Sunday, 1 November 2015

A cannon on the Goulburn

I mentioned in an earlier post that I stopped in Shepparton on Friday afternoon to look at the Heritage Museum.  I've written a bit about the tractors that are displayed there.  My eye was also grabbed by a cannon, nestled in a makeshift carriage. 
I'm no expert on antique artillery, but a few things about this particular cannon are obvious.  First, it was government property (denoted by the broad arrow stamp).
Second, the cipher 'VR' places it in the long reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).
And thirdly, it looks too heavy to be field artillery, so I surmise that it was a ship's gun, or possibly from a fortification (nb: I don't think anywhere in the Goulburn Valley was ever fortified).  The museum does not have any signage about it, and google drew a blank.
I found myself mentally comparing it with the much smaller cannon on Philip Island, which (legend says) came from the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah when it called at Melbourne in 1865.  The Shenandoah was built at Glasgow in Britain, sold to the Confederacy, and was ultimately surrendered at Liverpool.
CSS Shenandoah
Image from here
I've always found it strange that Britain should have shown as much sympathy as it did to the South during the Civil War.  Britain was certainly no friend to slavery: the Royal Navy had been unilaterally suppressing the slave trade since 1807, and slavery had been abolished throughout the Empire in 1833.  A geopolitical motivation - weakening the United States - is questionable: it's difficult to identify anything Britain did between 1861 and 1865 to capitalise on the Union's difficulties.  Even economic motives, particularly access to cotton, would have been better served by peace than war.
I suppose, at its crudest, British sellers were able to supply armaments and the Confederacy was keen to buy them.  But part of me wonders whether Britain, undergoing its own commercial and imperial transformation, was also driven by sympathy and nostalgia and not a little envy for the more traditional, patrician and conservative Southern world.

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