La Hitte cannons, made between 1859 and 1870, were a significant improvement to French artillery. These rifled, muzzle loading guns could fire longer and heavier projectiles, twice the weight of traditional round cannonballs, for a given bore, greatly increasing range with only a small increase in gunpowder. It is thought La Hitte guns were the first rifled cannons used on any battlefield.
This exceptional pair of bronze La Hitte cannons are of a type known as Canon de campagne de 4 La Hitte, for the ability to fire a rifled shell of 4kg (8½lbs). An original 4kg zinc studded shell is also included with these cannons. Two cannons of this type are held in the national military museum of France, Musee de l'Armee in Paris.
Both cannons bear the Arabic cypher of Khedive Ismail, or "Isma'il the Magnificent", ruler of Egypt from 1863–79. Ismail was not a sovereign leader but rather a governor under the ultimate rule of the Ottoman Empire. However, in practice he had great freedom over internal rule of the country. The cannons also bear the Arabic date 1281 which in the Gregorian calendar is 1874.
Given the dates of La Hitte production and the dates on the cannons it is likely these guns were made in France in the 1860's and later sold or gifted to Egypt. One of the cannons also bears the name "Atbara" stamped in letters of the Latin alphabet. This stamp is more faint and likely not done at the same time as the cyphers. Atbara is a city in the Sudan which was under Egyptian rule at the time which may give a clue as to how these cannons came into Egyptian hands.
Ismail's uncle and predecessor, Wali Sa'id was educated in France and was an ally of Napoleon III. In the early 1860's Sa'id sent some of his Sudanese troops to Mexico to support Napoleon's forces in the Second Franco-Mexican war. It's possible these cannons made their way home with Sa'id's forces, marked at this time with only the "Atbara", which may have been where they were taken.
Alternately, they may have come to Egypt later, directly under Ismail's rule. Though it was Sa'id and his multiple French connections which ultimately gave the Suez Canal concession to a French company, Sa'id's passing in 1863, before construction was complete, meant Ismail as new leader was required to ratify the canal agreement. He refused to do so until significant changes were made, increasing costs for the Suez Canal Company. This required Napoleon III to step in and arbitrate between Ismail and the French interests. After agreement was reached, Ismail oversaw the construction of the canal through Egyptian territory.
Ismail had also been educated in France, and as a young man, served as his uncle's envoy to several European powers. Once in power, Ismail used his involvement in the canal to reenter European society, wishing to see Egypt considered a part of the then more cosmopolitan European culture. The cannons may have been received after Ismail's visit to Paris in 1867 or when Ismail opened the Suez Canal upon its completion in 1869.
Ismail is best known for his attempts to expand Egyptian territory and see Egypt restored to the glories of its past, reforming it into a more modern and prosperous country and a significant regional power.
These cannon likely saw battle in Ismail's many expansion campaigns. It's possible the cyphers and dates were added in celebration of the 1873 decree by the Ottoman Sultan recognizing the full autonomy of Egypt from the government in Constantinople or during his drive to gain territory in Ethiopia and successful annexation of Darfur in 1874.
In later years, these cannons made their way back to Europe when they were purchased by Val Forgett, Jr. for Bapty & Company of London. Established in 1919 Bapty is a well-known supplier of historic and modern weaponry to the Film, Television and Theatre industry. One of these cannon is said to have been featured in the 1962 film "Lawrence of Arabia".
In outstanding condition, the bores and rifling on both cannons are still sharp. The cannons are mounted on later wheeled stepped carriages with metal accents. Trunnions are marked with Arabic numbers, weights and serial numbers. As shown on our website photos the numbers on the trunnions are in order- 3, 46, 230 and 226.
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