Historical pistol secured

HISTORY: The Burke and Wills pistol recently sold at auction in Ireland was purchased by an Australian buyer.
HISTORY: The Burke and Wills pistol recently sold at auction in Ireland was purchased by an Australian buyer.

A PISTOL once owned by famed explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, who passed through Swan Hill on his fateful journey, will return to Australia to be exhibited in a local museum.

Burke's Tranter Patent percussion action five-shot revolver went up for auction on October 13 in Ireland, with a consortium of interested Australian buyers putting up a bid following the listing -- including two Swan Hill locals.

If successful, the group planned to put the item up for exhibition in a state or national museum.

Their interest arose after seeing an article in The Age about the auction of the item.

The Guardian's Rob Duffield was part of the group of interested Australian buyers, and was appointed to put in the groups offer for the item, only to be out bid by another interested Australian party.

Although a reserve of $EU600 to $EU1000 had been set, the item was sold for $EU10,000 -- an amount exceeding $AU15,000.

"I thought it would go for a lot more than $EU10,000, it's not much money for something so historically significant and so real," Mr Duffield said.

"Just about everyone who saw ((The Age article)) couldn't believe it, one of them said he nearly fell off his chair when he saw it.

"We are really happy that it has ended up in Australia."

Mr Duffield said following the closure of bidding for the item, he contacted the auction company to find out who the successful bidder was, only to discover the buyers had had similar intentions to themselves.

The pistol will return to Australia to be exhibited in the Burke Museum at Beechworth.

The auction took place at a country estate sale in Ireland, although how it ended up so far from home remains a mystery.

The gun was presented to Burke in a brace of revolvers from the Beechworth police as a "mark of their esteem and regard", according to Burke and Wills Historical Society president Dave Phoenix.

The mid-19th century pistol carries an engraving with the presentation inscription "Presented to R. O'Hara Burke Esq. Supt of Police, by the officers of the district on his transfer from Beechworth, Nov. 1858".

A history of Burke's pistol, as compiled by Burke and Wills Historical Society president Dave Phoenix.

Burke's Tranter Revolvers -- Burke was presented with two Tranter revolvers when he left Beechworth for his new appointment in Castlemaine.

[Beechworth] Constitution, 30 October 1858;

Testimonial to Superintendent Robert O'Hara Burke.

The government officials of the district have presented to this gentleman as a mark of their esteem and regard, a brace of revolvers. They are on the principle of Tranter's double trigger, are handsomely finished weapons and calculated to prove extremely serviceable should their owner unfortunately need to use them. One is a holster pistol and the other is intended to wear on the person. Both bear suitable inscriptions on silver plates covering the butt ends.

-- Morris, H. Where are Robert O'Hara Burke's pistols? Caps and Flints, vol. 1, no. 7, April 1968.

Burke left these two revolvers with Richard Nash, who took them to New Zealand.

According to Mr Phoenix: "The holster pistol was probably a 54 bore [0.442"] calibre or a 38 bore [0.5"] calibre and may have had a detachable shoulder stock, while the smaller one would have been either an 80 bore [0.38"] calibre or 54 bore [0.442"] calibre."

Argus, Thursday, November 26, 1863, pp. 4.

We find the following paragraph -- which requires some explanation -- in the Otago Telegraph of the 17th instant: It will be recollected by most of our Victorian readers that a pistol belonging to the lamented O'Hara Burke was unaccountably missing from the explorer's effects. By an extraordinary fortuity this article has found its way into the possession of Mr Branigan, the commissioner of police of Otago, and its history, as elicited in the Police-court, is as follows: Mr Nash, who is now in the interior, sold a revolver to one Joseph Jones for £18, which sum, although above its intrinsic value, was willingly paid by Jones, under the idea that as a trader in all sorts he would speedily realise a good profit by this investment in an article which formerly having belonged to the unfortunate Burke, would naturally be invested with an interest which would materially increase its value. Acting on advice, Jones left the revolver so that Mr Branigan should see it, he being a person likely to purchase it for the relatives of the deceased, or for the Victorian Exploration Society. Mr Branigan very properly impounded the weapon, until he communicated with the president of that society in Melbourne, Sir William Stawell. In reply, Mr Stawell concurred with Mr Branigan in the belief that it was unlikely Mr Burke had ever parted with a pistol presented to him by his brother officers, and he therefore refused to deliver it to Jones until the case should be decided by the resident magistrate. In the absence of Mr Nash, the magistrate had no alternative but to order the restoration of the revolver, or to give judgement for £20 -- the amount claimed by plaintiff as the highest within the power of the court to award.

Argus, Friday, December 11, 1863, pp. 5.To the Editor.Sir,

Some time since a statement appeared in a Dunedin paper that Burke's pistol had turned up and is now in the possession of Mr Branigan. A reply was made by Mr A Aitken that Burke's pistol (or rather Wills' pistol) was in the possession of the Royal Geographical Society. This information was known to all those who took an interest in the relic -- the Exploration Committee having given it to Mr Wills' father prior to his leaving this colony. They would have undoubtedly retained it, but it was satisfactorily shown that it was the private property of the young explorer. The pistol in question "Burke's pistol" I have no doubt is in Dunedin. I have some indistinct recollection of a pistol having been presented to him by a party of friends in Castlemaine and on which was placed an inscription. If so, Mr Aitken has read the paragraph in the New Zealand paper erroneously, or was not aware that another pistol was in existence. What authority Mr Nash had for disposing of it will perhaps be discovered. That gentleman was Mr Burke's Melbourne agent, it may thus come into his hands, and he may have had authority to dispose of it upon Mr Burke's death.

I remain, Sir, yours obediently,

S.E., South Brighton.

Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, January 11, 1864, pp. 2.

"The Melbourne Herald of 7th instant says the pistol which belonged to poor Burke, and which was discovered in the possession of a dealer at Dunedin, was that which was presented to the Victorian hero by his fellow-officers at Beechworth. It is now in the hands of the Exploration Committee, who intend forwarding it to the lamented explorer's family in Ireland. It is not the weapon that was found by Howitt's expedition, with the remains."

Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, January 25, 1864, pp. 3.[Paper missing corner of page]The Revolver of the Late O'Hara Burke

"…will remember that some time since a pedlar was…charged with stealing a pistol which was …late O'Hara Burke, the explorer, and which…to him by his brother officers, at Beechworth,… respect. The pedlar accounted for its possession…he had purchased it of Mr Nash, formerly…keeper in Victoria. Mr. Commissioner Brannigan…pedlar the sum of £20 for the pistol, and forwarded it …Stawell, by whom the matter was brought before…committee. The committee determined to defray…all expenses connected with the pistol, and…Major J Burke, uncle of the explorer, …the pistol should, at his death, be handed…Vere, the husband of Burke's eldest sister. It…the explorer that, in the event of his death, thi…should be presented to Colonel Burke (lately…remaining brother at the time the expedition started…of these circumstances."

Professor Neumayer forwarded the following letter to Sir W. Stawell:Montpelier-terrace, South Yarra, November 26.His Honor Sir William Stawell, Supreme Court.

Dear Sir William,

In this morning's Argus I saw something about a revolver formerly the property of Mr Burke, and a present to him by his brother officers in the Beechworth district. For those who knew Mr Burke and his principles, it is utterly needless to receive any proof that he never sold the pistol in question to Mr Nash. But for general information, and with a view to assist in recovering the same, if possible, I place the following statement concerning it in your hands: When Mr, Burke started from Swan Hill, he left the revolver in the care of Mr Forbes, a clerk of the petty sessions, who was one of the original subscribers to the present. He left it with this gentleman, with instructions to keep it until his (Mr Burke's) return from the expedition. But on my leaving the exploring party on the Darling, Mr Burke desired me to take it to Melbourne, and to hand it over to the Government storekeeper, Mr Nash, as he had many articles of his in hand, and would put the revolver along with them. Accordingly, Mr Forbes handed the weapon over to me, with the special request to recommend it to the care of the Government storekeeper. On my arrival, I delivered it to to Mr Nash, and this gentleman fully understood that he should put the pistol along with the other articles belonging to Mr Burke until the end of the expedition. This was on the 17th December 1860. Mr Forbes, who would have been in a position to give the full particulars about Mr Burke's dispositions with respect to the revolver, died a short time ago, and there is no one left familiar with the subject except myself, It is just probable that Mr Henry Foster, formerly superintendent of police at Swan Hill, and now residing at that place, might know something about the affair. Hoping that yon will succeed in recovering this memorial of Mr Burke, which he so highly valued, and apologising for having trespassed upon your valuable time.

I remain, dear Sir William, yours vary truly,