Kelly Gang gun goes for $70,000, but is it the real thing?

By Carolyn Webb and Daniella Miletic
November 14, 2007

Mystery surrounds the provenance of a gun auctioned in Melbourne last night and claimed to have once been owned by Ned Kelly's sister, Kate.

The gun, a .32 calibre revolver, was sold for $72,870 to an absentee bidder at Mossgreen auction house in South Yarra.

Tom Thompson, a Sydney publisher representing the anonymous owners, had told The Age that the gun was found in a house or shed as it was demolished in the western NSW town of Forbes in the 1980s.

Mr Thompson said he believed the gun was "Kate Kelly's revolver, as removed from a member of the police in Victoria 1878-9 during the Kelly outbreak, and given to her by the gang to defend herself". The initials KK are inscribed on the stock.

But an antique gun collector of 40 years' experience told The Age that this "pocket" model of gun was not manufactured until 1884 and that while the revolver was indeed more than a century old, without the Kelly connection it would be worth about $400.

Mossgreen auctioneer Paul Sumner was surprised when The Age told him that Mr Thompson had publicised an auction of the same gun at the NSW State Library in October last year. It was expected to fetch $400,000 on that occasion, but it was withdrawn from sale.

In an article in The Australian on May 4, Mr Thompson said he wanted to authenticate the pistol by having it scanned under ultraviolet and infra-red light. The article said that if authentic, the pistol would sell for $450,000.

Neither Mr Thompson nor Mr Sumner was this week able to provide The Age with evidence of the gun's provenance or authenticity.

In an email, Mr Thompson quoted NSW historian Andrew Stackpool, who he said was "a researcher for the Victoria Police", saying it was possible the gun up for auction was Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick's.

Fitzpatrick lost his revolver in a struggle with Kate's mother, Ellen, and her brothers at Greta, north-eastern Victoria, in April 1878. Fitzpatrick had been drunk and claimed to have a warrant for the arrest of Kate's brother, Dan, for horse stealing.

The Kellys claimed Fitzpatrick made a pass at Kate. Fitzpatrick claimed the Kellys assaulted him. Ned and Dan Kelly fled into the Wombat Ranges to avoid jail, and killed three policemen in a shoot-out at Stringybark Creek on October 26.

Kate Kelly, whose married name was Catherine Foster, drowned in Forbes in 1898.

Mr Thompson sent The Age photos of a house and shed he said were located at 1 Browne Street, Forbes, and had been copied from the Forbes Historical Society's photo collection.

Forbes Family History Group secretary Judith Toole said it was believed the Foster family lived at 1 Browne Street. But neither Ms Toole nor Forbes Advocate newspaper editor Barry Shine had heard of an antique gun found in a local house or shed.

Two years ago, when working for Sydney auction house Cromwell's, Mr Thompson put a trophy up for sale which he believed was the long-lost 1930 Melbourne Cup. But a Victoria Racing Club panel of experts ruled that the silver trophy was a circa 1980 fake.

In 2000, a furious Don Bradman decried the sale of 35 personal letters he had written to Mr Thompson. Mr Thompson had sold them in an archive to Sydney bookseller Paul Feain.

The following year, the Bradman family was further upset by Mr Thompson presenting top cricketers with Bradman caps. Mr Thompson said he did it under his exclusive rights to publish and promote the book The Art of Cricket.

In the 1990s, Mr Thompson was involved in legal stoushes over biographies of artist Brett Whiteley and poet Les Murray.

This article can be found in the Age Online - Wednesday, 14 November 2007.

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