The Gold and Silver Cannons of Baroda

The Gold and Silver Cannons of Baroda by Mortimer Menpes. 1903. Watercolor. “These cannons are of solid gold and silver. They are so brilliant that on the full sun of mid-day one can scarcely bear to look at them.” Source: The Durbar, facing p. 78. Click on image to enlarge it.

“Next came the gold and silver cannons of the Gaekwar of Baroda. As they advanced with the sun full on them, one could see nothing but golden rays shooting out from a clump of fire. Here was no tinsel, no Alhambra and Empire make-believes, but solid gold and silver. Even the horns of the oxen were encased in gold, and precious golden tissue covered the sacred beasts” (p. 79)

“ONE day we went with the representative of The Times and other friends to lunch with the Gaekwar of Baroda. We were received by the Private Secretary, the Political Agent, and other officials, who took us into a large tent to sign our names in the visitors' book. It happened that just at that moment a neighbouring Maharaja had called on the Gaekwar. While waiting for our host, we looked at some of his jewels and the famous gold-and-silver cannons of Baroda. We were first taken to see the gold-and-silver ornaments of the oxen that drew the cannons. It was surprising to realise how many scores of thousands of pounds' worth of precious metal was kept in rickety old wooden boxes and guarded by an old man who seemed to be more or less of the coolie class. He had a bunch of clumsy keys, and it took him about half an hour before he could find the one to fit the lock of the box wherein these treasures lay. It did seem strange to see such priceless ornaments kept in so common a servant's bedroom chest of drawers; but thus it always is in India. One finds oneself surrounded by the most gorgeous splendour, and then suddenly comes across some- thing paltry and incongruous.

We were taken to see the gold-and-silver cannons themselves, the cannons that were to be paraded at the Durbar. There were only two of them. One was much older than the other. This one, built by a very distant ancestor, was a silver cannon supported on a brass stand. A more ambitious and more recent ancestor was determined to go farther. He therefore ordered a solid gold cannon to be constructed on a silver stand. There it was standing before us, blazing in the sun, so brilliant that it hurt one's eyes to look at it. The whole thing was all silver and gold the wheels, the body of the carriage, and the ammunition holders all of silver ; and the cannon itself, gold, solid gold. The Gaekwar has many more cannons; but these two were the only ones he brought to Delhi” (165-66).

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Menpes, Mortimer. The Durbar. Text by Dorothy Menpes. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1903. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California at Los Angeles Library. Web. 27 May 2017.

Last modified 27 May 2017