Noon Gun

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This article is about the time gun in South Africa. For the time gun in Hong Kong, see Noonday Gun.
Seen firing on 4 September 2008
Video of the Noon Gun being fired in Cape Town, South Africa. The gun is fired at precisely 12:00 every day from Signal Hill.

The Noon Gun has been a historic time signal in Cape Town, South Africa since 1806. The gun is situated on Signal Hill, close to the centre of the city.

History[edit]

The settlement at the Cape of Good Hope was founded by the Dutch in 1652 and the signal guns were originally part of the regular artillery at the Imhoff Battery at the Castle in Cape Town. In 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars, Britain took the Cape Colony from the Dutch East India Company ((De) Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) in Dutch). The VOC transferred its territories and claims to the Batavian Republic in 1798 and ceased to exist in 1799. The British handed the Cape Colony back to the Batavian Republic in 1803. However, in 1806 the Cape was occupied again by the British after the Battle of Blaauwberg. Thereafter the British controlled the Cape continuously until it became a part of the independent Union of South Africa in 1910. Shortly after the English took over, the two Dutch guns were removed from the Imoff Battery and placed in town as signal guns. The Castle received the latest English 18 pounders. Because the very loud report of the cannons upset people nearby, the guns were eventually moved from the environs of the city itself to the somewhat more remote Lion Battery on Signal Hill at 33°54′54.6″S 18°24′41.85″E / 33.915167°S 18.4116250°E / -33.915167; 18.4116250 (Lion Battery)Coordinates: 33°54′54.6″S 18°24′41.85″E / 33.915167°S 18.4116250°E / -33.915167; 18.4116250 (Lion Battery). The first signal fired from there was on 4 August 1902.

Sailing ships were slow by modern standards and could not store fresh food for long periods, so the provisioning of vessels was one of the major commercial functions at Cape Town in those olden days. Indeed, the city was widely renowned as "The Tavern of the Seas".[1][2] There were no telephones or telegraphs before the latter half of the 19th century and the sound of the guns travelled much faster than a dispatch rider on a horse. The guns were therefore originally used to announce the arrival of a ship, perhaps requiring provisions for the next leg of its journey, to residents living in the interior.[3] The use of the guns to indicate that a ship was in port was discontinued when more modern means of communication were developed somewhat more than a hundred years ago.

Time signalling[edit]

In addition to the aforementioned signalling duties, the guns have had the task of firing a time signal since 1806. According to local tradition, the initial purpose of the gun was to allow ships in port to check the accuracy of their marine chronometers (a precision instrument used aboard ships to help calculate longitude). The gun report might be too inaccurate for ships several kilometers away if they did not correctly compensate for the relatively slow speed of sound.[4]

The invention of the more accurate time ball in 1818 soon made time guns redundant for mariners wishing to set their chronometers.[5] The time ball on Signal Hill was used to relay time from the Cape Town Observatory, whose time ball was not visible from all parts of the bay. At precisely 1:30pm Cape Mean Time,[6] the ball would be dropped at the Observatory – an observer on Signal Hill would then drop that more prominent ball too. When setting their chronometers, mariners adjusted their observation of the time ball on Signal Hill by a second to allow for the relay from the observatory.[7]

After the advent of the galvanic telegraph, it became possible to trigger a gun remotely and since 1864 the Noon Gun has been fired from the master clock of the oldest timekeeper in the country, the South African Astronomical Observatory.[8] One day in June 1895 the gun fired at 10:30 rather than 12:00 when a spider interfered with the relay used to remotely fire the gun.[9]

The original guns – 18-pounder, smoothbore muzzle-loaders – are still in use today. The ritual represents one of Cape Town's oldest living traditions. These are the oldest guns in daily use in the world. They fire every day at 12 noon sharp, except Sundays and public holidays,[8] and are maintained by the South African Navy. There have been few remarkable incidents involving the guns over the centuries. Perhaps the most notable one occurred many decades ago, in the days when horse-drawn traffic was commonplace. The rammer used to tamp the charge into the muzzle was inadvertently left in the bore of the cannon and when the gun fired the rammer flew down into the city and killed a horse. On Friday January 7, 2005, both the main gun and backup gun failed to fire owing to a technical difficulty. This was the first time in 200 years that the noon gun had not fired as scheduled.[10]

Social Media[edit]

On the 9th of April 2013 a Twitter account was created for the Noon Gun that sends a single message reading "BANG!" everyday (except Sundays and public holidays).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Morgan, Morgan, Faith Cope. The stout effort : an account of a motor journey in Africa. London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne. p. 301. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  2. ^ "2009-09-05". A WOMAN SURGEON THE LIFE AND WORK OF FOSALIE SLAUGHTER MORTON. FREDERICK A.STOKES COMPANY. 1937. pp. 358 (n379). 
  3. ^ Percy Ward Laidler (1926). A Tavern of the Ocean By Percy Ward Laidler. M. Miller, limited. p. 71. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  4. ^ William Carpenter Pendleton Muir (1906). A Treatise on Navigation and Nautical Astronomy, Including the Theory of Compass Deviations. The United States Naval Institute. p. 555. 
  5. ^ Aubin, David (2010). The Heavens on Earth: Observatories and Astronomy in Nineteenth-Century Science and Culture. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-8223-4640-1. 
  6. ^ De Horsey, Algernon (1897). "II". Africa pilot, Part III (6 ed.). p. 57. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  7. ^ William Henry Rosser, James Frederick Imray (1867). The Seaman's Guide to the Navigation of the Indian Ocean and China Sea. J. Imray & Son. pp. 275–276. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  8. ^ a b "A visit to the Noon Gun is a blast". The Cape Times & Independent Online, 7 December 2005. Retrieved 2005-12-08. 
  9. ^ "The smallest artillerist". San Francisco Call. 1895-06-20. p. 5. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  10. ^ "Noonday Gun fails for first time in 200 years". iol.co.za. January 9, 2005. 

External links[edit]