What does a £500,000 Indian Mughal Empire Cannon look like? – David Harper

14th November 2023

A highly important Mughal Indian Cannon captured at Copal Droog, 1858 This remarkable cannon is cast overall with a zig-zag design, often representative of ripples in water.  The central cannon shown on the top left of the illuminated manuscript on page 50 show a cannon with a similar ripple pattern in gilt on bronze (described as a “Vandyke pattern” by the 1908 Royal United Service Museum catalogue) with additional floral decoration towards the end of the tapering barrel.  The diameter of the bore is 2 ½ inches and is equivalent to ‘less than a 3 pounder’, ibid.  The mouth is painted in gilt with numbers H04 and accession number C.20708.  Mughal Empire, 1526-1761.

Length: 94in (239cm) max width 16in (41cm)  max. diameter approx. 10in (25.5cm)

Provenance: Captured by Major J. E. Hughes and his troops at Copal Droog, 1858

Presented by Major General Donald Macleod to the United Service Institute Museum, Whitehall,

Literature: Journal of the United Service Institute 1864: Vol. 7 appendix p. V

Official Catalogue Royal United Service Museum Whitehall, 1908, p.182, item 2689

Old and New London, 1878, vol. 3. p.325 (in the United Service Museum)

At some 3,500ft in elevation, Copal Droog had long been an important strategic site in India.  It was notoriously the site of the execution of several British army officers in 1783 during the Mysore Wars, the Indian forces at this stage being commanded by Tipu Sultan.  In May of 1819, the fort was captured by British forces after a long siege and then lost again resulting in another assault in 1858.  The United Service Museum 1908 catalogue states that the piece came from “Copiddroog”, something which has led to certain amounts of speculation about the true location of the piece when captured in 1858.  An added complication can be seen in The Families in British India Society lists which have 9 different spellings for this one place.  The 1819 siege was a protracted affair but the 1858 attack was much more straightforward from the British perspective.  The Homeward Mail newspaper reported on 19th July 1858 that the siege had taken no more than three hours of fighting with 100 of the defending forces killed, including the two leaders of the rebellion, and 150 taken prisoner.  Only 7 British troops were injured.  However, a reference in the Journal of the United Service Institute for 1864 confirms the capture at the siege of the important Copal Droog Hill located to the southwest of Bangalore on the 2nd of June 1858.

Despite the sources mentioned in our literature, attributing this military success at Copal Droog to Major General Macleod, it is clear from contemporary sources that he played little to no part in the operation. He was in charge of the “ceded districts” in India and the battle itself was conducted by a column of troops under Major J. E. Hughes.  The crushing of the rebellion led to swift promotions for both Hughes and Macleod, both of whom enjoyed long and successful careers.  Macleod was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of the Madras Army in 1862 and Hughes became Brevet-Lieutenant Colonel of the Madras Native Infantry in 1959.  

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