When the Crimean War started in 1853
it was just another of the countless wars of empire waged by European
nations in their constant maneuvering for power, influence and glory.
It was a war in which "the angel of the lamp" Florence Nightingale
became famous. It was a war that produced the "balaklava" hat which
helped British soldiers endure the harsh Russian winter of 1854-55.
It was a war of military ineptitude and senseless slaughter
immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Charge of the Light Brigade".
It was also a war with significant local economic impact.
Unlike the Imperial wars, there
were no local men among the British forces fighting in Russia but
the war raised the prices of produce in Canada to an unusually
high level. An observer of the local scene reported that in the
Galt area "farmers became wealthy; property went up in value;
building lots, on back streets, sold at fabulous prices; new
enterprises, both public and private, were freely entered into,
and the people generally were seized with a spirit of enterprise,
progress and it must be added, of extravagance, which subsequent
events did not justify".
The war ended in 1856 a few months
after the Russians were forced to evacuate the city of Sevastopol
which had been under siege by the forces of Britain, France and
Ottoman Turkey for a year. The Russians destroyed the fort at
Sevastopol before they evacuated but apparently not all of the
city's cannons were destroyed and a number fell into British hands.
These were shipped to England where they remained for a number of
years until it was decided to distribute them to municipalities
throughout the Canadian colonies.
Galt, as a strong supporter of the
Empire and as the largest municipality in Waterloo County, was
chosen to receive one of the "Russian guns". In November 1864
Galt Council received a letter from the Governor-General Viscount
Monck "ordering that one of the Crimean Guns be presented to the
Town of Galt".
Such a gift, of course,
could not be refused and Council was grateful when the manager of the
Great Western Railway offered to transport the 24 pound cannon with a
six inch bore from Hamilton wharf to Galt free of charge. The
cannon was not long arriving and the local press announced on
December 2, 1864 that the "Russian gun has been removed from the
railway station and now stands awaiting its carriage in the
centre of Queen's Square. It attracts considerable attention".
It is not clear what part, if any,
the "Russian gun" played in the Victoria Day celebrations of 1865
but plans for the 1866 celebrations to mark Queen Victoria's 47th
birthday called for quoits, boat races, horse races, an Art
Exhibition sponsored by the Mechanics Institute and, at 12
o'clock "a Royal Salute of 21 guns will be fire from the
According to a contemporary
account of Victoria Day, May 24, 1866 "dawned must auspiciously.
The weather was delightful and everything betokened a day of
amusement such as Galt never before witnessed". The Town bells
began pealing at 6:00 a.m. and soon people were gathering for
the day's activities. Quoits began at 9:00 a.m. and the boat
and horse races went off well.
As noon approached final
preparations were made for the firing of the cannon which
had been moved from Queen's Square to the Cricket Ground "near
the face of the hill overlooking the dam". The firing of
the cannon had been delegated by the Gun Committee to Mr.
William Boge who had served for several years as an infantry
soldier in the British Army. He lacked direct experience in
the use of field artillery but felt himself to be fully
acquainted with artillery practice and had convinced the
authorities that he had sufficient knowledge to manage to
the cannon properly.
Mr. Boge was assisted by Mr.
James Armstrong, who attended to the ramming of the muzzle
loading the gun, and by Mr. David Galletly who was working
the vent of the gun. Three rounds had been safely fired when
the powder for the fourth round was placed in the muzzle.
Next came the wadding, which consisted of sod, with Mr. Boge
and Mr. Armstrong ramming it home. Suddenly and unexpectedly
a fearful roar rent the holiday air as the powder exploded
prematurely. Perhaps the report of the contemporary press
best expresses the shock and horror which descended upon the
spectators as the smoke cleared. "The body of Boge had been
driven about seven yards to the front and a little to the
right. Armstrong's body was blown about the same distance
to the left side close up to the fence. Both were rightfully
disfigured, The upper portions of the bodies were entirely
denuded of clothing and blackened an charred almost out of
human resemblance. From Mr. Boge's body one arm had been
blown off at the elbow and the other hand was missing.
Armstrong's right arm was torn out at the shoulder blade
and the left hand was also gone".
Mr. Galletly who had been
attending to his duties at the vent when the accident occurred
had his thumb badly lacerated and his hand burned. The only
other injuries were to two boys who had been watching the
firing of the gun. One unnamed boy suffered a slightly
scratched cheek from the flying splinter. Another boy,
John Lapraik, 7 years of age, received an ugly cut on the
cheek when he was struck by a small piece of ramrod. His
wound was speedily treated and soon healed.
Immediately following the
accident the bodies of Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Boge were
taken to the old school house on Dickson Street where an
inquest was held at the direction of coroner, Dr. Phillips.
Several witnesses were called, including David Galletly but
none were able to give a satisfactory explanation of the
direct cause of the premature firing of the gun. It was
speculated however, that the firing was too rapid and that
the cannon muzzle had not been adequately sponged after the
third round was fired. It was though that burning embers
remained in the cannon and had ignited the powder charge
too soon. The jury ruled "that said William Boge and
James Armstrong came to their deaths through accident
caused by inexperience of the parties to whom the firing
of the 24 pound gun was entrusted."
The games that had been
scheduled for the afternoon were canceled as the Town's
joy turned to sorrow and Galt prepared to bury its two
sons. The coroner ordered that the bodies by buried
without undue delay so the funeral was held at 8:00 p.m.
that same evening at the old School House. Both
deceased men had been members of the Galt Fire Brigade
which turned out in force to honour their fallen comrades.
The bodies were placed on Fire Engine No. 1 and, after a
short service conducted by the Rev. Mr. Campbell, were
taken for burial to St. Andrew's Cemetery.
William Boge was 27 years
old when he was killed, a native of Roxboroughshire,
Scotland. He and his wife had immigrated to Canada two
years previously and for some time he had worked for
Turnbull and Deans, the predecessor of Charles Turnbull
Co. Ltd. Mrs. Boge was a well known local vocalist and
a women of frail health. She was in the crowd watching
the cannon and witnessed the accident. The shock was
such that she fainted "and it was only by the most
unremitting attention that she was brought out of the
heavy swoons that rapidly succeeded one another".
She was taken home and remained in serious condition.
For some time it was feared that she might not survive
but eventually she came around and "strong hopes"
were held for her full recovery.
James Armstrong had
been born in Havick in Scotland and was about 32 years
of age. He was not married, had lived in Canada for
about nine years and was employed as a wool sorter in
the Robinson and Howell Woollen Mill. Both men were
described as "steady and industrious and much respected
by their acquaintances."
For some time the accident
scene was avoided by the Town's people and a full week after
the accident "the old cannon still stood on the brow of the
hill as no one made any effort to move it to its old
resting place in Queen's Square. It was almost as it the
horror of the accident continued to hang over the cannon
and few seemed willing to approach it. The gun was
eventually returned to its resting place in Queen's
Square but thereafter suffered a certain amount of
neglect. In 1885 it was reported that the old cannon
was "resting close to the sod" as the carriage upon
which it rested was rotting away. It is thought that
the gun rested on another wooden frame until May 1910
when the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire
had the cannon remounted on a cement base. In the base was
embedded the plaque:
"Taken by the British at Sevastopal
September 10, 1855.
Given by Great Britain to Canada and
brought to Galt."
At about the same time the
Defense Department is reported to have given the various
municipalities which possessed cannons some 60 cannon balls.
These were stacked in six pyramids of 10 cannon balls each
which flanked the cannon. The cannon balls were removed
in the years following World War II because it was feared
that the local children who insisted on playing with
them might be hurt.
The cannon itself was not threatened
with removal along with the cannon balls but this had not been
the case a few years earlier when in 1942 the Galt City Council
received a letter from the Department of Munitions and Supply
requesting that "every available piece of scrap metal" to be
salvaged and made available to the Department in an effort to
keep war industries operating at peak production. The letter
specifically requested the donation of the 105mm. gun, a relic
of World War I, which had been positioned on the front lawn of
the Galt Soldiers Memorial Home since the end of the war.
Also requested were any war "trophies you may have stationed
in your parks, square or public places". In an editorial
reporting the request, the local newspaper concluded that
"the bronze veteran of Crimean days -- is now to go into the
fray for the Russians once more, but this time also for the
Apparently Galt's Council
did not believe that the federal government's request
included the "Queen's Square relic" for they agreed to make
available only "the guns at the Memorial Home and in Soper
Park" as well as the City's old Sawyer-Massey road roller.
Although another order of the City Council required that
"all war relics owned by the City of Galt, be turned over
to the Department of Munitions and Supply", the Crimean
cannon was not included in the shipment.
It has been suggested that
the "Russian gun" was not sent because of strong local
sentiment attached to the gun. It seems unlikely,
however, that mere "local sentiment" could win out
over the call for an "All Out" war effort that had
resulted in the rationing of gasoline and sugar and
in the regular salvage collections which were gathering
copper wire, piping and tubing, roofing, boiler bottoms,
brass valves, aluminum wire and cables and even type
writer ribbon spools and the metal ends on light bulbs
for the war effort. At a time when housewives who hoarded
sugar were thought unpatriotic, it can not be doubted that
similar condemnation would fall upon a Council that refused
to transfer an old cannon merely for sentimental reasons.
It can be concluded that
Council assumed that since the letter from the Department of
Munitions and Supply mentioned war trophies of World War I
vintage, only those trophies, and not the older ones like
the Crimean War cannon were needed.
Whatever the reason, the
"Russian gun" escaped the scrap pile and remains in Queen's
Square, a witness of Cambridge's history and a gun with
something of a history of its own.