The Firearms Technology museum

Australian Colonial Gunsmiths and Ironmongers.

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European colonization of Australia began as a penal colony under the control of the British Government and under military law. As free settlers arrived and convicts served their term out and were granted their freedom,  explorers and pioneers pushed out into the unknown, to open up this vast wild land. They took with them the tools they needed to survive and firearms were among those tools. As well as the need to provide food, there were conflicts with the aboriginal tribes and also the risk of being attacked by "bolters". The bolters were escaped convicts living off the land or in some cases with the aboriginals and a number became our first generation of bushrangers.

The discovery of gold in 1851 and the ensuing gold rushes brought a new wave of lawlessness and the need for protection. There were dangers both while living on the fields and also from the second generation of bushrangers who at one stage virtually ruled the roads. Members of the bushranging gangs often carrying four or more revolvers and this caused the diggers, squatters and travelers to also suitably arm themselves, thereby guaranteeing a brisk trade for the gunsmiths.

Even though the gunsmiths of the day appeared quite capable of making firearms, Australia did not have a gunmaking trade as such and firearms from England, Europe and later America were in great demand with each major city having a number of dedicated gunsmithing businesses. However as firearms were at that time considered another necesary tool, ironmongers and merchants also sold them. The ironmongers were the equivalent of the general or hardware store of today and ranged from large emporiums to small establishments in outback towns. There also were what would be considered mixed businesses where blacksmiths, jewelers, tinsmiths and even grocers also advertised as gunsmiths. Another source of firearms for settlers in the rural and outback areas was the mail order catalogues from the large city merchants like Frederick Lassetter and Co.

The shotgun, both single and double barrel became the most popular weapon in Australia, but all sorts of longarm and handgun were also available. Another interesting aspect of this trade was the introduction of proprietary firearms. These were guns imported from overseas and given names that were often uniquely Australian by the firms that sold them.


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