Gunflint from Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Objects from this contributor

Gunflint from Nuku’alofa, Tonga

This small piece of flint once sparked the powder in a flintlock gun, and though probably made in England, I found it in Tonga in the south Pacific. For me it represents the 18th and 19th century expansion of European trade, culture and aggression around the world. It speaks of individuals: the English men in Norfolk or Suffolk who made the flints in their thousands, often dying young from inhaling fine dust and developing silicosis (flint is almost pure silica); the European and north American explorers, sailors, pirates, traders and whalers who sought new worlds and new lives in the Pacific; the islanders whose own worlds were overturned by the foreigners bringing new ideas, materials and diseases, and theft, slavery and war; and finally all humanity, whose origins we first see in a stone tool made with the same technology. There are records of ships reaching Tonga from Britain loaded with guns and barrels of these flints - including the Port au Prince, a French warship captured by the British and wrecked in Tonga in 1805. I found the flint on the ground in 1995, and exhibited it on the plinth in Trafalgar Square, London, in 2009! It really is a special thing for me.

Comments are closed for this object

Most of the content on A History of the World is created by the contributors, who are the museums and members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC or the British Museum. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site’s House Rules please Flag This Object.

About this object

Click a button to explore other objects in the timeline


Possibly Brandon, Norfolk


View more objects from people in Wiltshire.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.