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A cannon which may have a direct link to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army has been discovered in a river at Glen Loy, near Spean Bridge, almost 274 years to the day from when the ‘Young Pretender’ set off from France to reclaim his throne.
Paul Rigby, 56, made the find while walking his dog, having passed the very spot, only a few hundred yards from his home almost daily since moving in 14 years ago.
The three-foot nine-inch long cannon, which is strikingly similar to an 18th century French naval, two- pounder, ‘swivel gun’, could have come from the ‘Du Teillay’ which set off from France on July 16, 1745, with Prince Charles Edward Stuart aboard.
A month later, he raised his standard at Glenfinnan, marking the start of the ’45 rebellion.
In an incredible piece of historical co-incidence, on Sunday July 14, 2019, Paul spotted the cannon sticking out of the peat and gravel on the river bed when the water level fell in the warm, sunny weather.
A laboratory scientist in Fort William’s Belford Hospital, he caught a glimpse of what he thought looked like the barrel of a gun below him in a deep gully and walked further down the bank to access the river, paddling back towards the mystery object.
As a keen historian who recently spoke to the Lochaber History Society on his main topic of interest, the Vikings, Paul could not believe what he had found and the excellent condition it was in, with little sign of wear or corrosion.
He told us: ‘I was absolutely gobsmacked and completely taken aback about what was lying there.
‘I know that a cannonball was found in the area a few years ago and that metal detectorists have been searching for further historical artefacts, but there it was, an actual cannon right in front of me.’
Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard in Glenfinnan on August 17, 1745, bringing together his army of Highland clans.
It is known that small cannon were taken from the French ship for use by the Jacobites. The touchhole used to ignite the gunpowder is the only part of the weapon showing significant damage, so it is possible this was a done as deliberate act to disable it before throwing it into what in that era may well have been a deep peat bog.
With no marks of identification immediately visible on the cannon, its provenance has still to be verified, although it is known that the Jacobites, not wishing to immediately face the soldiers stationed in Fort William, did take a circuitous route from Glenfinnan heading towards Spean Bridge.
It was just a few miles from this spot that the first shots of the ’45 were fired as a small band of Jacobites attacked Government troops as they crossed ‘High Bridge’ on the route linking the garrisons of Fort Augustus and Fort William.
The narrow bridge meant that soldiers could only cross two abreast so were easily picked off by musket fire, with no reference to any cannon being used.
Paul contacted the manager of West Highland Museum in Fort William, Colleen Barker, who lives nearby and she was equally excited by the find, asking him to bring it in for further examination.
She said: ‘It is a very exciting find, especially to me as I live very close to Glen Loy. Out walking your dog and you find this!
‘It will now be reported to Treasure Trove who will decide what happens to it, although hopefully it will find its way back to our museum.’