From the collection of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
For some time I’d been told of two 577 calibre revolvers held in the collection of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) but I’d never quite found time to inspect them. Eventually I made contact with museum staff who were more than happy to show me these two huge revolvers.
I was a little disappointed on first seeing them as they are both in quite poor condition with heavy surface corrosion. No doubt the effects of many years of use and abuse in the tropics. Little is known of the history of the revolvers. They were acquired by the Museum in 1990 as part of the purchase of the firearms collection of the late Mr William (Billy) Bell, a local Darwin collector. How they came to be part of the Bell collection is unknown.
To my surprise the two are of quite different designs. The first is a 5 shot, double action, top break frame with double tong type locking levers much like a Webley No.4 revolver (sometimes referred to as a Webley Pryse). There is no makers marks or retailer's name on the revolver. The frame, cylinder hammer and much of the barrel is covered in very fine scroll engraving, which is now quite worn. At one time this would have been a very high grade firearm.
The grip has a unusual flange where the web of the hand would sit and the trigger guard is fitted with a finger rest extension. It's like likely these features helped alleviate the considerable recoil generated by the .577 cartridge. Although difficult to be certain, these features, along with the style of the frame, hinted to me of a possible European origin. This may or may not mean anything though, revolvers of this design were made by numerous makers in both Great Britain and Europe.
The second revolver is 6 shot solid frame revolver of a type patented by William Tranter although made by Braendlin. This example is marked on the top strap with the retailer name "James. W. Rosier, Melbourne".
Loading this revolver required the cylinder to be removed from the frame by withdrawing the cylinder pin. The cylinder is a two piece design with a separate backplate. Removing the backplate allowed the cartridges to be individually loaded into each chamber before reattaching the backplate and reassembling the revolver. Unloading was the same process except that the each cartridge case had to be pushed out of its chamber with the cylinder pin.
As can be seen from the photographs, the cylinder backplate is pieced with holes which allow the lengthened hammer pin to push through to ignite the cartridge. Without this base plate, it's thought that the large cartridge cases may have pushed back against the frame on firing and prevented the cylinder rotating. The base plate solved this problem.
It is worth noting that the .577 cartridge used in these revolvers is not the .577 rifle cartridge used in the Snider breechloading rifles nor the .577 express cartridges often chambered in double rifles of the period. Although the same nominal diameter it is much shorter with a much reduced powder charge. An original .577 revolver cartridge is very rare today.
I’d like to acknowledge and thank the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory for their assistance in preparing this article, particularly Mr Jared Archibald for arranging for me to inspect the revolvers and Mr Regis Martin for providing the photographs.