Execution by Cannon Old PhotosThe invention of the cannon in the 12th century revolutionized warfare, and soon after, this powerful weapon found a horrifying use – executions.

Cannons became instruments of torture, with condemned prisoners strapped to their muzzles and blasted to pieces.

These disturbing photographs and depictions capture a forgotten chapter in history.

The identities of these unfortunate souls, placed before the cannons with their backs to the inevitable, are lost to time.

Their names remain unknown, yet their stories serve as a stark reminder of the brutality of the past.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

Ready to be shot from the mouth of a cannon – a Persian robber awaiting his execution The gun is loaded with powder and scraps of metal and the condemned man is roped, the muzzle touching his back. Circa 1870s.

George Carter Stent described the process as follows: “The prisoner is generally tied to a gun with the upper part of the small of his back resting against the muzzle.

When the gun is fired, his head is seen to go straight up into the air some forty or fifty feet; the arms fly off right and left, high up in the air, and fall at, perhaps, a hundred yards distance.

The legs drop to the ground beneath the muzzle of the gun; and the body is literally blown away altogether, not a vestige being seen”.

Execution by Cannon Old PhotosBlowing from a gun, an ancient method of execution, traces its origins to the 16th century and persisted until the 20th century.

The Portuguese utilized this brutal practice in the 16th and 17th centuries, starting as early as 1509, across their vast empire spanning from Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) to Mozambique to Brazil.

Similarly, the Mughals employed this method throughout the 17th century and into the 18th century, especially targeting rebels.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

Execution by cannon, Shiraz, Iran. 1890s.

However, it was under the British East India Company’s rule in India that ‘blowing from a cannon’ became synonymous with harsh punishment.

In the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British extensively used this method to execute rebels and Indian sepoys accused of desertion.

Drawing from Mughal practices, the British introduced blowing from guns in the latter half of the 18th century.

It is worth noting that the destruction of the body and scattering of remains served a specific religious function within the Indian subcontinent.

This method of execution prevented the condemned from receiving proper funeral rites according to Hindu and Muslim customs. For these believers, “blowing from a gun” extended the punishment beyond death itself.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

A Persian thief waiting his end.

One frequently mentioned approach to ‘blowing from a gun’ involves securing the individual in front of the gun’s muzzle before firing.

While instances of loading the cannon with a cannonball are occasionally reported, it is more common to use a blank cartridge or grapeshot for this method.

The following description of the manner of tying up the convicted is from Afghanistan, 7 July 1839, ordered by Shuja Shah, during the campaign against Dost Mohammad Khan:

The three men were then tied with ropes to the guns, their backs against the muzzle.

The rope, fastened to one of the spokes of the wheel, passed with a knot round the arms, over the muzzle of the gun, round the other arm, and then to the spoke of the opposite wheel, which kept the body fixed.

While the most commonly reported method involves immobilizing a victim in front of a gun before firing the cannon, a case from Istanbul in 1596 alleges that the victim was actually placed into the gun and executed in that manner.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English, which depicts the execution of mutineers by blowing from a gun by the British Army.

Things did not always work out according to plan at such executions; at a mass execution at Firozpur in 1857, there was an order that blank cartridges should be used, but some loaded with grapeshot instead (grapeshot is ammunition consisting of a number of small iron balls fired together).

Several of the spectators facing the cannons were hit by the grapeshot and some had to amputate limbs as a result.

In addition, some of the soldiers had not been withdrawn properly and sustained damages by being hit by whizzing pieces of flesh and bone.

Others reported with shudders how birds of prey circled above the execution place and swooped down to catch pieces of human flesh in the air.

Others were nauseated by the dogs loitering about the place of execution and rushing to the scene to devour some of the “delicacies” spread around as a result of the execution.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

Mughal Empire and Cannon Executions

Several historians have noted that blowing people from cannons as a method of execution was an “old Mughal punishment” in the Indian subcontinent.

Just before Babur, the first Mughal emperor, began his reign, his son Humayun reportedly executed 100 Afghan prisoners by blowing them from guns on 6 March 1526, during one of his father’s many conflicts against the Lodi dynasty.

In the latter part of the 17th century, members of the Jat community in Northern India rebelled and raided against the Mughal Empire.

According to one account, Emperor Aurangzeb ordered one of their leaders to be blown from a gun.

The Sikh General Banda Singh Bahadur was ultimately defeated in 1716 by Emperor Farrukhsiyar. After Banda Singh Bahadur’s execution, his son was ordered to be “blown to bits by a cannon.”

Picture taken from the history museum of Lahore. Showing an Indian being tied for execution by cannon by the British Empire soldiers.

Picture taken from the history museum of Lahore. Showing an Indian being tied for execution by cannon by the British Empire soldiers.

While these instances involve rebels or military adversaries being executed by blowing from guns, there are also a few examples from the Mughal era of this form of execution being used for other crimes.

For instance, during the reign of Jahangir (r. 1605 – 1627), there is a story of the emperor having six mullahs blown from guns for consenting to and approving the forcible abduction and marriage of a Hindu girl to a Muslim officer.

In another ocassion, in 1714, when thieves became a significant nuisance to a marching army, a trap was set, and two thieves caught by concealed guards were later blown from guns.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

Another angle from the same museum scene.

British India and Cannon Executions

This method of execution is strongly associated with its use by the British during the suppression of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

For instance, in an 1859 report to the British House of Commons on the rebellion in the Peshawar Valley in the Punjab, 523 executions were recorded for the period of May to September 1857.

Of these, 459 individuals were shot by musketry, 20 were hanged (13 for desertion), and the remaining 44 were blown from a gun. It’s worth noting that four of these individuals were executed on charges of desertion rather than mutiny.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

A painting shows prisoners of war tied to cannons.

Official statistics from July to November for the Agra region indicate that out of 78 individuals sentenced to death, two had their sentences commuted to imprisonment, while four were blown from guns.

Similarly, in Indore, out of 393 sepoys officially punished, 32 were executed, with 21 of them being blown from guns.

There are also accounts suggesting that Indian insurgents blew British civilians from guns during the rebellion.

One particular case mentioned in multiple sources involves Mr. and Mrs. Birch, Mrs. Eckford, and Mrs. Defontaine, who were reportedly blown from guns at Fatehgarh.

Execution by Cannon Old Photos

Execution of mutineers by blowing from a gun by the British, 8 September 1857.

The Rebellion of 1857 was not the last instance of the British colonial government using blowing from a cannon as an execution method.

In 1871, for example, 65 members of the Sikh sect Namdhari were executed by the British using this method.

(Photo credit: Google Books / Wikimedia Commons / Britannica / The Guardian).