THE CANNONS IN RICHMOND PARK
Myth sometimes becomes reality. One such example is the case of the cannons in Richmond Park. The existence of the cannons had never been in doubt as many long term Hawkesbury residents recalled having played on them as children. What was hotly debated was the issue of what had happened to them and why it had occurred. This is how it was reported:
SEARCH FOR CANNONS A SHOT IN THE DARK
An attempt to find the missing cannons in Richmond Park, which have been causing headaches for local historians over recent years, failed on Thursday.
Seven RAAF members from No 1 Central Ammunition Depot at Kingswood equipped with powerful Forsters metal detectors converged on the park at about 8am. Despite the detectors capabilities of being able to find unexploded bombs to a depth of six metres, the cannons avoided detection. The RAAF personnel combed the park area for about three hours finding nothing more than pipes, wires and a large piece of iron.
Mr. Alex Hendrikson, of the Windsor Businessmen's Association who along with other members of the organisation is keen to have the cannons found and restored, said the association would continue its search for the cannons which began about ten years ago. Mr. Hendrikson said he first heard about the cannons at a Parramatta auction in 1975.
"Mr. Gerald Terry, of Rouse Hill House said he could remember two eight foot barrell mussle (sic) loading cannons being buried beneath the Richmond Park pavillion (sic)".
"He claimed a slab of concrete was put on top of them", Mr. Hendrikson said.
"Since then we have received about 12 approaches from different people who know of the cannons existence."
"The only problem is everyone seems to have a different location to where they were buried."
Mr. Hendrikson said there were several reasons why the cannons were buried. "One was because the undercarriages were rotten and had fallen to bits and the easiest way of disposing of them was to bury them on site because of their weight."
The exact location of their burial has become a problem. "Everyone has a different location," Mr. Hendrikson said.
"Our aim is to have the cannons found and restored. According to information received it would not be a major task to restore the cannons and have new carriages built."
Mr. Hendrikson described the search for the cannons as "frustrating". "We are so close yet so far away it seems ", he said.
"One day we hope they will be found and restored and resited. We will keep pursuing it until we find them", Mr. Hendrikson said.
Two Richmond residents have come forward in recent days with information about the missing cannons.
Mr. Ron Sullivan remembers the cannons in Richmond Park from as early as 1904. As a child he often played on the cannons. Mr. Sullivan left the area in1912 and did not return until 1921; the cannons having been buried in that period. He remembers the cannons as being 6-7 feet long and mounted on two wheels.
"The wheels were wooden but had metal rims around them", he said.
"The wooden spokes on the wheels were deteriorating even in 1904."
Mr. Sullivan said that the rear end of the cannons was about 15 inches in diameter, whilst the muzzle was 12 inches in diameter. The rear end of the cannon carried shafts about six feet long, which Mr. Sullivan believes were used in conjunction with horses for transport.
Mr. George Dell of Pitt Street has also come forward with information about the cannons. He recalled one cannon about eight feet long in the Richmond Park when he was a schoolboy between 1919 and 1923, and believes he can still indicate where it was buried.
Both men have been contacted by Dr. Stubbs with a view to assisting in the cannon search.
(Hawkesbury Courier - 21st February, 1985).
TWO CANNONS FOUND
Two 19th century cannon, buried on Richmond Oval for more than 60 years, were excavated yesterday They were found in a search on Sunday with equipment owned by an amateur prospector and unearthed by council equipment yesterday morning. Preliminary examinations indicate the cannons are 120 to 180 years old, possibly of Crimean War vintage and of the type issued to many parts of the colony when fears were held of a Russian invasion. The cannons are believed to have been buried about 60 years ago.
Cr. Rex Stubbs, who with Mr. Alex Hendrikson has been coordinating the search, made arrangements with Hawkesbury Shire Council for excavation of the cannon, found a metre inside the oval boundary fence fronting the grandstand.
The search also revealed signs of a third cannon near the Richmond memorial but this was found to be an old water pipe. Sunday's discovery ends a number of unsuccessful searches over the past twelve months for the site of the buried cannons, as reported by a number of long-time residents.
Mr. Henry Gascoigne, 77, of March Street, Richmond, showed Sunday's search party the likely site of the two cannons in front of the grandstand. Their presence was confirmed by metal detectors owned by Mr. Eric Ridgeway, of Wilberforce, an amateur gold prospector who read about the cannon search in last week's Hawkesbury Gazette and offered his services to the search leaders.
The Gazette reported that a search on February 7 by RAAF personnel using detectors had failed to find signs of the cannon around Richmond Oval.
South African-born Mr. Gascoigne recalled several cannons of the muzzle-loading type near the grandstand when he attended Richmond School from 1913 onwards.
"Children used to sit on and play around the guns", he said.
He believes the wooden gun mountings rotted to the stage where they became a hazard to the pupils of the nearby school who used the grandstand surrounds as a playground.
"Brass fittings were taken off the guns and taken to the Richmond council offices, but I have been unable to trace them", Mr. Gascoigne said.
He could not recall the guns being buried but had been told of the spot where holes had been dug and the guns tipped into them when they became a danger to children.
He believes the cannon were buried where they stood because of their weight and lack of machines to move them elsewhere. Mr. Gascoigne took the search party to the spot pointed out to him several years ago as the burial site of the cannons. Within minutes Mr. Ridgeway had readings on his equipment, indicating a metal object three metres long and a metre wide buried less than a metre down on one site.
Mr. Hendrikson, using a rope, traced the outline of a cannon, dictated by the metal detector. A similar exercise produced the outline of another cannon near the oval gate.
"Mr. Gascoigne was fairly accurate in pointing out their sites", Mr. Ridgeway said.
(Hawkesbury Gazette - 27th February, 1985.)
HISTORY OF THE CANNONS
The two cannons were manufactured by the Lawmoor Arms Founders, Bradford, Yorkshire, England in 1855.
Service numbers were 6361 and 6482.
The two cannons were sent from Sydney in 1884 to form the Bulli Artillery (Half Company) under Captain McCabe in response to the Russian invasion scare.
The guns were retired from active service in the mid-1890's and positioned in front of the Married Quarters at Signal Hill, Wollongong, until c1901.
The cannons are 32 pounders (six and a half inch) smooth bore muzzle loading. The three metre long barrel weigh 2500 Kg. Their range is 2900 yards, and they fire a variety of ball-shot.
It is believed the cannons were transferred to Richmond Park in late 1904 or early 1905. Records of the Richmond Borough Council meeting of 16th February, 1905, indicate that the cannons were in the park. The Mayor, Ald. T.J. Griffiths, presented a costing to the Council Meeting of 2nd March, 1905.
The Mayor, Ald. T.J. Griffiths, presented a costing to the Council Meeting of 2nd March, 1905.
L. s. d.
Railway freight for gun carriage from Darling Harbour
Railway freight on two cannon from Wollongong to Richmond
Cartage on gun carriage
Cartage on carriages (Wollongong)
Cartage from railway station to park
Balance in hand
Total amount collected
The Windsor and Richmond Gazette of 11th March, 1905, reports:
The Mayor stated that there was one thing to be done now they had the cannons in their places, and that was to put sleepers under the wheels, to prevent them slipping into the earth. He would suggest putting two sleepers under each wheel.
Ald. Ausburn: Seeing there is a surplus, I would like to have the late Ald. Cobcroft's inscription put on the cannon.
The mayor said it was understood from the fund that if there was anything over and above the cost of the cannon that something in the direction of Ald. Ausburn's suggestion could be done. He could get a little more money. One or two gentlemen had told him if he hadn't enough they would willingly give a little more - in fact he (the speaker) would give another 10/6 towards it.
The Council minutes of 2nd March, 1905, record:
Moved by Ald. Ausburn Sec. Ald. Mitchell and carried
that the thanks of the Council are due to the Mayor for his services in collecting the money and supervising the placing of the cannon in Richmond Park.
that matters be left in the Mayor's hands to carry out the wishes of subscribers re the expenditure of the balance of L. 1.15.0.
Alderman George Cobcroft was proprietor of the Commercial Hotel, Richmond, and Mayor of the town at the time of his death on 17th December, 1904, at the age of 48. (See obituary Windsor and Richmond Gazette - 24th December, 1904).
When excavated in 1985, a beer bottle dated 1927 was found in the barrel of the southern-most cannon and a 1935 penny alongside the northern-most cannon.
There is a tradition that the cannons were buried after the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour on 31st May, 1942. However, as the cannons were quite superficial when excavated, it is more likely that the explanation given by Mr. Henry Gascoigne is correct.
Historic photographs also show a cannon in the vicinity of the Memorial. The minutes of Richmond Council for 29th July, 1933 report: Ald. Caton moved that the two war trophies be handed to the militia unit at Richmond, seconded by Ald. Farlow and carried.
The minutes of the Council meeting of 12th March, 1942, report:
The Mayor reported verbally that he had caused Road Director Signs to be taken down and had returned the War Trophy Howitzer to Victoria Barracks for use by the military authorities.
This undoubtedly refers to the World War One German Howitzer trophy near the Railway Station.
After excavation the cannons were taken to the R.A.A.F. Base, Richmond, where they were expertly restored by the No. 2 Aircraft Depot Armament Section. The wheels and carriages were completely replaced. Only the barrels survived the fifty years underground.
The cannons were handed over to Hawkesbury Shire Council President, Cr. John Horrex, in December, 1988. They have since been returned to Richmond Park.
OLD CANNONS RESTORED
Two fully restored 19th century cannons were presented to the Hawkesbury Shire Council last Tuesday by members of the No. 2 Aircraft Depot at Richmond RAAF Base.
The cannons were presented to the Hawkesbury Shire President, Councillor John Horrex by the Commander of the Richmond Air Base, Air Commodore John Mitchell.
Cr. Horrex praised the RAAF members responsible for the restoration and said the cannons would probably be placed in Richmond Park.
Flight Lt. Francisci, who was in charge of the project, said a lot of effort went into the restoration of the cannons.
The project started in January this year, utilising the skills of RAAF blacksmiths and carpenters.
A sketch drawing of the original cannons was closely followed in order to achieve authenticity.
Although the wheels and body of the cannons were recreated, the barrels were the original ones from 1855 which were dug up in Richmond Park in 1985.
The 32 pound, smooth bore, muzzle loading cannons were initially used for coastal defence at Wollongong.
In 1924, they were considered unsuitable for such a role. Councils applied to mount them in local parks and Hawkesbury Council was successful in its application.
A fear of an invasion by the Japanese in 1939 led to all potentially 'fireable' cannons being rendered unusable.
Most were burnt or destroyed but the size of the cannons in Richmond Park, which weighed 3 tons each, made this impossible. Instead they were buried.
Members of No 2 Aircraft Depot believe it was worth the effort put into their restoration and claim the cannons are now "priceless".
(Hawkesbury Courier - 22nd December, 1988.)
Note: The cannons arrived in Richmond Park probably in late 1904, rather than 1924. They were provided to Richmond Borough Council, which was subsequently amalgamated with Windsor Borough Council in 1949 to form Windsor Municipality - further amalgamation with Colo Shire Council resulted in the formation of Hawkesbury Shire Council , which in 1991 became Hawkesbury City Council.
Japan entered World War Two on 7th December, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
RESTORED CANNONS TO BE HOUSED IN STYLE
The two historic and somewhat mysterious 2500 kg coastal defence cannons literally unearthed from enforced obscurity at Richmond Park in 1985 will soon become the centrepiece of Hawkesbury's latest tourist attraction.
Hawkesbury City Council has just released sketch plans prepared by architect Alex O'Grady of what will hopefully be a vandal-proof cannon house to accommodate the two weighty relics from the bygone era of powder and shot.
According to the council's senior strategic planner Alice Branjes, the proposed building will comprise an aluminium frame with a steel roof and will have a recessed brick paved area with clear perspex-type walls so the cannons will be able to be viewed but not touched.
Town clerk Garry McCully said the exact site and the final plans had yet to be decided as the project has first to be approved in principle by the Heritage Council because Richmond Park is the subject of a permanent conservation order....
(Hawkesbury Gazette - 18th October, 1989)
RICHMOND CANNONS LAID TO REST
Providing their is no war in Australia for the next century, Richmond's historic cannons should remain were they were placed last week - above ground at Richmond Park facing the railway station.
And if there is a war- and the locals become nervous that the enemy may use the guns on Hawkesbury residents, as they did before the Second World War - let's hope somebody has the foresight to note where the cannons were buried so there is no repeat performance of searching for the old relics.
The cannons were reportedly discovered in Richmond Park in 1985 by Eric Ridgeway, Ald Rex Stubbs and Alex Hendrikson, after a lengthy search by the Richmond RAAF.
The unsung hero at the time, Henry Gascgoine(sic), apparently pointed out the location of the cannons to the three keen prospectors, because he remembered playing on them in 1913.
The two cannons, which date back to the Boer War, were buried in Richmond Park when it appeared that the Japanese were going to land on Australian soil.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending if you enjoy a mystery, everyone either forgot about where the cannons were buried, or else forgot about burying them in the first place.
Several calls for expression of interest from people willing to subsidise the housing of the cannons, moves to have the cannons located from places as diverse as the Richmond RAAF base, the Windsor library, McQuade Park, and the Powerhouse Museum, all fell by the wayside as the current team of Hawkesbury City Council aldermen took up office.
Suggestions of housing the cannons in a glass box, somehow incorporating a coin operated machine so people could learn their history, and spraying them with "super" spray to protect them from the graffiti artists' spray can were discarded without so much as a whimper.
Pleas by the Hawkesbury Historical Society to place the cannons in Richmond Park were at long last answered.
And just as Henry Gascgoine and other children of the early 1900s played on the cannons in a past era, the historic guns are ready to be enjoyed by another generation of Hawkesbury residents and tourists.
(Hawkesbury Gazette - 11th December, 1991)