Troopers, Trackers, Bushrangers and their weapons

The three phases of the war against bushrangers

An explanation of the weapons used during the three principal phases of the war against bushrangers on the Australian frontier

The first generation of bushrangers were convict escapers, known as convict bolters. The firearm used during this time (from the late 1780’s to the end of the transportation period in the 1840’s and 50’s) was the flintlock musket.

The age of the Wild Colonial Boys coincided with the gold rushes in NSW and Victoria. Weapons had developed and now had rifles – spiral grooves inside the barrel which caused the musket ball to spin as it travelled the length of the barrel and the spin gave the ball distance and accuracy. During this time, around the 1850’s, an Enfield musket, a percussion cap weapon, would have been used by British troops and colonial police forces.

The Martini-Henry, a breech loader, was a revolution in technology and was brought into service in the 1870’s. It was much faster and it moved away from the use of powder and ball to a bullet. This firearm was used to fight the last of the bushrangers, the Kelly brothers in Victoria and the Governor brothers in NSW.


 

The flintlock musket (short version)

In Australia, from the First Fleet through to the 1840’s, the earliest bushrangers, the convict bolters and the men who hunted them carried flintlock muskets. These weapons were slow and inaccurate and their range was short.


 

The flintlock musket (long version)

For the first half century after European settlement of the Australian colonies, the flintlock musket was the most common firearm, used by the Army and settlers alike, as well as by the first generation of bushrangers, the convict bolters.

In this recording you will see the weapon that was used to defend Malahide Station in Van Diemen’s land against attacks by bushrangers. Malahide was the home of the Talbot family.

The recording also describes the mechanism that makes a Flintlock musket fire and explains how the ignition system works.


 

The 3 band Enfield

In Australia, in the age of the Wild Colonial Boys in the 1850’s and 60’s, the bushrangers holding up gold shipments would have used the percussion cap musket. This weapon uses a paper cartridge, like the earlier flintlock musket and it also loads down the barrel.
There are a number of differences between the two weapons however. The barrel is rifled so, as the ball travels down the barrel the rifling causes the ball to spin and travel straighter, faster and further. The percussion cap ignition system is much more reliable.
In summary this weapon is more accurate, with a greater range and it also has sights.


 

The Martini Henry breech loading rifle

This weapon used a bullet instead of a paper cartridge. It was accurate and much faster than the muzzle loading weapons that preceded it even though it was only a single shot.


 

Demonstration videos

How a paper cartridge is made

To make a paper cartridge you need paper, a form and a measured portion of gunpowder. Without the addition of a musket ball it is a blank cartridge. Blank cartridges do not fire the musket ball and are used for ceremonial salutes and signalling. Adding the musket ball to the paper cartridge makes it into a live round. A cartridge is made by rolling paper around a form; it is then closed at one end and filled with a measure of gun powder from a powder horn and then closed at the other end and sealed with wax.


 

How musket balls are made

In a crucible sheet lead is melted and then poured into a bullet mould. A few moments are allowed for the lead to set, excess lead is sliced off, the mould is opened and the extremely hot lead ball is dropped into a bucket of water and left to cool.


 

Loading and firing the flintlock musket

A demonstration of the loading and firing of the flintlock musket using a blank cartridge.

 


 

Acknowledgements

This material was produced originally for our virtual excursion education program: The Law of the Land.
  • Filmed on location at Hyde Park Barracks Museum.
  • With thanks to Brad Manera, Military Historian and Manager of the Anzac Memorial, Sydney.
  • Music by Warren Fahey. ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, traditional Australian song, composer unknown.
  • Produced by Sydney Living Museums

Virtual excursion booking inquiries:

The Education Unit
The Mint, 10 Macquarie Street, Sydney 2000
Deborah Ward
T 02 8239 2288
F 02 8239 2299
education@sydneylivingmuseums.com.au

 

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