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Firearms in Gold Rush Melbourne, 1850s

Revolver - Dickson Pepperbox

Image: Revolver - Dickson Pepperbox

Source: Museum Victoria

Gold Rush Melbourne was a gun-toting town. It is impossible to determine exactly how many guns were owned and carried in the streets of Melbourne in the 1850s. But it is clear from diaries and letters written at the time that many men carried pistols for their protection.

Gold diggers coming to town would almost certainly have been carrying a pistol, to protect their gold and possessions. Business men, merchants and storekeepers considered them essential for their protection. And of course police and gold escorts carried guns. At least some middle-class and wealthier women carried a small single-shot pistol in their handbag.

Living at Emerald Hill (South Melbourne), in May 1853, William Kelly reported: 'I set out for a stroll in the neighbourhood, taking out as a bosom friend and companion a small revolver, as 'sticking up' was quite common even in the mid-day in unfrequented places.'

Fining a man heavily for firing a pistol in Little Bourke Street in 1852, a magistrate stated that he was 'determined to put an end to the prevalent practice of firing guns or pistols in the city'.

Trade in pistols was widespread and enormous. While specialist gun-smith stores sprung up in Melbourne (roughly 6-8 in the 1850s), ironmongers, blacksmiths and general stores sold guns and ammunition. One gold dealer in Collins Street displayed not only gold nuggets in his window, but also the pistols purchasers could buy to protect their gold.

But by the late 1850s, Henry Brown reported that the demand for guns had collapsed in Melbourne, as law and order gradually came to the goldfields.

References:
The Argus (20 Oct 1852).
Brown, Henry (1862). Victoria as I Found It, Newby, London.
Kelly, William (1977). Life in Victoria, or Victoria in 1853 and Victoria in 1858, Lowden Publishing, Kilmore, pp. 67-68.

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