Police pistol auction points smoking gun at Kelly's sister

5 October 2006
Steve Meacham

Is this the stolen revolver that triggered the enduring legend of Ned Kelly and his gang?

Yes, says Tom Thompson, the auctioneer and memorabilia expert who unveiled it in public yesterday for the first time in more than a century.

Mr Thompson - who estimates the weapon will sell for about $400,000 when it is auctioned at the State Library of NSW on November 5 - says he found the revolver that drunken Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick had on April 15, 1878, when he stormed the Kelly homestead.*

What happened next began the chain of events leading to the Glenrowan shoot-out. Kelly supporters claim Constable Fitzpatrick made lewd advances on Kate Kelly, Ned's younger sister. Her mother and brothers came to her rescue. Constable Fitzpatrick claimed in the official report that "I lost my revolver after two shots had been fired."

His evidence - later discredited - damned the Kelly family, leading to the imprisonment of matriarch Ellen Kelly and the outlawing of Ned and Dan. Police searched the Kelly homestead several times for the constable's gun, but never found it. Mr Thompson said Kate had it all along and it was uncovered during the demolition of a house in Forbes where she lived the last 10 years of her life.

He heard about the gun this year when a woman rang his ABC radio segment about historical memorabilia. She said her father found the gun, preserved in lard, during the demolition in the 1980s.

Mr Thompson said he did "exhaustive research" into Kate's little-known life and was convinced the revolver was genuine.

"It was found in the home Kate Kelly lived in from 1888 to 1898," he said. "It is exactly the issue of the period. I have no doubt it is the gun which Fitzpatrick claimed was stolen."

The most obvious clue? The initials "KK" inscribed on one side of the wooden stock. But he also points to the insignia R*C on the crown. Mr Thompson believes it was originally issued by the Royal Irish Constabulary, which provided many officers to the newly formed Victoria Police.

Immediately after Ned's execution in November 1880, Kate and her brother Jim toured Victoria and NSW showing what newspapers of the day called "an exhibition of relics of the bushranging conflicts". They staged several shows to packed crowds until the police stopped them.

For the next few years, Kate, an expert horsewoman, joined a travelling Wild West show under various aliases.

She settled down to domestic obscurity after marrying Forbes blacksmith William Foster in 1888 when she was 25 and went by her middle name, Ada.

Her body was found in a lake in October 1898. She was 35 and had just given birth to her sixth child, Catherine. The inquiry into her death was inconclusive.

Kelly's biographer, Beechworth historian Ian Jones, said yesterday: "It's very difficult to identify a weapon of this kind without very reliable and precise documentation, which rarely exists. If they've got some police document that identifies that as Fitzpatrick's revolver, that's a different ball game, but I would be surprised.".

This article can be found in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald - Thursday, 5 October 2006.

© Copyright 2005 The Antique and Historical Arms Collectors Guild of Victoria. All rights reserved.