Gunflint from Nuku'alofa, Tonga

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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.

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Location

Possibly Brandon, Norfolk

Culture
Period
Theme
Size
H:
3.5cm
Colour
Material

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