Shipwreck explorer Noel Hilliam with the 1821 French naval
gun which may have been buried deep in the sand of a west
coast beach north of the Kaipara Harbour beach for more
than 150 years. Photo by NZPA.
An old French naval gun, which has lain buried under the
sands of a beach on the west coast of the North Island for up
to 180 years, is about to find a new home in the Dargaville
The 189-year-old carronade, a naval mortar which was used for
lobbing explosive shells onto other ships, has been in a
treatment tank for six years after shipwreck explorer Noel
Hilliam and his wife Julie found it by chance on a beach west
of Dargaville in 2004.
Mrs Hilliam stubbed her toe on a metal porthole, believed to
have come from the New Zealand Shipping Company freighter
Turakina, sunk by the German raider Orion in 1940.
Mr Hilliam, a Northland shipwreck explorer who never goes to
the beach without his metal detector, began a search and
found the carronade.
He said it was a chance find because about four metres of
sand had been scoured off the beach by the wave action and
returned within a few days.
"It dropped four metres over two tides. If we hadn't been out
there I would never have known it was there. It was a real
Mr Hilliam said a metre or so away his metal detector also
uncovered an explosive charge used in the carronade.
The charge had a small, hollow wooden fuse which was filled
with gunpowder. The length of the fuse would dictate when the
charge exploded after the fuse had been ignited when the
carronade was fired.
Mr Hilliam said he was astonished and delighted to find the
carronade which was made at the Ruelle arms factory in
"I have read about these things but never expected to come
across one. I was delighted.''
He said it was not recognisable because of the marine
concretions which had formed over the cast iron carronade but
he knew he had found something when it registered on his
The carronade was placed in fresh water for six months so
soak the salt out before he replaced the water with sodium
hydroxide and put a small electric charge through it to
protect it from deterioration .
That treatment lasted six years until the carronade was
removed from the tank last week so a wooden frame would be
built for its museum display.
The carronade still had a ball stuck in the barrel and Mr
Hilliam said he was slowly chipping that out.
He also drilled through the wooden plug in the touch hole and
found pressurised whale oil which had been put there when the
carronade was on the ship to protect the inside of the gun.
"I thought I would drill the peg out and clean the hole out
and I got the drill in and holy hell, she was pressurised. I
Mr Hilliam said he had no idea of what ship the carronade
came from but it could have been wrecked on the notorious
west coast north of the Kaipara Harbour any time after about
The carronade was stamped with the year of its manufacture,
1821, and the numbers 117 and P1187.
Carronades were devastating short-range, smoothbore cast-iron
cannons. They were often mounted on the upper decks of
sailing ships and acted like a mortar, lobbing explosives up
to a kilometre as a powerful anti-ship and anti-crew weapon.
They were initially successful but lost their effectiveness
when long-range naval artillery led to fewer close-range