The Duncan Guns

The Duncan Guns are a selection of weapons currently on display at HMS Unicorn, that belonged to Admiral Adam Duncan, Dundee’s famous naval hero of the Battle of Camperdown (11 October 1797). The collection consists of two 4-pound and two 6-pound bronze cannons which were originally held at Camperdown House; the Duncan family home. After conducting some new collection-based research, we have been able to uncover fascinating insights into the cannons, revealing secrets about their origins and histories.

The two 4-pound cannons appear to be Spanish mounted cannons, cast in 1788 at the Royal Bronze Foundry in Barcelona. These are quite unique pieces, as very few weapons manufactured by this foundry are still in existence. They are two very well-preserved examples; whose engravings and manufacturer’s marks are almost intact.

Given their good state of preservation, it is possible to discover some key pieces of information about the cannons, including where the materials were sourced from, the exact date of their smelting and how much they weighed at the time of manufacture.

In the 18th century, it was the tradition in Spain to assign a name to every molten bronze weapon, with these two pieces bearing the names ‘Flonel’ and ‘Azucarero’. These two weapons were casted in the same year and share very similar measurements. We could, therefore, say that they are ‘twin’ weapons since they were cast using similar moulds.

The other two cannons in the collection are equally interesting – they are two Italian cannons manufactured in the arsenal of Venice, characterised by the engraving of the Winged Lion of San Marcos, which appears on both weapons.

The smelters’ initials on the cannon tell us that they were smelted between the 16th and 18th centuries. The differences in style between these two cannons indicate that, although they were manufactured in the same place, they were made at different times and by different artisans.

The history behind these Venetian weapons is quite an interesting one, since they bear, alongside the more usual manufacturer’s mark, what appears to be the symbol of the City of Amsterdam. This might indicate that at some point these weapons were sold to a Dutch merchant ship in the 18th century.

The quality and quantity of information we have collected through the study of these weapons is incredibly valuable and will play a crucial role in helping us understand the historical period in which this ship was built. We are currently in the process of conducting an in-depth study on the artillery on board HMS Unicorn, with the aim of ‘unveiling’ the history behind these weapons, as well as that of other pieces held in the ship’s collection.

Written and researched by Juan Manuel Martínez Jordán.