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Firearms in Gold Rush Victoria, 1850s

Revolver - Dougall

Image: Revolver - Dougall

Source: Museum Victoria

British and American gun manufacturers sold large numbers of muskets and pistols to Victoria, either to immigrants bringing them in as part of their personal possessions, or to importers who supplied the trade in Melbourne and the rural areas.

The Britsh gun manufacturers referred to the early 1850s as the 'Australian years', because of the large number sold to the goldfields. For those who could afford them, the favoured pistol was the machine-produced revolvers of American Samuel Colt, due to the interchangeability of parts and comparative ease of repair.

It seemed everyone carried a weapon on the goldfields. Many pistols were carried as a deterrent to would be thieves or bushrangers, rather than ever used in anger.

William Kelly (1813-72) arrived in Melbourne in April 1853 to experience the gold-rush. He had previously worked on the Californian diggings in 1849-50, and published an account of his experiences back in London. In 1857 Kelly departed for England, and published an account of his Victorian years in London in 1859.

On the road to Ballarat in 1853, Kelly described what must have been a common kit for those travelling to the goldfields, carrying 'only a pair of socks, a revolver, and a shillelagh [walking-stick]; even my watch I left in charge of a friend who could not claim any affinity'. He was glad of the protection offered by being armed. Upon realising that he was being shadowed for part of the journey, he promptly took his 'revolver from my breast-pocket and carried it in my hand at full cock'.

The police and resident Imperial Army in Victoria had to keep up with the arms race. Local gun retailers in Melbourne became the conduit for the major purchases of guns by the police and military; some even won contracts to adapt existing guns with the latest international technical innovations, such as breech-loading catridges.

References:
Kelly, William (1977). Life in Victoria, or Victoria in 1853 and Victoria in 1858, Lowden Publishing, Kilmore.

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