Atlantic slavery relic in Karnataka

Atlantic slavery relic in Karnataka

Another view of the 'Bacon Solid' cannon at Darya Daulat Bagh, Srirangapatna

I stood at the beach adjoining Kelele Square in Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the western side of Tanzania’s Unguja Island, popularly known as Zanzibar. It was June and I could see the small Prison Island surrounded by golden sandpits that appeared and disappeared with the tide. But the calm quickly gave way to a frown on my forehead as Robin, my tour guide explained that ‘Kelele’ in Swahili meant to yell, a sound East Africans produce by twisting their tongue either to celebrate or to mourn.

Not long ago, enslaved Africans were transported from interior Africa and brought to staging points on the mainland’s coast and also nearby islands. Kelele square was one such place where captured men, women and children were loaded onto boats to be transported to nearby ships before their long journey to faraway lands to work as forced labour. And as they were taken to these boats they would shriek or ‘Kelele’ in despair lamenting their uncertain future not knowing even if they would reach their destination alive.
Walking for a few hundred metres through the narrow we came across the king’s palace near Zanzibar port. Over a century ago, British warships fired volleys of cannon shots to bring about one of the quickest naval war victories in modern history. The reason — British had abolished the slave trade and wanted the Arab ruler of Zanzibar to do the same.

It was 2016 and three months later the same year, I was guiding a Canadian visitor through Srirangapatna’s monuments. At Daria Daulat Bagh, the summer palace of Tipu Sultan, I came across a couple of cannons having a curious GR mark engraved on their first reinforce. The 18th-century British cannons had certain words and numbers engraved on them. Among other things, these coded engravings reveal the foundry where the cannon was cast or the person who owned that foundry, apart from the weight of the cannon barrel, size of the ball it fired and the name of the king who reigned over Great Britain during its manufacture. GR, I learnt, represents Georgious Rex- King George’s name in Latin. The cannons at Srirangapatna have numbers 2 or 3 etched inside these engravings. While the number 2 stands for King George II who reigned from 1727 to 1760, number 3 represents King George III who reigned from 1760 to 1820. Apart from GR3, one cannon at the entrance of Daria Daulat Bagh also has ‘Bacon Solid’ engraved on its base ring. My curiosity in knowing this cannon’s manufacturer led me to its probable origin — 18th century Atlantic slavery which Great Britain profited from. The common thread of slavery connects Zanzibar in East Africa to this cannon in Srirangapatna.

Chris Evans in Slave Wales traces the origins, extent and benefactors of Atlantic slave trade. He throws light on the connection of the name Bacon to cannons manufactured in Great Britain’s Wales and procured by the British East India Company. This probably decodes ‘Bacon Solid’ on the above cannon in Srirangapatna.

While the first word in ‘Bacon Solid’ engraved on the cannon at Daria Daulat Bagh refers to Anthony Bacon the manufacturer, the second word, Solid, probably refers to the technique of casting the cannon as a single solid piece of iron and boring it. This method was invented during the industrial revolution in Europe and widely used in the cannons manufactured there. For safety and accuracy issues, it replaced the traditional method of casting cannon around a core and removing it, as the iron around it solidified.

Bacon died in 1786, but his cannon foundries continued to manufacture guns.