Spotlight: Thunderbolt’s Popgun; Jewboy’s Shooter

Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder (NSW : 1913 – 1954), Thursday 24 December 1925, page 9


THUNDERBOLT’S POPGUN

JEWBOY’S SHOOTER

(NOTES BY JAS. R. SCOTT).

A very fine collection of firearms and other relics of the bushranglng and pioneering days has been got together by ex-Councillor Scott, of Cessnock. The collection consists of upwards of one hundred pieces, just a few of which are illustrated and described in the notes herewith. The collection is rich in military arms, by which the evolution of the British Service Rifle can be traced through the period of three centuries. A description of these will form the subject of another paper. —Editor.

“The Eagle” of 18/12/1925 contains an interesting article on certain phases of the Bad Old Days, from the pen of Mr. R. McNamara, of Mount View. Incidentally, he invites me to tell the story of my acquisition of Thunderbolt’s popgun. Also, of other relics. Very well. Listen!

No. 1.

No. 1 — The first weapon in the picture is a flint lock horse-pistol of English manufacture. Single barrel; smooth bore; 16 calibre. Length of barrel, 9½ inches; length over all, 20 inches, weight 4lbs. The principle of the weapon is this: The charge of coarse powder is rammed home (as in ordinary muzzle loading guns; then the wad (generally paper): next the bullet (just about the size of a bottle-oh” marble: and lastly the second wad or paper. That is the “loading” operation. To “prime” the weapon (to prepare it for firing), a small quantity of finer powder is placed in the “pan,” to connect through a vent or touch-hole in the breech with the powder-charge within the barrel. The “anvil” — the piece projecting in front of the hammer — is then closed over the pan. The hammer is a vyce, gripping a piece of flint. When the trigger is pressed this flint is forced into contact with the anvil, which it causes to rise upon a spring, exposing the “priming” — the fine powder. Simultaneously a shower of sparks is emitted from the flint in its semi-circular frictional contact with the anvil. These sparks ignite the priming, which in turn (bar accidents) ignites the charge. It sometimes happens that the ignited priming fails to connect through the vent. (Hence our saying — “A flash in the pan” — a harmless fiasco. Similarly, another saying, “Keep your powder dry” — has its origin in the flint-lock. And who has not heard of one person “priming” another?) In the event of a mis-fire, the weapon could be used as a club; and for this purpose the stock is heavily bound in brass. The flint-lock pistol dates from 1776.

No. 2.

No. 2. — The second weapon illustrated is a percussion-lock horse-pistol of Danish manufacture; Single-barrel. Smooth-bore; 18 calibre. Length of barrel, 9 inches; length overall, 19 inches; weight 3lbs. The butt is steel-shod, so that the weapon, upon mis-firing, or after discharge, may be reversed and used as a club. The bullet-mould (bottom left of picture) accompanies this weapon. The calibre is inscribed in Roman numerals (XVIII). The percussion principle (nipple and cap) dates from 1830.

THUNDERBOLT’S REVOLVER

No. 3.

No. 3. — The third arm is a six-chambered muzzle-loading revolver, of English manufacture (Joseph Bourke: London and Birmingham). The calibre is equivalent to that known in modern arms as ‘point-four-five’ (.45 of an inch diameter). The bore of the barrel, is rifled in thirteen grooves — an unlucky number for the man in front! Length of barrel, 7½ inches; of chambers, 15 inches; length over all, 17 inches; weight, 31bs. The weapon is hammerless, and the whole of it is highly engraved. A silver shield is fitted to the stock — intended for the owner’s initials or crest; amid a neat cavity in the butt, with spring trapdoor, is provided for holding the caps. Each of the six chambers bears the proof mark of the British Government. Made in 1865, it was evidently the last word in revolver construction in those far-off days.

No. 4.

No. 4. — This is a six-chambered pinfire revolver — the earliest type of breech-loader. The pin-fire principle dates from 1847. The specimen illustrated is of later date. It is of Belgian manufacture, bearing on the various parts the proof-marks of the Belgian Government (E.L. over G. In the circle) The calibre is 9 millimetres — the equivalent of the English and American “point-three-eight” (.38 in. diameter). Length of barrel, 6 inches; of chambers, 1¾ inches; length over all, 18 inches; weight 1½lbs. A close scrutiny of the illustration will show that the hammer has no projection — or striker. This is accounted for by the fact that ignition is secured by a “pin” or striker being fitted into the base of the cartridges. In action, this pin protrudes through a slot in the side of the chamber, projecting at right angles to the plane thereof. Modern revolver ammunition is convenient and safe, but the handling of the pin-fire variety in vogue in the days of our grandfathers was playing with sudden death. The various weapons depicted and described in detail herewith have come into my possession at different times and under different circumstances. No. 1 (the flint-lock horse-pistol) was carried by the bushranger, Patrick Bruen during his escapades in and around Cessnock in February, 1843. Bruen was an escaped Wollombi convict, the story of whose shooting and capture by Crawford’s party, in Black Creek, Cessnock, on February 14, 1843, was recounted in detail in this journal by the present writer some time ago.

JEW BOY AND THUNDERBOLT

Bullet mould and handcuffs.

No. 2 (the percussion-lock horse pistol) was part of the equipment of the ‘Jew Boy’ Gang (Edward Davis and others). Those familiar with the story of the capture of this gang by a mixed party of soldiers and civilians headed by Captain Edward Denny Day, Maitland’s celebrated police magistrate, at Doughboy Hollow (now Ardglen), on the eve of Christmas, 1840, will remember that two of the gang were surprised at the campfire, engaged in moulding bullets for future use. One of the bullet-moulds is illustrated. Both of the horse pistols were presented to me by descendants of men intimately associated with the capture of the respective desperadoes. No. 3 (the muzzle-loading sixshooter) is a relic of “Thunderbolt.” At the time of the last exploit of this bushranger, in May, 1870, the well known telegraph contractor, John Doyle, J.P., of Cessnock, was engaged on a telegraph contract near Uralla. His camp cook (one John Lynch) was an eye-witness of part of the ride for life. At one stage of the journey something fell to the roadway from the flying horseman. Lynch picked it up, took it to his tent, and said nothing. In due course the body of Frederick Ward was identified at an inquest held at Uralla before Mr. Coroner Buchanan, J.P., when a verdict of justifiable homicide was returned. Lynch still said nothing, and kept on saying it until the completion of the telegraph contract. Then, before going on the wallaby, he intimated to his late “boss” that he was not desirous of being a travelling representative for ironmongery, and, producing the murderous looking weapon, with holster complete, and loaded and capped, explained how he had come by it. An inspection of the holster (which had the “flap” removed, and the revolver butt projecting so as to be readily gripped upon emergency) shows that the stitching of the “keeper” — the strap which the belt passes through — had given out, thus allowing the three-pound weight to fall. When one remembers that Ward’s revolver, with which the duel with Constable Walker was fought, was subsequently found in the waters of Kentucky Creek, with one chamber null charged and the cap, bearing the impress of the hammer, indicating a mis-fire, one realises that but for the merest accident the story of Thunderbolt might have had to be told in very different terms. Lynch told his late employer that he had better take the fire-arm and when going on his way his pocket held something of more use to him than a “squirt” — a photo of the Queen, minted in gold. Forty-five years later (In November, 1916) this interesting trophy of the bad old days was passed on to me by Mr. Doyle after he had made an inspection of my collection of ancient arms, which, during the Great War, I had on exhibition for patriotic purposes.

IF IT COULD SPEAK

Respecting No. 4 (the pin-fire revolver): If this weapon could speak, it could probably tell a story worth listening to. Its history is unknown, beyond this: that in 1900, with an old pair of handcuffs, it was found by a schoolboy in a cavity under a large log in McGrane’s paddock, Cessnock, just about where Mr Walter Phee, J.P, of Love Street lives to-day. The relic bears no marks indicating Government ownership, (police weapons are broad arrow-branded, and engraved, “New Stouth Wales Police”), thus discounting the theory that some bold, bad man (say “Yellow Billy”) had been “having a lark” with ”the law.” The schoolboy of 1900— now Mr Thomas Frederick Higgins, J.P., of Newcastle — held his “find” for 16 years, when he presented it to my collection.

http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article99368227

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