Restored cannons take pride of place

Cannons which were once  at the back door of the Port Chalmers Maritime Museum have been promoted to the front foyer after being restored.

The cannons came from Don Juan, a Swedish-built sailing ship which worked in Port Chalmers for some years before being broken down and left to rot in Deborah Bay.

Harold Woods with one of the two Don Juan cannons he has restored for display at the Port...
Harold Woods with one of the two Don Juan cannons he has restored for display at the Port Chalmers Maritime Museum. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
The guns have been the property of the museum for many years. Retired metalworker and museum volunteer Harold Woods decided earlier this year it was high time they were restored.

It was not the easiest of jobs and required some imagination, Mr Woods said. With few images of similar guns and none of the wooden truck on which the weapons would have sat, some educated guesswork went in to the final product.

However, Mr Woods did have experience in this area. As a member of the New Zealand Antique Arms Association Otago branch, he was one of a team which in 2006 helped restore a seven-inch gun buried in 1935 at Queens Gardens, Dunedin.

"One of the cannon parts called the cascabel was broken off, so that had to be renewed," Mr Woods said.

"I didn’t know what the original trucks were like, so I had to look at other designs to create something appropriate and to scale. That took some time at the kitchen table with a big sheet of paper."

The entire restoration job took six months.

"The vessel had quite a connection and quite a history with Port Chalmers, so I wanted to do a proper job on the cannons," Mr Woods said.

Don Juan at anchor at Port Chalmers about 1875. Photo: Port Chalmers Maritime Collection
Don Juan at anchor at Port Chalmers about 1875. Photo: Port Chalmers Maritime Collection
Don Juan had a chequered history before coming to New Zealand in 1874,  local legend linking it with piracy and slavery. When the ship was broken up, leg irons and manacles were found on board, artefacts which are now in the museum collection.

In 1876, Don Juan was sold at auction to the Union Steam Ship Company, which used the hulk as a floating workshop and work sheds.

It was auctioned again in 1900,  a local fisherman being the successful bidder, and grounded in Deborah Bay.

Fragments of the wreck of Don Juan can still be seen in the bay at low tide.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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