William Cole Arms Collection




William Cole started acquiring antique firearms in the early 20th century. Cole made his earliest donations to the Museum in 1918 and donated the bulk of his collection to the Museum in September 1943. There are over 250 objects in the collection, which has a particular focus on English, Scottish and Irish gunmakers from the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Private collecting of antique firearms in Australia was still in its infancy when William Cole (1864-1952) started acquiring items in the early 20th century. Cole had an eye for quality and had developed an appreciation for the work of the English gunmakers at the end of the 18th century and early 19th century. Even so, a particularly high quality Colt 1849 Pocket revolver in the collection highlights his unrestricted tastes and what appears to have been the overriding criterion of condition and quality. In 1918 Cole made his earliest donations to the Museum, an English sporting rifle by R.M. Reiley and related ammunition. William donated the bulk of his collection to the Museum in September 1943, and it is listed in the archival correspondence surrounding the donation in the following terms: 'It comprises 121 flint and percussion pistols and revolvers, 18 cases of pistols (pairs) with accessories complete, 6 blunderbusses, 29 flint and percussion long arms, 31 powder flasks and belts, 2 burglar alarms, 1 trap gun, and 1 miscellaneous assortment of gun tools, cartridges, etc. The firearms are in excellent condition and many of them are related to that period when London gun-makers developed the tradition of fine craftsmanship which, to this day, is unequalled anywhere in the world. The gift is an outstanding one in view of the fact that old firearms are becoming scarcer, prices higher and finds few and far between.' The collection was later described as 'the largest single collection of antique firearms in Australia' (Penrose 1949). The collection includes pistols, rifles and shotguns made by leading English, Scottish and Irish gunmakers in the late 18th and 19th centuries, including Durs Egg, John Manton, Robert Wogdon and Samuel Nock; as well as a number of contemporary Birmingham forgeries of famous makers. The collection also includes a cased pair of percussion pistols by London gunsmith T. J. Mortimer in the 1830s, which are significant for having been owned by Thomas Alexander Browne, who as Rolf Boldrewood wrote the Australian classic Robbery Under Arms (1888). William Cole died on 17 March 1952, having left provision for additional items of his collection to be donated to the Museum after his death. This wish was fulfilled in the following years by his only remaining daughter, Doris. Many of these items seem to have been Cole's own sporting rifles or particularly treasured items, such as the Martini actioned sporting rifle presented by Cole to his son Cleveland. Doris also donated a portrait photograph of her father holding one of his pair of pistols by the famous English maker Durs Egg. References: The Argus (Melbourne), 5 January 1929 Penrose, Edgar Howard, 1949. 'Descriptive Catalogue of the Collection of Firearms in the Museum of Applied Science of Victoria', Melbourne, Trustees of the National Museums of Victoria The Standard (Frankston), 31 August 1950; 20 March 1952

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1750-1850; Ammunition; Blunderbusses; Exhibitions: London International, Great Exhibition, 1851; Firearm Accessories; Firearm Tools; Firearms; Gun Powder Flasks; Guns; Gunsmiths; Military Memorabilia; Pistols: Arabian; Pistols: Belgian; Pistols: British; Pistols: French; Pistols: German; Pistols: Irish; Revolvers: American; Revolvers: Belgian; Revolvers: British; Rifles & Muskets; Rifles & Muskets: American; Rifles & Muskets: Arabian; Rifles & Muskets: Belgian; Rifles & Muskets: British; Rifles & Muskets: Military; Shotguns: Belgian; Shotguns: British; Shotguns: French; Shotguns: German; Victorian Colonial Defence Forces

Coverage Spatial

Ireland; Victoria, Australia; England, Great Britain; Scotland, United Kingdom

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