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Warship cannon restored to pride of place at Helston's RNAS Culdrose naval base

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 28, 2013

  • From top: the restored cannon at RNAS Culdrose, with Sub Lt Paul Cataffo, and Lts Nicholas Fuller, Tom Longstaff, and Allan McInnes; restoration work; a print of the sinking of HMS Anson off Loe Bar

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The cannon of a warship whose sinking offered hope out of tragedy has been restored to pride of place at a Westcountry naval base.

The 18th century gun once graced the decks of HMS Anson but in its role as sentry at RNAS Culdrose, near Helston, had started to look a little decrepit.

However that was until a group of trainee Observers on the Airborne Surveillance and Control course decided to restore it to its former glory.

Lieutenant Allan McInnes, from 849 NAS, said that at first they thought they might have bitten off more than they could chew.

"On the face of it the job looked relatively simple", he said.

"Unfortunately, on closer inspection the carriage supporting the cannon was rotting and in need of replacement to ensure the 3.5 tonne cannon was secure.

"We asked around and RNAS Culdrose shipwright's kindly offered their support and made a new carriage."

HMS Anson was a 64-gun third rate frigate launched at Plymouth in 1781 when the famously mad Kind George III was on the throne.

It was wrecked on the perilous shores around Loe Bar, near Porthleven, while attempting to return to Falmouth during a fearsome storm.

It was estimated that more than 100 sailors perished in the tragedy, however it was the treatment of the bodies washed up along the coast of Cornwall which outraged polite Georgian society.

At the time it was customary to throw the bodies of drowned seamen into mass graves without shrouds, ceremony or even tombstones.

It was not unusual for the corpses to remain unburied for long periods of time and this controversy prompted local solicitor, Thomas Grylls, to draft a new law setting out a more decent way to treat shipwreck victims.

The law was introduced to parliament by John Hearle Tremayne, MP for Cornwall, and was enacted as the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808.

A monument to the drowned sailors, and to passing of the Grylls Act, stands near the entrance to the harbour of Porthleven.

The loss of HMS Anson also brought about important safety measures for future generations when local resident Henry Trengrouse, who had witnessed the tragedy, invented a prototype breeches buoy, a cradle used to extract shipwreck survivors from ailing vessels. The device was developed and has saved thousands of lives.

In 1964 two cannons were recovered from the wreck by divers from the Naval Air Command Sub-Aqua Club.

One of the cannons can be seen at Helston Museum, along with an example of the Trengrouse breeches buoy.

The second cannon has now been restored to its position at RNAS Culdrose, thanks to the restoration project conducted by Lts Nicholas Fuller, Tom Longstaff, Allan McInnes and Sub Lt Paul Cataffo.

Lt Fuller said he hoped their contribution to naval history will see the cannon last for future generations to admire.

"I have always been interested in naval history so this project really excited me, I am very proud to have been involved in the restoration of this significant piece of Cornish history," he said.

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