When Dr. Adly Abdel-Meguid, owner of the Mt. Nevis Hotel on Nevis in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, was inspecting his beachfront restaurant after the passage of hurricanes Luis and Marilyn back in September 1995, he noticed a large dark object partially exposed in the sand. It turned out to be an old cannon which, according to some estimates, weighed more than a ton.
Now old cannon are rare, but not uncommon in the West Indies, what with thousands of armed British, French, Spanish, Dutch, et al, ships having plied the waters shot at and sunk each other for nearly 400 years. Add to that numerous ships that went to the bottom from natural causes and you have quite a few cannon here and there. But the discovery of a previously unknown cannon buried on a Nevis beach, well that’s something else. Did some unfortunate warship run aground, capsize and get covered with sand over the centuries? What flag did she fly? What was her name? Finding the answers to these and other questions could keep marine archaeologists busy for years.
According to author Robert Marx in his Shipwrecks in the Americas 1492-1825 (Bonanza Books, NY, 1983), more than 400 ships were lost to battles, hurricanes and such in the immediate waters around St. Kitts and Nevis. At the time of Meguid’s discovery, the six dive operators on the sister islands would have been hard pressed to show you more than a dozen wreck sites, and most, if not all, of them are from the last 100 years. Nevis had been the port Captain Kidd fled to when he stole his first ship. The area and surrounding waters are rich in pirate lore.
Despite being a small and relatively little-known island in the Caribbean, Nevis had played host to some impressive visitors in recent years. Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and James Michener, among others. Michener included a chapter entitled “A Wedding on Nevis” in his best-seller Caribbean, while Princess Diana’s visit was meticulously detailed in the novel “To Kill A Princess, The Diana Plot.”
That same weekend, as Meguid sought to have a local historian examine the ordinance, the big gun vanished! The usually mild-mannered Meguid was obviously distressed. The piece could have made an interesting touch on the lawn near the restaurant’s entrance.
It was a puzzlement. Meguid asked everyone he knew on the island if they had heard of anybody suddenly having a cannon. Employees at his hotel and restaurant did likewise. In less than 24 hours ‘The Missing Cannon Caper’ was the talk of Nevis. One enterprising tourist at another hotel even tried to start a pool to bet on when the cannon would be found.
But the question remained: who would have, or could have, purloined Meguid’s magnificent piece of island history? And, more puzzling than that was inasmuch as Nevis was an island, and a small one at that, what does someone do with a stolen cannon?
It didn’t take very long for the truth to out. Upon checking reports that someone with a back hoe had been on the beach near his restaurant, Meguid discovered that the local island government had claimed and taken possession of the cannon in the name of historical preservation.
The cannon, according to Robert Kelly of the St. Kitts and Nevis Department of Tourism Office in New York, will eventually be on public display in an offshore trust. So much for sitting on the lawn of the restaurant.