An Historic Pair of Bronze Cannon, Cast by the Spanish Gunfounder Mathias Solano, and Given by King George III of England to Major General John Graves Simcoe in 1798, dated 1747


Item ref: 2487

  • Spain, The Royal Gun foundry, Seville
  • Bronze
  • 104 cm / 41 in x 28.5 cm / 11 in


Removed in 1798 from among the captured rebel ordnance in San Domingo
Shipped from Port au Prince to Jamaica, thence in October 1799 dispatched to London, with onward shipping to Plymouth
Received at the Devon port of Kingsbridge in December 1803
Installed at Walford Lodge, General Simcoe’s family seat in Honiton, Devon
Passed down through the Simcoe family, the cannon remaining at Wolford Lodge until their sale in 1923 to Herbert K. Reeves, Esq., of Porlock, Somerset
Presented by Reeves in June 1940 to Leatherhead Urban District Council (now the Mole Valley District Council) and for many years displayed outside the council chambers in Leatherhead; sold Christie’s, 2 November 2005, lot 129

Correspondence of February and March 1798 between Major General Simcoe and Prince Frederick, Duke of York, on behalf of his father King George III, brought about the royal presentation of this pair of very finely cast historic bronze cannon. Simcoe was undeniably deserving, having endured the miserable tropical climate and the constant danger of fatal disease when serving as commandant of the colony of San Domingo, recently captured from the large Haitian revolutionary force of rebel slaves and French republicans.

Unfortunately for the long-suffering Simcoe, the much anticipated royal gift, having at last arrived from Jamaica, was now subject to customs duty as foreign-made goods. Prior to onward shipping to Plymouth, a customs officer’s letter dated 28 April 28 1800 recorded the terse demand.

Mathias Solano, the founder who cast this fine pair of cannon, belonged to a family of Spanish gun founders who were working over two or possibly three generations. He was director of the royal gun foundry at Seville from about 1703 to 1755. In earlier years he had also cast guns in Valencia and Pamplona. The present pair of guns is recorded in Gunfounding & Gunfounders, by A. N. Kennard, together with a record of other examples cast by Mathias in Seville, namely three in the Museo del Ejercito, Madrid and another in the Musee de la Marine, Paris.

This pair of cannon is of four-pounder calibre, conforming to the Spanish ordnance regulations of 1743 for cannon easily mobile for field use. The present guns in fact conform exactly in all respects to the designs and specifications for Spanish bronze artillery of this period. The state coat of arms cast in relief over the reinforce sections of the barrels is that of the Spanish Bourbon King Ferdinand VI (1713–1759). The Order of the Golden Fleece and the Order of the Holy Spirit encircle the arms and surmount a scroll cast with the Spanish royal title FERDINAND. VI DG HISPAN. ET IND. REX (Ferdinand VI by the grace of God King of Spain and the Indies). Additional scroll-work is held by an encircling band of foliage and expanded flower heads, the base ring signed by the founder SOLANO FECIT. HISPALI. ANNO 1747 (Solano made this, at Seville in the year 1747). The cascabel is drawn out to a globular button emerging from a leafy calyx.

Within the mouldings and bands of ornamental foliage so beautifully cast in low relief, the motto VIOLATI FULMINA REGIS (‘THUNDERBOLTS OF AN OUTRAGED KING’) is prominent on a scroll, as is the name of each gun, one being EL MARTE(Mars, the Roman god of war), the other EL SENECA (after Seneca the Younger). The naming of one of these guns after the roman god of war is obviously appropriate to its purpose; the naming of the other, ‘El Seneca’, was a Spanish celebration of the figure from classical Roman history, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the Younger, about 4 BC–AD 65), who was subsequently claimed as the heroic son of the southern Romano-Iberian capital of Cordoba, his birthplace in Andalusia. Seneca was a Stoic philosopher, essayist, dramatist and statesman of Rome. He was also tutor then advisor to the Emperor Nero, until being compelled by the emperor to commit suicide for alleged complicity in a plot to assassinate him. Seneca was upheld as a paragon by the early Christian church, and his life and works widely celebrated in the culture of the medieval period and throughout the modern period.