Execution with the Cannon: terrible capital punishment until the nineteenth century
Execution by cannon was a method of execution in which the victim was tied to the mouth of a cannon which was then fired.
The cannon has been one of the main protagonists of the war scenes for many centuries, and from the fifteenth century until the Second World War it was perhaps the decisive weapon of the outcome of most land battles.
The prisoner is generally tied to a gun with the upper part of the small of his back resting against the muzzle. When the gun is fired, his head is seen to go straight up into the air some forty or fifty feet; the arms fly off right and left, high up in the air, and fall at, perhaps, a hundred yards distance; the legs drop to the ground beneath the muzzle of the gun; and the body is literally blown away altogether, not a vestige being seen, as described by George Carter Stent (1833-1884) which served with the 14th Dragoons in India during the Mutiny, and went to China in the 1860s as a member of the guard of the new British Legation.
It was very popular and practically everywhere from Asia to Europe and its use as a method of execution was current from at least the sixteenth century until the nineteenth century, although most recently there was an exceptional use of the practice in Afghanistan in 1930, against 11 Panjshiri rebels.
The photograph below shows an Iranian convict whose name is unknow, placed with his back in front of the mouth of a cannon. The year of execution is not specified, but it is known that it was the ’90s of the nineteenth century. In a few moments the boy’s body will be disintegrated into a thousand pieces:
The spectacular and inhumane method of execution was a reported means of execution as long ago as the 16th century, by the Mughal Empire, and was used until the 20th century. The method was utilized by Portuguese colonialists in the 16th and 17th centuries, from as early as 1509 across their empire from Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) to Mozambique to Brazil.
The Mughals used the method throughout the 17th century and into the 18th, particularly against rebels.
This method of execution is most closely associated with the colonial government of the British Raj. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, it was a method the British used to execute rebels as well as for those natives found guilty of desertion.
Using the methods previously practised by the Mughals, the British began implementing blowing from guns in the latter half of the 18th century.
The destroying of the body and scattering the remains over a wide area had a particular religious function as a means of execution in the Indian subcontinent as it effectively prevented the necessary funeral rites of Muslims and Hindus. Thus, for believers the punishment was extended beyond death.
Despite the simplicity of the method, was impossible to imagine the pain of the condemned and his state of agitation before the shot, and things did not always go right. During a mass execution in 1857 near Ferozepur, India, the order was to fire a blank. Some saboteurs loaded the barrel with machine-gun ammunition. Many spectators were shot dead by bullets, while the most fortunate wounded had to have their affected limbs amputated.
When an execution with the cannon occurred, birds and dogs roamed near the square, waiting for their turn to eat the parts that were thrown everywhere. The empire that most used this method of execution was in fact the British one, of course not at home but in India, reaching the peak of condemnation by cannon shot between 1857 and 1858, when the Sepoy revolt had to be repressed.
Below, a photograph shows British officers who kill dozens of Indians tied to the cannon:
The use of less painful death sentences for the condemned man, among which it is possible to remember the French Guillotine in use until the 1970s, made this method only a terrible memory of the Victorian era.
Images from Web.