Royal Navy: Bronze cannon stolen from Royal Armouries collection with artefacts missing from Fort Nelson
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Police were called after the nine-pound weapon dating back to 1859 was taken from a remote location, the institution said. Such artillery pieces are named for the weight of the cannonball they fired, with the stolen object being considerably heavier – 64.5ins in length.
The theft, which did not take place at any of the body’s museum venues, was revealed following a freedom of information (FOI) request by the Press Association. It’s believed the incident was a metal theft, meaning the cannon was thought to have been taken for its scrap value, rather than stolen as a “collection object” according to Royal Armouries.
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The body, which the national collection for arms and armours at Fort Nelson on Portsdown Hill Road, the Tower of London and the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, said other items are missing. They said police were called after a pair of mounted sword bayonets – valued at £500 – while on loan.
Other parts of the body’s collection were recalled as a result of the investigation. The Royal Armouries Collection said a “smoothbore cannon barrel made of bronze” a “removed by thieves from a remote location, offsite from any of the Royal Armouries’ venues”.
It added: “No monetary valuation was specified for this object. This incident was considered metal theft rather than the object being stolen for its value as a collection object.
“The Royal Armouries staff acted swiftly to escalate the incident to the Executive Board and Board of Trustees in line with our policies. The police were notified and involved, and the Royal Armouries took immediate action to investigate the incident taking remedial action, as necessary.”
The bayonets, dating back to 1837, were discovered missing by the Royal Armouries in May last year as part of a routine audit. The museum said: “A full investigation was carried out and the police were informed, but the items could not be located.
“As a result, other items on loan on display at the same location were de-installed and are now back at the museum.” The Royal Armouries has not said where any of the items were housed.
They said: “The Royal Armouries followed all process and procedures relating to the thefts, including disclosing the information to all relevant external parties. In relation to the canon which involved metal theft, there was a risk that publicising this more widely could precipitate an increase in further incidents. There were no staff members involved in either incident.”
The body also said: “In relation to the cannon theft, the police case isn’t closed but we’re not aware of any active investigation at the moment. We are not able to confirm the location as it did not take place at a Royal Armouries site.”
The institution has a more than 700-year-old history at the Tower of London and “one of the largest collections of historic arms and armour in the world”. Originally a manufacturer of weapons, it has had visitors since 1498 and later became part of the Government before becoming a public body in 1983.
The theft follows the British Museum revealing in August that an unnamed member of staff was sacked and more than 2,000 items – including gold jewellery, semi-precious stones and glass – have been stolen, missing or damaged. Around 350 of the artefacts have since been recovered, the London museum said in October as an investigation by the Metropolitan Police continues.