A shot at history

The pistol used by Ned Kelly's younger brother Dan, who died during the Glenrowan siege, was sold for $122,000 in November last year. The sale, by Leski Auctions in Melbourne, was claimed as an Australian record for any historic weapon at auction.

While the jury is still out on Ned's status as hero or villain, anything connected with him and the bushranger period is valued highly by collectors.

The same is likely to happen with Captain Cook's pistol, to be sold by Leski on Thursday. Cook's historical significance is reflected by the estimates of $100,000 to $200,000.

Judging by the interest already shown, Leski expects that 2012 record to be broken on Thursday evening.

The gun is described as an early 18th-century Continental Flintlock holster pistol, 50 centimetres long, with the lock signed Corbeau-A-Maastricht, but it is the Captain Cook connection that gives it its value.

When and where the weapon was used is not recorded, but it is known that it was passed on to Cook's elder sister Margaret, thence to her direct descendants, starting with her son James Fleck. He was the first of seven generations of the Cook family to inherit the pistol.

At a public auction in Edinburgh in 2003, the family sold a walking stick made from one of the spears that killed Captain Cook in 1779. The spear sold for $320,000, according to the current exchange rate.

The pistol was then made available at a second auction in 2003. It was bought by Ron Walker, the former lord mayor of Melbourne and national treasurer of the Liberal Party until 2002. Walker was chairman of Fairfax Media, publisher of Money, from 2005 to 2009.

He describes the purchase as an impulse buy. ''I'm not interested in guns as such,'' he says, ''but I have a great affinity to all things connected to Australia's history. When I saw the spear go for that amount of money, I thought that it was so important that his gun should come to Australia.''

It did, but once he bought it he kept it in a safe for the next decade and forgot about it. The sale of Dan Kelly's pistol jogged his memory and made him decide that now would be a good time to pass it on.

Walker thinks it would be well suited to another collector, or better still a museum. ''It would be nice to think that way,'' he says. Money is not an issue. He says he wasn't sure what the pistol was worth so he left it to Charles Leski to do the valuation.

Walker is a noted collector of European and Australian art and also of fine cars, a passion he has pursued through his involvement with the Australian Grand Prix. His art collection is 45 years old. He says he never sells anything - the gun is a notable exception - so his various hoards have become a valuable asset.

He's already discussed the dispersal process with his children. ''Some things they want, some things they don't,'' Walker admits.

''When I go to a different place, the auction houses will have a field day.''

Also listed at the Leski sale is a selection of books on Cook, including one on the drawings of William Westall, the landscape artist on board the Endeavour.

There's also a small collection of Charles Darwin material, including an oil painting - View of Port Famine, Strait of Magellan - by Conrad Martens, the artist on board HMS Beagle. This work has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.

There's a letter signed by Darwin, dated December 25 1844, with an estimate of $15,000 to $17,500, plus other assorted memorabilia.

As mentioned last week, there is growing interest in the documents and details of travel and exploration in this golden period.

The pistol is perhaps the best piece to come on the market in recent times.

The sale starts at 5pm. Viewing is on Wednesday and Thursday at 13 Cato Street, Hawthorn East, Melbourne.

The story A shot at history first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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