Name on antique gun led to 18-year passion

13 November 2002
By Larissa Ham

When Neil Speed bought an antique pistol at auction in 1984, he did not realise the purchase would take over the next 18 years of his life. An inscription on the Mauser Model 1896 Broomhandle pistol, which mentioned a Major C. Ross, of the Canadian Scouts, piqued Mr Speed's curiosity and eventually led to the book Born to Fight.

"It started off as me seeking a piece of background history of an interesting inscription," said Mr Speed, the founder of the Antique and Historical Arms Collectors Guild of Victoria.

"As information started to flow in, it grew. It became a passion."

The Blackburn South man started by writing to the military attache at the Canadian consulate in Canberra, and his search for information on Charles Ross eventually extended around the world, including a trip to a battlefield in South Africa.

"By 1990, after six years, I've said I've got the beginnings of a story here," Mr Speed said.

Major Ross, a son of a Scottish immigrant, was born at Orange, New South Wales, but left home at the age of nine, stowing away on a ship to California.

He went on to live with native Americans, before living with Mormons.

He worked as a stable hand in Canada, as a scout for the Canadians in the Indian and Boer wars, and also hunted for ivory in Africa.

"It was coming together like a jigsaw. Various elements of his life were starting to appear," Mr Speed said.

"But at that time I didn't have an inter-connecting thread."

It wasn't until a business trip to NSW in 1995 that a lucky find helped him put the pieces together.

Mr Speed and his late wife Val stopped off at a bookshop near Dubbo and were given three phone numbers for people with the surname Ross.

The first two numbers were unsuccessful, but on the third try, Mr Speed spoke to a man called John Percival Ross, telling him of the book's topic.

"He said 'you're talking about my father'. At that stage in 1995 I had been researching Charlie for 11 years," Mr Speed said.

Mr Speed met John Ross, who was born in 1918 in Kenya. It was the first of many meetings with the Ross family.

I think I'm an artificial member of the Ross family," Mr Speed said.

Mr Speed's family room wall is adorned with Charles Ross memorabilia, including medals, sashes and old photos.

"It became a bit obsessive. Val used to refer to this wall as my shrine," he said.

Mr Speed has printed 1500 copies of the book, including 100 leather-bound books.

(For information in obtaining a copy of this publication, please contact the Guild at info@armscollectorsguild.com.)

This article can be found in the Leader, Whitehorse Gazetta, Wednesday, 13 November 2002.

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