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Rangihaeata's Cannon

by Randall Springer

This article was first published in the Journal of the Whanganui Historical Society Inc., Vol. 22, No. 2, Nov 1991, and is presented here with permission.

In the Annual Report for the Wanganui Regional Museum for 1909, the curator George Marriner wrote the following.

"We have at last, through the energies of Mr TW Downes, unravelled the mystery that has hung for so many years over the early history of the Museum Cannon. The first mention that we have of the big gun, or punui as the Maoris call it, is that Rangihaeata (nephew of the famous Rauparaha) had two punuis at Kapiti Island, no doubt procuring them in the first place from some traders or whalers. The Wanganui Maoris, hearing this, took four canoes, and, after loading them with pigs, set out for Kapiti to endeavour to obtain a cannon. They were successful in their barter, and brought away, beside the gun, a keg of powder and about 20 cannon balls. It was placed on the bank of the river just below the Awarua Stream, at Putiki, and after some delay, a venturesome man (brother of Te Mawai) decided to fire it off. What exactly happened is hard to say - whether he loaded it wrongly, or stood too near, history does not relate; but when the gun went off the back explosion through the touch-hole burnt him so badly that he was disabled for some time.

After this experiment the gun was left severely alone, but the powder was crushed and used for muskets. After many years, some persons rambling by the Awarua Creek found the old gun buried in the sand, and once again it started on its travels. After being on St John's Hill for some years, it was rolled down by some mischevous persons, and finally placed in front of the Museum in 1900. A few months ago, a man grubbing gorse near the Awarua Stream, struck something solid which turned out to be a cannon ball. I at once proceeded to the spot and dug out 15 cannon balls.

With what already has been found, this makes twenty cannon balls, which are now deposited in the Museum."

The Awarua Stream ran down the valley floor through which State Highway 3 now runs from Putiki southwards. The lower part of the stream can still be seen on the right hand side a few hundred metres along the airport road when travelling from Putiki. The museum referred to was the original building, now the Savage Club Hall, which then housed the collection started by Mr SH Drew.

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