Burke pistol back home

ROBERT O’Hara Burke’s very own pistol — this was the moment history buffs had waited 156 years for.

The $18,000 piece had arrived at the Burke Museum at Beechworth in a crate from Dublin.

Last night the crate was placed gently on top of a display cabinet.

The top came off, foam was tossed aside, a blanket was unwrapped and then, there it was, in the hands of Beechworth history expert Bob Simpson as he held it up to applause.

“My heart oh,” Mr Simpson breathed.

“Here we go ladies and gentlemen, a very important, irreplaceable piece of Australian history.

“To think that Robert O’Hara Burke held this and maybe it was presented right here — 156 years in the making, a wonderful effort by the people of Beechworth.”

Wine glasses were raised and the very pistol Burke was given in 1858 as a gift from his fellow police when he left Beechworth for his ill-fated expedition across Australia with William John Wills was passed around the crowd of 50.

Next it will be catalogued, never to be touched by the naked finger again.

“It’s just like a normal gun,” Beechworth police Sgt Geoff Still said before passing it to Indigo mayor Bernard Gaffney.

Sgt Still escorted the pistol from Melbourne with the Burke Museum’s collections manager Linda Peacock.

The story of how the pistol “came home” is a mix of luck and chance, and how a town moved mountains to get it.

It started in October when amateur NSW historian Matt Nola tipped-off Ms Peacock that the pistol was being auctioned three days later in Dublin, with an initial asking price of $1500.

“The logistics of bidding at an auction in the middle of the night in three days’ time on the other side of the world, with little money, for an item we knew was so important to us, was challenging,” Ms Peacock said.

“And we wanted to stay under the radar in case our inquiries tipped off some of Australia’s biggest museums with much deeper pockets than us.”

But then the Sunday Age and Sydney Morning Herald ran pieces on the auction.

“It looked like we had lost our chance,” Ms Peacock said.

The museum’s funds were bolstered by a $3000 council grant and $3000 from the friends of the museum group and finally a call to arms at the Nicholas Hotel just five hours before the auction began.

Publican Ross Lucas chipped-in $1000, as did Stanley nut growers Andrew Cook and Anita Mihaljevic, along with several people who generated the $18,000 needed to buy it.

“I believe passionately in Beechworth and Beechworth’s future depends on how well we deal with our heritage,” Mr Lucas said.

Mr Simpson held up the pistol in the light and began reading the inscription: Presented to R. O’Hara Burke Esq. Supt. of Police by the Officers of the district on his transfer from Beechworth, November 1858’.

“I feel like crying, actually,” he said.

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