The Sunken Cannon
Is there a cannon lying in the shallow water off Mill Island just to the south of Russell town?
Mill Island with mill, sans wings off Russell. Circa 1866-1869. Detail from Philip Walsh, 1843-1914; Illustrated London News Dated 1869. Ref: A-436-024. Note; is very similar to a drawing by Thomas Samuel Kemp, from 1866, possibly the original drawing. Ref: B-079-001
In 1858 a windmill was built on Mill Island (Motu Kaiaraara). ‘Some of Russell’s citizens formed a company to grow and mill grain’. Optimistically, ‘The site was carefully selected to prevent any invasion of rats…the main crop seems to have been oats…The little island was part of J.S. Clendon’s property and the mill was operated by Andrew Judd…the island was two or three metres higher…but when the milling scheme was mooted the top was lopped off and steps cut in the side…Grain was sown on every available slope above Kororareka and Long Beach…The yield was never enough to keep the mill working...after a few years, a storm wrenched off the sails; they were never replaced and the whole structure fell into disrepair’i George Howe Cook says that Mill Island was ‘where the mill that never worked…with the cottage like office near the northern end…when [it] first started going one of the wings gave way and it was never replaced’ii.
The ruins of the windmill were still visible in 1873. The steep sides of the island required ‘the laborious conveyance of the wheat up a long and almost perpendicular ladder and a precarious conveyance of the flour and pollard down the same…the financial blows produced by the difficult mode of conveyance no less helped to stop the clatter of the millstones’iii.
‘J. C.’, James Cowan, writes in 1927 ‘In the early days… a windmill for grinding flour from the Maori-grown wheat stood on its flat top, fifty or sixty feet above the water. On the charts the rock is called Observatory Island, a name given when the survey of this coast was made by the officers of HMS Acheron, in 1849-50. The Maori name is Kairaro. One of the ship's guns used in the defence of Kororareka against the Maoris in l845 was used as an anchor to guy down one of the stays that supported the windmill on its precarious perch’iv.
Cook also mentions the existence of a gun off Mill Island. ‘The gun that came out of the Suka Bay [Socabaya]…lies in about 8 or 10 feet of water on the eastern side of what they call Mill island – old-timers called it Judd’s Folly. Anyway it was a queer place to put a flourmill. One had to climb a 30 foot ladder to get to it, having first to pull there in a boat. It was for a boat mooring that the gun was put there’v.
The size and calibre of this gun is not known. Cook states that the Mill Island cannon came from the ‘Suka Bay’. If this gun is found and identified as similar in make and calibre to the Russell cannon, this could be circumstantial evidence that the Russell cannon also came from the Socabaya.
i Marie King. A Most Noble Anchorage. Northland Historical Publications Society Incorp. Kerikeri. NZ. p184
ii New Zealand Herald. Cook. 20 October 1934. Supplement. p1.
iii Daily Southern Cross. 22 March 1873 p3.
iv Auckland Star. J. C. (James Cowan). 24 February 1927.
v New Zealand Herald. 3 May. Cook 1928