Written by: Indiana Daily Student

The only pirate cannon ever recovered from the Caribbean has made its way to IU.

IU underwater researchers unveil 17th century Captain Kidd cannon
The centuries-old, chloride and coral-covered cannon that once belonged to the infamous Captain William Kidd was unveiled Thursday in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

 Photo by Aaron Bernstein Captain Kidd's Great Gun rests in water in the Underwater Science Conservation Lab in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
Photo by Aaron Bernstein Captain Kidd’s Great Gun rests in water in the Underwater Science Conservation Lab in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

One of 26 cannons beneath the clear waters just 70 feet off of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic, it was first examined by Archeologist and IU’s Office of Underwater Science Director Charlie Beeker and his team in 2007.

The 17th-century cannon is believed to have come from the Cara Merchant, a ship commandeered by Kidd, which he then abandoned in 1699 shortly before he was tried and hanged for piracy. The ship had been missing ever since.

“When we first looked at it, we knew that the Captain Kidd wreck was being hunted for by treasure hunters in this area,” Beeker said. “As an archeologist, it just looked like the right time period. We read through all of his testimonials from his trial, and it just seemed like it was matching. So we wrote a report to the government saying, ‘We’re going to do more research, but this could be Captain Kidd’s shipwreck.'”

With funding provided by a partnership between IU and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the cannon has been carefully transported to HPER’s underwater research lab for a five-year study.

The 300-year-old weapon will undergo a series of tests and experiments in its stay, but Beeker said the primary concern is conservation.

“It needs to be treated for over two years,” he said. “It’s currently in a bath for conservation treatment. That’s one of the missions, to get a professional group, us, to conduct conservation. We’re specialists in this area.”

The cannon is removed from its water bath so it can be boxed and shipped to Indiana University.
The cannon is removed from its water bath so it can be boxed and shipped to Indiana University.

The process is a tedious one and involves running a low-voltage negative charge through the cannon, said lab assistant Lauren Ayres.

As the water reaches a higher concentration of chloride, the water solution must be completely replaced.

“This will eventually bring out the cannon underneath all of the biological cover,” she said.

The Children’s Museum hopes to exhibit the cannon for public benefit, in an attempt to promote the maritime heritage of the Dominican Republic.

“This is the beginning of what we know is going to be a long-term relationship of bringing not only real artifacts but the whole process of how one goes about finding

shipwrecks and learning about the past and how we can bring that to children and families in Indianapolis,” said Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO of the museum.

Back in the cannon’s home waters, Beeker and his team have made the shipwreck into a permanent underwater site, keeping it safe from treasure hunters who would want to salvage it purely for wealth.

The site will be turned into “a living museum of the sea,” which would protect both the wreck and the coral reef life that surrounds it.

“Now the Cara Merchant is going to be around another 300 years,” Beeker said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”