Peter Finer

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

Item Ref: 2487 Price on application

2487

Spain, The Royal Gun foundry, Seville. Bronze.

Provenance

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.

John Graves Simcoe (1752–1806) achieved fame and a deservedly lauded reputation as the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada: a lake, a town and a county in Ontario are all named after him. Eton and Merton College, Oxford, were followed in 1771 by entry into the 35th Regiment of Foot as ensign. On the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War Simcoe served in New England as adjutant of his regiment. In 1775 he obtained a captaincy in the 40th Regiment of Foot and was severely wounded at the battle of Brandywine River. His bravery and unusual abilities in the field brought about Simcoe’s promotion in October 1777 to the local rank of major commanding the irregular green-clad Queen’s Rangers. Simcoe trained these troops in field operations unconventional within the British army of the period, going on to conduct skirmishing and scouting operations with tactical stealth, frequently infiltrating behind enemy lines in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Simcoe was captured near Hillsborough, New Jersey, in 1779, barely with his life, and was released under exchange at the end of that year. He was also among the troops surrendered by Cornwallis at Gloucester Point in 1781. Simcoe was invalided home in early December 1781 and appointed colonel.

Then in 1791, upon the division of the two Canadas, Simcoe was appointed the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada under Lord Dorchester, the governor-in-chief. He initially selected Newark (now Niagara) as his capital, in 1793 moving the seat of government to Toronto. Under his tenure the province flourished in almost all respects, other than in its relations with the United States, this bias being attributed to Simcoe’s war experiences. Simcoe was appointed major general in October 1794, and shortly thereafter dispatched to San Domingo as commandant of the British garrison established there to put down the Haitian revolution. He returned to Britain in July 1797, was promoted lieutenant general the next year and appointed colonel of the 22nd Regiment of Foot, with command of the defence of the West Country against the threat of Napoleonic invasion.

In 1806 Simcoe was appointed commander-in-chief in India, but was first ordered in August to accompany Admiral Lord St Vincent to Lisbon, to observe and report on the impending threat of the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal. Simcoe became mortally ill on the voyage; he was returned to England but died on 26 October 1806.

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.

DESCRIPTION
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.

Size: Length 104 cm / 41 in, Width 28.5 cm / 11 in, Length including stand 186 cm / 73 in