This is an original Victorian noon day cannon in excellent condition. I would love to try it out….if only we had some sunshine!
A sundial cannon or noonday gun is a device consisting of a sundial incorporating a cannon with a fuse that is lit by an overhanging lens, concentrating the rays of the sun, and causing the cannon to fire at noon, when properly oriented along a north–south axis. The cannon sizes ranged from large to small depending on the location of their use. The household variety was used in estates to signal the time for the midday meal. Larger sizes were used in European parks to signal noon.
The gun and the linear ignition groove of the fuse were aligned on a north–south axis, parallel to the one of the sundial, while the lens concentrated the sun rays on the fuse when the sun was directly above. Subsequently, the burning fuse ignited the powder placed in the barrel of the cannon. The lens was mounted on an adjustable frame, which enabled its position to be changed depending on the season. During winter, in December for example, for the small brass cannon manufactured by Rousseau of Paris, the lens had to be lowered by four inches, compared to its position in June as the position of the sun in the sky is lower in winter than during the summer.
In naval operations, the gun had to be mounted on a rotating base because its orientation had to be in the north–south direction. The directional axis of the gun was determined using the ship’s compass. In such operation, the gun was frequently referred to as the “noonday gun” because it fired at noon.This practice became obsolete when the ship chronometer was invented. The use of the sundial cannon was subsequently confined to substandard ships.
Benjamin Franklin wrote the following review about the cannons in Poor Richards Almanack:
How to make a STRIKING SUNDIAL, by which not only a Man’s own Family, but all his Neighbours for ten Miles round, may know what o’Clock it is, when the Sun shines, without seeing the dial. Note also, That the chief Expence will be the Powder, for the Cannon once bought, will, with Care, last 100 Years. Note moreover, That there will be a great Saving of Powder in cloudy Days. Kind Reader, Methinks I hear thee say, That is indeed a good Thing to know how the Time passes.