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Gun-wagon rolls sometime between 1847 -1854

The event in which the gun-wagon rolled has been passed down the generations in oral history.

When Murray Henderson asked me to locate the two cannon before he died in 2008, he told me that very few people knew that they came from the stream at the bottom of Russell’s Folly and were part of the artillery load that rolled.

We don't know the exact date of the incident. However we do know from published history that Russell's Folly was engineered after August 1846. (Kelvin Day, 1991, p10). We also know that Russell's Folly was by-passed with a new and better road formation in 1854. (Julie Bremner,1978, p31). It is logical that the incident took place between these dates.

I found no reference to the gun wagon incident in the National Library on-line newspaper archives “Papers Past” However I was aware of the incident as I had read about it in Arthur Carman’s book about the old Porirua Road. He writes:


"…as formed originally the road as it left Johnsonville northwards went along the west side of the “Hawtrey” Church and then down a steep decline …The story is told that one day a gun-wagon drawn by four horses rolled over down this incline to the stream below. The road was routed along its present course, and the old road is still known as Russell’s Folly!”

From Tawa Flat and the Old Porirua Road 1840-1982 by Arthur H Carman, p30.


Robert Meyer wrote a book about the history of Johnsonville and had this to say about the Porirua Road and the two cannon.


“Through Johnsonville it [the road] ran to the left of St John’s Church of England and down the steep pinch of Bassett Road. This pinch runs from the intersection with Clifford Road and down a grade so steep that it earned the early name of “Russell’s Folly”. As the work continued towards Porirua, the soldiers kept their weapons stacked close at hand. Much of the work was done by the Ngatiawa tribesmen too. The road eventually reached Paekakariki in 1849. A horse-drawn wagon carrying two muzzle-loading cannons could not make the steep grade up “Russell’s Folly” and it rolled into the swamp below where it remained until rescued in the 1920’s.”

From Up in the Hills, by Robert J Meyer, 1985 p17


Murray Henderson talked to me about the incident in 2007.


“When the wagon load of artillery crashed to the bottom of Russell’s Road, [Russell’s Folly] it ended up in the swamp at the bottom of the hill. There’s a road there now.

Murray Henderson, a conversation in 2007.


The next section in this article discusses the cannons at Johnsonville - Claire Bibby, Glenside.