Russian Cannons

Whilst looking at an 1857 town plan I noticed 2 Russian cannons from the Crimean War at Shore Terrace next to the Fish Market. They were facing the Victoria Arch but in later plans they’re gone. Their disappearance aroused my curiosity. I wanted to know what happened to them, so I went searching for answers.

The story begins with the defeat of the Russian army and the fall of Sevastopol in September 1855. This was the final episode of the Crimean War and with the Russians gone the spoils of war were there for the taking. Among the many abandoned armaments at Sevastopol were over 300 cannons. The captured cannons were old and obsolete. To all intents and purposes they were scrap metal. Despite this, Britain shipped them home and in doing so created a problem of where to store them. In January 1857 the British government arrived at a decision – the Russian cannons had to go. Their plan was to give them away as war trophies to towns and cities across Britain and the Empire.

Fish Market Improvements - Lo Res
1869 Plans for improving Dock Street and the Fish Market (now the car park behind the Caird Hall), showing the site of Russian Guns

In May 1857 the War Office wrote to the Town Council offering them 2 cannons. They would come with no carriages so it would be up to the Town Council to provide them. In June the Town Council declined the offer. Building suitable carriages would cost £35 and that was money they didn’t want to spend. With other Town Councils happily accepting cannons without carriages, Dundee’s position looked foolish. Within a matter of days the Council recalled their refusal and made their excuses. Apparently it was all a misunderstanding. The Council thought other towns were being offered cannons with carriages except Dundee. In the eyes of the Council they were being unfairly treated. On realising that this wasn’t the case they were happy to accept the offer of the Russian guns. What a kerfuffle!

In the end the cannons gifted to Dundee came with carriages. The guns arrived in Dundee from Woolwich, London by ship on the 11th of September 1857. In the cargo hold sat two 68 pound howitzers, one weighing 72 cwt and the other 67 cwt. Their carriages each weighed in at 17 cwt. On the side of each carriage was the inscription “Captured at Sevastopol, 1855”.

The question of where to put the cannons at this point was still under debate. It took until the 17th of September to decide where to put them. In the end it was a site on the open space on the north side of the Royal Arch at the Docks. We know from a drawing by the City Architect how the Town Council displayed the guns at the Fish Market. The drawing is dated the 19th of September. You can see pencilled in revisions altering the design specifications presumably to save money.

Russian Cannons - Sevastopol 1855 lo res
Plans for the housing of the Russian Cannons at the Fish Market, 1857

On the 30th of March 1869 the Council agreed proposals to improve the Fish Market. It meant that the Russian guns had to go and a new home was needed. Their new home would be the parade square in front of the Volunteer Drill Hall in West Bell Street. No date appears in the records to say when the cannons moved location. What we do know is that preparations for moving them were in place by the 13th of September. By the 24th arrangements to start work at the Fish Market were underway. So presumably they were moved in the second half of September.

The cannons would remain in West Bell Street for 20 years. The arrival of 2 new guns at the Volunteer Drill Hall for training purposes meant the Russian guns needed rehomed. On the 16th of March 1889, they were on the move again to Magdalen Green. You can see more pictures of Magdalene Yard Road with the cannons in full view on Photopolis.

Russian Cannons at Magdalen Yard

This time they only lasted 10 years. During 1899 Magdalen Green underwent landscaping improvements. The site of the Russian cannons came up for discussion at a committee meeting on the 12th of December 1899. The proposals were to plant trees and shrubs and fence them off with metal railings. The preferred option was to move the Russian cannons out of the way and move them to Dudhope Park. The Recreation & Cemeteries Committee agreed to the move. The children’s playground at Dudhope Park would be their home for the next 40 years.

The Russian cannons may have survived the Crimean War but they didn’t survive World War 2. On the 1st of August 1940, as part of the nation’s scrap metal drive, they went for scrap. A dealer offered £16 for them (which is about £830 in today’s money). The Parks Committee agreed on the 19th of August to donate the £16 to the Women’s Voluntary Service.

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