Sometimes things are not what they seem on the surface. Indeed, Algeria was a country very advanced in its time and had the most advanced technologies in the world with a hidden empire Tartary that was predominantly Islamic but in reality there were Christians, Buddhists and a great religious tolerance. elsewhere Jews and Protestants threatened with death in Europe by the Catholic Church were able to find refuge in Turkey but also in Algeria called Barbarie by the barbarous and racist racist slavery and dishonest Rome.
It looks like a column that commemorates a great event of the past. This particular monument called The Consular is just outside the arsenal of the French Navy in Brest, France. This seems to be a monument to celebrate a French victory over the Barbary Corsairs a bombardment, an invasion and a successful seizure of the city of Algiers. But in reality, this monument is much more than that.
Recently, this monument was at the origin of a minor controversy, because it is not simply a column of the French army’s triumph over the Corsaires de Barbarie. In fact, it’s not a column at all. It’s actually – a huge cannon whose opening is turned towards the sky like a column.
The reason for the controversy is that the Algerian government would like to recover its cannon as a matter of preservation of its national heritage the return of a large artefact of historical significance to him. If we read the press articles on the subject, the French are proving a little arrogant or petty because they refuse to give up this artifact of the past.
The gun is much older than one might imagine, forged thirty years before the great allied Christian victory at Lepanto in 1571 where the Ottoman sultan and his Barbary allies were defeated in the largest naval battle in history. This turned the tide of almost unopposed Muslim domination of the Mediterranean for the preceeding several centuries. Spain and the Italian city states had stood as a bulwark against the Ottoman naval onslaught. The struggle had been long with the Ottoman Empire slowly wresting away island after island and fortress after fortress away from Christian nations and knightly orders piece by piece.
The powerful “Dey” or Sultan of Algiers, Hassan Agha, had become rich off of Christian European ships seized by his pirates and the sale of both their cargoes and thousands of enslaved Christians. Huge wealth was gained both from ransoms and/or the sale of these European crews into slavery. To show off his great power to the world Hassan Agha wanted Algiers to be the most fortified city in the world. He wanted its defenses to bristle with as many great guns as he could acquire. As the center piece in this great new defensive armament he wanted a great gun to be made for him personally which would be more powerful than any other gun yet made in the world. He turned to a master gun maker from the world famous Arsenal in Venice LINK
I have been unable to unmask the identity of this gun maker. I will keep digging. The back story to this is probably fascinating in itself. A simple gun smith might seem to be unimportant to history on the surface, but remember that the history of the world would be much different now if not for one particular Hungarian engineer/gun-smith – the famous Orban the Hungarian Orban LINK .
His invention brought down the walls “that had withstood a hundred sieges for a thousand years” – the great fortress city of Constantinople renamed Istanbul because of his guns.
Venice was known at this time to have the best gun works in the world. How would a master gun-smith be enticed into employment to the Dey of Algiers – who was considered a nefarious enemy of Christendom and the son of the great pirate lord, Barbarossa himself?
Was he approached by a secret agent of the Dey in a clandestine meeting and offered more money than he could possibly refuse? History always triggers my imagination beyond the best work that fiction can offer. I hope to someday find out what actually happened. Another historic mystery I will add to my ever growing list of inquiries.
This gun was cast in bronze and was bigger than any gun the Venetian Arsenal had ever produced. The gun barrel itself weighed 12 tons and was 7 meters (or 23 feet) long. It’s massive bore was 10 inches and it could hurl a stone or 92KG (203lbs) ball of iron round shot almost five kilometers (3 miles) – an almost unheard of range at this time.
This gun could target ships outside of the harbor long before they could bring their own artillery to bear upon the city. This unholy war machine was named Baba Merzoug in Algerian Arabic. This can’t be translated well into English. Merzoug which is a popular Algerian name has been equated with luck, but in my study of the word a better translation would be harmony, balance or equality.
So the gun’s real name would mean Father of Balance or Father of Equality – In other words THE GREAT EQUALIZER would be how the Dey wanted to have his gun thought of. Indeed, the gun was everything it was meant to be. I have not been able to find accounts of its accuracy or its war record before the unfortunate events which have branded the gun with its newer and current French name of La Consulare.
As a professional artilleryman myself (retired artillery colonel and member of the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara), with a large amount of real experience with firing obsolete and antique artillery, I would imagine that this gun was quite accurate given the incredible length of the barrel. I have never seen a gun from this period with this kind of length. It more resembles pieces from 300 years later than those of its own era.
One hundred and forty years after the guns manufacture I imagine that it had fired hundreds of rounds in anger against many opponents. Algiers and other Barbary cities like Tripoli and Tunis had been the focal point of many bombardments and punitive expeditions by numerous European navies by this time. Algiers itself was the focus of regular punitive expeditions: Spain (1567, 1775, 1783), Denmark (1770), France (1661, 1665, 1682, 1683, 1688, 1830), England (1622, 1655, 1672), Anglo-Dutch (1816) all leading naval bombardments against Algiers.
When the famous French Admiral Abraham Duquesne mounted his naval campaign against the Barbary pirates in 1681 he subsequently bombarded Algiers in 1682 and came back in 1683. This is the same Admiral Duqusne responsible for the death of the illustrious and beloved Dutch Admiral Michiel DeRuyter after the Battle of Agosta in 1676. The French navies assault upon Algiers in 1683 was massive. The artillery barrage from the large capital ships destroyed many of the guns of the fortifications as well as reigned death and destruction down upon the city itself destroying many ships, homes, mosques and even the Dey’s own palace.
The inhabitants became so enraged that they rose up and killed the Bey/”Dey” of Algiers, Baba Hassan, for not being able to protect them and not taking action against the French. The Dey’s successor (a corsair captain called Mezzomorto) decided to immediately do something about the bombardment by ordering a couple of dozen Christian hostages/slaves be brought to the walls – among those the better known and most prominent Frenchmen – to include the French Consul(La Consulare) to Algiers who in the previous attack of 1682 had gone aboard Duqesne’s flagship to negotiate a prisoner exchange.
The Consul was well known to Algerians and their leaders and had been held in the highest esteem (even among Muslims) for decades. Only two years before he had been instrumental in negotiating the payment for and release of thousands of Christian hostages/slaves. Often these negotiations would invlove a prisoner exchange as well with many captured Barbary pirates being released into Algerian custody. Numerous captains made names for themselves in these exchanges.
Just decades before, the great DeRuyter who was just a young captain (not the famous admiral we remember now) was busy aboard his own privately owned merchant warship, “The Salamander”, exchanging hundreds of prisoners and then taking the released Christian prisoners back to their homelands. In a time of rampant politically correct revisionism where I myself have been chastized for my admiration of many of the great navy and privateer captains of this time on the grounds that they were infamous slavers themselves, we find in DeRuyter – not a villain – but a hero who released slaves, There are statues and streets named after the man in other European countries besides his own because of his actions early in his career. I digress.
The French Consul to Algiers was named Father Jean La Vacher. La Vacher had been assigned to perform missionary and hospital work within the cities of the Barbary Coast. He was first assigned to Tunis in 1647 by the famous (Saint) Vincent DePaul to aid and comfort Christian slaves during a plague which had broken out there. His work and compassionate aid to both Muslims and Christians alike earned him both a reputation of being a healer, and also an intercessor and mediator. He had caught the plague himself and was expected to die – but he lived. In 1652 the Vatican named him the Vicar to Algiers and the Barbary cities.
According to common Muslim law, Christians were allowed to meet and worship. However they could not build churches or maintain the existing ruins of churches – so Vicar La Vacher would hold services in the open air and had no real church or office within Algiers (other than the prison itself) to call his own. He became instrumental to the French Conul L’Ange de Martin who La Vacher himself had healed. The Consul asked La Vacher to replace him as the French Consul upon his death but La Vacher was reluctant. With the later death of de Martin, La Vacher recommended one of the French merchants to become consul, but the Dey Baba Hassan when hearing about La Vacher’s reluctance, insisted that he become consul.
So now back in 1683 and three days into the second French attack/bombardment upon the city of Algiers on July 29th, we find a dead Baba Hassan and an empowered usurper Mezzomorto (which amusingly in Italian means Half Dead or partial death). According to the old stories/narratives of the events that come down to us, Mezzomorto labels La Vacher a traitor to Algiers and informs him that he is to be blown apart by placing him in front of the muzzle of the great cannon Baba Merzoug while its fired.
Subsequently his remains would be stuffed into the cannon and blown out onto the French ships in the harbor in its next firing. He was given a chance to live if he would simply renounce his Catholic faith, become a Muslim, and “don the turban”. La Vacher responded “Keep your turban, and let it perish with you. Know that I am a Christian, and at my age, one does not fear death. I abhor the false law of Mohammed and I recognize only the Roman, Catholic, and apostolic faith as the one true faith. I profess it, and in its defense, I am ready to shed my blood to the very last drop.”
With that rebuff, Mezzomorto responded “Let it not be said that a Muslim took this man’s life”. He offered money to a group of Jewish merchants if just one of them would take up the botefeux with smouldering match and light the touch-hole of the cannon to set it off. The Jews refused. The same was offered to the Christian prisoners who were told their lives would be spared and that they would be given a sum of money.
One French Christian prisoner took the deal and set about to do the work he was charged to. When he took up the botefoux he became paralyzed. This was seen as a miracle among the Christians and no other could be made to take up the match stick and light off the great cannon. An angry Mezzomorto then ordered one of his own men to set off the great gun. As promised, the now mangled and shredded consuls body consisting of remaining pieces and parts, arms and legs, etc, was stuffed back into the gun and blown out upon the French attackers. The next 20 French Christian prisoners followed La Vacher into death with the same grisly fate.
Death by cannon was not a new thing. In my story of the first battle between East and West in Asia at the Battle of Diu in 1509, we find the Portuguese naval commander dispatching his Muslim prisoners in the same way (LINK to Article). At the great siege of Malta in 1565 (LINK ), Jean de Valette, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta responded in the same way and ordered the Muslim prisoners beheaded and cut into pieces so they could be blown out upon their Ottoman attackers.
As I have always maintained, atrocity begets further atrocity and I don’t think Valette would have taken such action if he had not witnessed the Muslim Ottomans make a mockery of the crucifixion of Christ by crucifying dozens of Christian prisoners on the beaches in direct view of the defenders to attempt undermining their will to fight. It had the opposite effect – stoking their anger into the grisly counter reaction which occurred.
Aaron R. Shields (a.k.a. MK)