing techniques available only in a few leading industrial countries.

Beginning in the 1600s, the technology of artillery was strongly influenced by
scientific developments in physics (force, pressure, gravity, acceleration),
mathematics (trajectories), chemistry (explosives) and metallurgy.

Cannons were complicated and expensive to manufacture and hazardous to use.
They could be operated only by highly-trained gunners – secretive men with
mysterious knowledge and skills and limited life expectancy.

Artillery could destroy walls of cities and fortresses. It could annihilate whole
bodies of troops instantly, and at a greater distance than any other weapon.
Kingdoms rose and fell by the power of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal,
as harnessed by cannons.

Excerpted and adapted from
A Primer on Artillery by Joe Craig, Saratoga National Historical Park

Dangerous to Use

The early cannons were more likely to kill the gunner
than the person he was shooting at.

Cannons were (and are) extremely dangerous to operate, because what makes
a cannon do its thing is a quantity of gunpowder, a powerful explosive.

You had to use as much gunpowder as you dared, to get more range.  Unfortunately,
if you used a bit too much gunpowder, the cannon blew up.  The problem was, when
a cannon blew up the only people who knew how much gunpowder had been used
almost always were unable to tell anyone.

Just how much gunpowder could safely be used to charge a cannon?  There was only
one way to find out — test-fire the cannon repeatedly, each time putting in a little more
gunpowder, keeping a written record and standing well away (at least a kilometre).
When the cannon blew up you knew how much was too much, and you could figure
the safe charge to be something less.

The manufacture of cannons was not a highly-precise process.  For each cannon
produced, the metallurgy and other important factors would vary.  That is, every
cannon was different to some extent.  When you measured the maximum charge
by test-firing a cannon to destruction, you then knew what was the safe amount of
gunpowder for that cannon (the one that had been destroyed).  There was by
no means a guarantee that other cannons like it (same material, same design,
same size, same manufacturer) would be able to handle a similar charge;
often they could but sometimes they couldn't.

Of course, the gunpowder itself was not exactly a reliably-uniform product, making
the firing of a cannon even more unpredictable.  A safe quantity using one batch of
gunpowder might or might not be safe when another batch was available.

There were various ways a cannon could kill its crew.  The most common problem
was that occasionally, when the cannon was fired, the cannon tube would explode
near the breech where the internal pressure was greatest.  Another problem could
occur during the loading of a cannon, if something (such as a glowing ember deep
in the gun from the previous firing, or careless handling of the explosive charge)
caused the propellant to explode prematurely.

Over the centuries, thousands of gunners and other soldiers died when a
nearby cannon exploded.  And from time to time, prominent officials were
killed by the explosion of a cannon.

A few examples:

On 3 August 1460, an exploding cannon killed King James II of Scotland during
the siege of Roxburgh Castle.  The king, an enthusiastic believer in the use of
innovative military technology, was watching the operation of a new cannon
and was standing too close when it blew up.
(1) James II (1437-1460)

(2) King James II

(3) James II, King of Scotland

On 28 February 1844, the captain of the United States warship Princeton took
U.S. President John Tyler, several federal Cabinet officials, and about four hundred
other dignitaries on a Potomac cruise to demonstrate one of the ship's large guns.
The cannon was fired several times successfully, but the last time, about 3pm, the
breech burst, killing the Secretary of State Abel Parker Upshur, Secretary of the
Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer, Senator David Gardiner, Charge d'Affairs of the
United States in Belgium Virgil Maxcy, and several others.

On 14 April 1861, Private Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery was the first
combat soldier to die during the American Civil War.  He was killed by an
accidental explosion while the garrison was firing a salute during the evacuation
ceremonies at Fort Sumter on an island in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
On the 50th round of what was to have been a 100-gun salute to the United
States flag, the premature discharge of a cannon and the explosion of a pile of
cartridges resulted in the death of Private Hough.  Another man, mortally wounded,
died several days later.  The 50th round was the last.
Historical Handbook Number Twelve United States National Park System

On 19 April 1989, at sea 330 miles northeast of the island of Puerto Rico,
500 pounds (225 kg) of high explosive propellant charge exploded in the
open breech of the center 16-inch cannon in gun Turret No. 2 on the USS Iowa,
killing 47 crewmen within the turret.  The Iowa, one of four World War Two
battleships taken out of mothballs during the Reagan arms buildup, had been
about to commence a day of test firing its guns, the world's largest naval weapons,
16-inch (40.6 cm) cannons that fired 2,700-pound (1225 kg) projectiles up to
24 miles (38 km).

[The following refers to the British Expeditionary Force
(the British Army) on the Western Front in France, 1914-1918]

...When the shell was fired from the gun, the pre-cocked detonator would be
activated inside the barrel of the gun or, perhaps, within a few feet of emerging
from the barrel with catastrophic results for the gun crew and anyone else in the
vicinity.  In 1916, during the First Battle of the Somme, these 'prematures',
as they were called, occurred in around one out of every 1,000 shells fired.
In some divisions during the Somme Offensive, 500 rounds were fired every
24 hours, thus, on average, one 'premature' was occurring every two days
or so.  The effect on the morale of the gunners of this macabre game
of 'Russian Roulette' can be readily imagined...
Duds On The Western Front In The Great War 1914-1918
The Western Front Association

More about exploding cannons: The Cannon is Broken! by Edwin R. Scollon

A cast-iron cannon is known to have exploded in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia,
in 1897. It was located on Oxner's Hill, at the mouth of the LaHave River, and was
one of three cannons being fired in a Royal Salute probably at the time of
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the sixtieth anniversary of her accession to
the throne in June 1837.

An Awesome Weapon

History of Cannon Technology by Steven A. Walton

    ( — Michigan Technological University )

One cannot help but be in awe and wonderment when a loaded cannon is fired –
the intense sound felt deep in one's stomach alone signals there is something
impressive happening.  And cannon, after all, were designed to instill terror.
In fact most historians suggest that that was usually their only purpose on
the battlefield for the first 175 years or so of their existence...

Gunpowder first drew Europeans' attention in the thirteenth century, and
the first cannon appeared at the end of the first quarter of the fourteenth.
Most cannon of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were made out of
wrought iron staves forged together and hooped by more wrought iron, in the
same manner as coopers made barrels.  Although cast bronze guns apparently
existed alongside wrought iron ones from the earliest days of artillery, it was not
until the mid-fifteenth century that bronze began to clearly displace iron as the
gunmetal of choice.  Part of the hindrance was cost, the copper in bronze being
sometimes up to ten times as expensive as iron; the other hindrance was the
difficulty with casting bronze guns as large as the smiths could forge iron guns...

Gunnery garnered or even demanded respect in its own time for it was largely
unnatural.  Gunpowder was a mysterious substance, often linked with the devil,
whose effects were anything but expected of a gray, lumpy powder.  It was the
alchemists' success story, creating dramatic effects with the lightest touch of
a smoldering match.  In essence, cannon demanded attention – and got it.

Steven A. Walton (1)

Steven A. Walton (2)

    ( Penn State University )

Cannons on Ships

Cannon and Carronades
...The early big guns were built up from strips of wrought iron, heated until they
glowed yellow,and then hammered to weld them together to form the barrel.
Rings of iron were forced over the barrel to reinforce it.  Smaller guns were
cast in brass or bronze, using techniques used for centuries to produce statues.
In the 1500s the Dutch developed cast-iron cannon and the technique was
imported into England where the first iron cannon was cast in 1543...

Gunpowder produced vast amounts of thick smoke which
rapidly obscured the area of any naval battle.

A thick coating was also formed inside the barrel of the gun which
had to be scraped out...

An 18 pounder long gun with a charge of 5 pounds of powder
was capable of penetrating nearly 2 feet six inches into oak
at a range of 400 yards, and over 1 foot at 1000 yards.

[An 18 pounder long gun with a charge of 2.2kg of powder
was capable of penetrating about 70cm into oak
at a range of 400m, and over 30cm at 1000m.]


There was much variation in the quality and
propellant effect of different batches of gunpowder.

Cannons and Gunpowder; Their History and Lore by J. B. Calvert

Gunpowder Manufacture

Firepower and Fertilizers

Medieval Weapons of Mass Destruction by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company)
Medieval technology was better than you would think...
Medieval recipes for gunpowder produce nearly the same firepower as today's
manufactured equivalent, according to recent weapons tests, providing clues as
to how the British fleet became one of the largest fighting forces in the world...
"Gunpowder is an amazing, strange and bizarre material," Robert Smith told
ABC Science Online.  He and colleagues recreated the gunpowder – essentially
a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre – from scratch.  They harvested
raw sulphur from the hills of Iceland...

(1)   Black Powder by Tenny L. Davis
The discovery that a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur is capable
of doing useful mechanical work is one of the most important chemical discoveries
or inventions of all time...

(2)   Black Powder by Tenny L. Davis

The Gun and Gunpowder by W.L. Ruffell

Instructions for the Manufacture of Saltpetre by Joseph LeConte
published at Columbia, South Carolina, 1862
...under the most favorable circumstances saltpetre (potassium nitrate)
cannot be made in any considerable quantity in less than six or eight months...

The Augusta Powder Works: The Confederacy's Manufacturing Triumph
by C. L. Bragg
...The Confederate government recognized the need for a large gunpowder mill
somewhere in the South.  The ultimate choice of location would be Augusta, Georgia...
Enough gunpowder was produced at the Powder Works to fully meet the needs of
the Confederate armies, and still retained a surplus of 70,000 pounds of gunpowder
in the magazines at the end of the War Between the States...

Confederate Production of Gunpowder During the Civil War

The August Arsenal: A First Class Powder Mill

Adding Firepower with the Invention of Gunpowder

Caveman Chemistry: Chapter 18, Spot and Roebuck
You take something that everybody's got and nobody wants and turn it into something
that every government needs if it's going to be a government for any time at all...

June 1740: Testing the Strength of Gunpowders from each of four ships

Photographs of War Memorials, Historic Monuments and Plaques in Nova Scotia

Montbeliard monument Montbeliard monument Lunenburg

Schooner Bluenose plaque Schooner Bluenose plaque Lunenburg

Sack-of-Lunenburg plaque 1782 Sack of Lunenburg plaque Lunenburg

Camp Norway memorial Camp Norway memorial Lunenburg

Lunenburg: Temperance Fountain Temperance Fountain Lunenburg

Riverport war memorial Riverport war memorial Riverport

Mosher memorial Mosher memorial Lower LaHave

Five Houses cannon Five Houses cannon Lower LaHave

Fort Point monument Fort Point monument LaHave

Riverport: John Philip Ritcey monument Ritcey monument Riverport

Veterans' Memorial Bridge Bridgewater

Parkdale-Maplewood war memorial Parkdale-Maplewood war memorial Parkdale-Maplewood

New Ross war memorial New Ross war memorial New Ross

Chester Basin war memorial Chester Basin war memorial Chester Basin

Western Shore war memorial Western Shore war memorial Western Shore

Chester bronze cannons Chester bronze cannons Chester

Chester war memorial Chester war memorial

Chester Legion cannons Chester Legion cannons Chester

Norwegian war memorial at Chester Norwegian war memorial at Chester

Chester firemen memorial Chester volunteer firemen memorial Chester

Military Engineers: Gold River Bridge Military Engineers Gold River Bridge

Military Engineers: Martins River Bridge Military Engineers Martins River Bridge

Swissair Flight 111 Memorial, Bayswater Swissair Flight 111 Memorial, Bayswater

Go To:   Index to other online Nova Scotia History

Go To:   Nova Scotia Quotations

Go To:   History of Telephone Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   History of Electric Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   History of Railway Companies in Nova Scotia

Go To:   History of Automobiles in Nova Scotia

Go To:   Home Page

First uploaded to the WWW:   2003 November 23
Latest content revision:   2005 June 19