Historic 'disappearing gun' goes off with enormous bang on Auckland's North Shore

CHRIS MCKEEN/Stuff.co.nz

Historic cannon shot from North Head battery

More than 100 people crowded on to one of Auckland's volcanic cones to witness a rare and thunderous event, the firing of a massive 19th-century cannon.

For the fourth time this century the "disappearing gun", an Armstrong 8-inch cannon, perched atop Devonport's North Head Maunganuika, was fired, at just after 11am this morning.

The cannon predates World War I and was mounted on top of the cone in the late 1800s out of fear of a Russian navy attack.

The retractable cannon or saluting gun was fired at the South battery on North Head as part of the Heritage television show.
Chris McKeen/FAIRFAX NZA

The retractable cannon or saluting gun was fired at the South battery on North Head as part of the Heritage television show.

Packed with gun-powder and hooked to a remote detonator, after a 10-second count down, a single shot was blasted in a south-easterly direction over the Waitemata Harbour, which was crested with a rainbow courtesy of the morning's thunderstorm.

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Its aftershock rumbled in the chests of nearby spectators, and its explosion was heard easily from St Heliers on the other side of the harbour.

The retractable cannon or saluting gun was fired at the south battery on Devonport's North Head as part of the Heritage ...
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

The retractable cannon or saluting gun was fired at the south battery on Devonport's North Head as part of the Heritage television show.

The event was for an upcoming NZ on Air-funded documentary Heritage Rescue, which heritage expert and presenter Brigid Gallagher describes as "peeling back the layers" of Devonport's past.

Gallagher did the honours of pushing the detonator.

Despite being nervous she might "squeal" beforehand, Gallagher excitedly described the event afterwards as "picturesque".

Heritage expert and show presenter Brigid Gallagher had the honour of pushing the detonator.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Heritage expert and show presenter Brigid Gallagher had the honour of pushing the detonator.

"I just thought it was beautiful the way that smoke came out, and how was it was twirling in the air," she said.

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The cannon's historic detonator was originally built in the 1890s. After having been used in the Suez Canal project it arrived in New Zealand in the 1950s.

Whilst all went off no problems, a more modern detonator lay waiting in the background, just in case the aged equipment wasn't quite up to the task.

The battery gun was designed to retract into the ground after firing in attempts to conceal its location, hence its ...
Chris McKeen

The battery gun was designed to retract into the ground after firing in attempts to conceal its location, hence its nickname, the "Disappearing Gun".

The "disappearing gun" appeared and was loaded earlier in the morning, before the guests had arrived on the muddy hillside. 

The battery gun was designed to retract into the ground after firing in attempts to conceal its location, hence its nickname, the "disappearing gun".

According to replies to a Neighbourly post announcing the guns intended detonation, it seemed many may have arrived to see whether they were correct in their skepticism that the gun wouldn't be fired at all. 

A white cord lead from the gun powder, packed inside the barrel, to a remote detonator.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

A white cord lead from the gun powder, packed inside the barrel, to a remote detonator.

Gallagher said that, originally, the disappearing gun was supposed to be built as a part of a great defence system, but it didn't have the accuracy.

Today, not only is the gun itself rare, but the ability to shoot it as well.

"Quite nice seeing all these people show up," she said.

It is thought the first time it was fired was 130 years ago in 1887 to test it worked.

It was fired a number of times during the 20th century before falling silent.

The last time it was fired was to celebrate the All Black's Rugby World Cup win in September 2011.

"Usually it is only shot for dignitaries. Instead, now we are allowed to do it for education and research - getting people excited about history," Gallagher said.

This story has been updated with new information about how many times it has been fired, and the type of cannon it is.

 

 - Stuff

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