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Long Cecil Gun


UPDATE: 19/01/2024

19 January 1900, The Long Cecil gun, designed by American George Labram, and built in the De Beers Workshops, is tested.
19 January 1906, South Africa’s first Inter Colonial Poultry Conference in Kimberley.

(Pictured is the Long Cecil gun (with limber) and Mrs Ethel Annie Pickering who fired the first shot. Photograph of Mrs Pickering by kind permission of the McGregor Museum Kimberley who own the copyright.)


With twenty-four days of continuous work the Long Cecil gun was ready, and on January 19 1900, it was taken out for testing and ranging, a firing platform and redoubt having been built at No 2 Washing Machine, Kimberley Mine Floors, whence the Boer headquarters (the Intermediate Pumping Station of the Kimberley Water Works Company) and several of their gun positions could be commanded.


Mrs Ethel Annie Pickering

The ranging was done with the assistance of the company’s surveyors, one having a theodolite at the point of firing, while another, also with a theodolite, was stationed at a point about a mile distant, nearly at right angles to the line of fire. On firing each took observations to the spot the shell struck, and the angle of firing as shown by clinometer, time of flight, charge of powder, etc, also being observed and tabulated, the muzzle velocity was calculated, and range tables made for subsequent use, by Mr CD Lucas. The back sight was not graduated for range, the firing party preferring to use the clinometer. The enemy appeared much disturbed when the first shells burst in their headquarters; and could be seen hurrying out in all directions, not expecting that they could be reached there, and there was no reply from any gun of theirs during the ranging trial.

Mr Rhodes was present the whole time and personally fired most of the shots, being very pleased with the performance of the gun, and the artillerists working it also were well satisfied with its shooting qualities. The trials having been completed, the gun was returned to the workshops for one or two minor alterations, including a new front sight and altered attachment for elevating screw.

Cecil Rhodes had extended an invitation to Lt-Col Chamier, as the senior gunner, to fire the first round. However, the first round was fired by Mrs Ethel Annie Pickering, wife of William Pickering, the Secretary of the De Beers Company, after Chamier had turned down Rhodes’ invitation on the ground that, as a member of the Royal Regiment, he was permitted to fire only such guns as had been officially approved of by the War Office.

19 January 1900, The Long Cecil gun, designed by American George Labram, and built in the De Beers Workshops, is tested.
19 January 1906, South Africa’s first Inter Colonial Poultry Conference in Kimberley.

Dissatisfaction with the superiority of the Boer guns firing into Kimberley during the siege of 14 October 1899 to 15 February 1900, led to the manufacture of the gun named Long Cecil. After research at the Kimberley Public Library (now the Africana Research Library), coupled with the aid of drawings in technical books, George Labram, the Chief Engineer of De Beers and a United States citizen, together with Mr Edward Goffe, the Chief Draughtsman of De Beers, designed this unique gun. The gun was made at the De Beers Workshops (now Kimberley Engineering Works). The lathe that turned the barrel was in daily use until 1997 and today stands outside the workshop. The barrel was made out of a solid piece of hammered steel (a billet) ten feet long and 10½ inches wide. The gun weighs 2800 lbs and most of the tools used in manufacturing the gun were specially made.

Cecil Rhodes gave the go-ahead to make the gun on 25 December 1899, and Labram started planning in earnest from the next day. The workshops, under William Berry, began making the gun on 30 December 1899 and the finished product rolled out on 18 January 1900 in the evening having taken 24 days to make, much of the time under shellfire from the Boers. The workshop was hit twice. On the 19th and 20th proving, sighting and slight adjustments to the gun were made and on the 21st the gun started regular firing at the Boer camps. A range table was done by C Lucas and J Cornwall, the rangers being positioned at Fort Rhodes in Kenilworth.

The shells, also made in the De Beers workshops, weighed 28.1 pounds and could fire between 8 and 9 kilometres. Labram had, in fact, been making shells, fuses and charges for the British artillery in Kimberley since November 1899. The Long Cecil shells had DE BEERS in a diamond design engraved upon the base and some had “With Comps CJR” imprinted.

The first shot from Long Cecil was fired by Ethel Annie Pickering, the wife of the De Beers secretary William, and it landed in the centre of the Boer laager at the Intermediate Pump Station (now Roodepan), some 7200 metres distant. A further 15 shells were fired that first day, eight of them by Rhodes himself. 255 shells in total were fired, the majority at five kilometres, before the gun retired from active duty. After the siege, the gun was displayed at a special exhibition in Cape Town for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. It was then used in March 1902 at the funeral procession for Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town, and again at the procession at the Matopos where Rhodes was buried, and then returned to Kimberley. Ironically, George Labram was killed by a shell by the Boer 94 pounder Long Tom on 9 February 1900, one of the reasons that the Boer gun was brought into action was because of the Long Cecil. Labram’s wife was given an annuity by De Beers, and the company organized their son’s education.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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