NOTES ON A TERRITORY POLICEMAN’S REVOLVER.
While working as a ringer, or stockman, in the Northern Territory during the 1950s, I found there was always a host of outback characters, past and present, to be talked about around the campfire each evening. Many of these figures were legendary, whether drovers, horse breakers, blacksmiths, prospectors, policemen, aboriginal outlaws, cattle thieves (termed poddy-dodgers), and in some cases were no doubt mythical.
There are a number of police names that come to mind, Sergeant Mannion and Constable Condon, Hugh Deviney, Ted Morey, Constable McColl, Tas Fitzer, Jack Mahony and Vic Hall. As a youth I had been a great reader of books by Ion Idriess, titles such as Man Tracks, Outlaws of the Leopolds, One Wet Season, Flynn of the Inland and many more. Another author who later captured my imagination was Vic Hall, who had been 17 years in the Northern Territory Police Force after WW1, and who wrote Outback Policeman, Sister Ruth, Dreamtime Justice, Bad Medicine and others.
I recall calling into the Larrimah Hotel about 1954, which was then run by former policeman Jack Mahony, a mate of Vic Hall. It was a grand looking hotel for those days, with wide steps up to the front door. The bar room was relatively small, but the bar itself seemed to be about five feet high. There was a Colt single action revolver and a military type sword hanging behind the bar, and Jack told many good stories about his police days. I have been back to the hotel in recent years - the building is much as I remembered it, although with a covered beer garden area at the front. The original bar is still there, but sadly no Colt or sword!
Many years later, having joined the New South Wales Police Force, I often recalled those campfire stories, and from time to time read references to Vic Hall, in such magazines as Australasian Post and Walkabout. I do remember one photo of him, taken in the 1960s, holding his Colt Frontier revolver, and I think the caption was “I could still raise hell with this’. He refers to this pistol in most of his books, and it features on the front cover of Outback Policeman, published by Rigby in the 1970s. In fact, he is generally shown in photos wearing this pistol, and sometimes wearing two pistols.
In 1974 I made inquiries to try and track him down, and found that he had died in 1972 and his belongings, including the Colt, were being held by the Public Trustee in Adelaide, pending the location of his son. The revolver had been disabled by the SA Police to enable Vic Hall to legally keep it.
Eventually my correspondence found its way to Vic Hall’s son, Graham, and shown below is the text of a letter which he subsequently wrote to me:-
Dear Mr Corcoran. Please forgive the delay in reply to your letter of 16th August, 1974 regarding revolver and other property of my later father Vic Hall. You mention having made a previous offer for the revolver etc, and this having been found unacceptable. I have no knowledge of this offer, so I would like to know what it was before having someone else refuse it for me! I must point out at this stage that this same priceless Colt has been butchered by some moron in such a manner that can only be described as an act of diabolic arch bastardry. The barrel has been spiked and welded, firing pin removed, cylinder welded all the way around, every piece of works removed, screws left out, and in short rendered ugly and hideous even as a paperweight, and I hope I never come upon the person that did it, for I would have his guts for garters! On the fourth of February next year this Colt is one hundred years old and only a few years ago when I last used it in the Top End it was in perfect order, and having promised Dad that when it was passed on to me I would keep it that way I can only carry a hatred for the person concerned with its ruin bordering on the insane. I would like to meet you at a later date next year, as I am sure a former Top End ringer and I could swap many yarns. All the best from a frustrated ex-mountie, Yours, G Hall.
In due course I became the custodian of this revolver, which Graham had restored to working condition. The pistol has not otherwise been refurbished, and fortunately retains the original one piece walnut grip, on which Vic had cut his initials and filed some rough checkering. He also bored a hole through the bottom of the grip to accommodate a lanyard.
Such a firearm invites consideration about restoration. Should it be reconditioned? I think not – its very appearance tells the story of its life, and is an important part of preserving the provenance of the piece.
I have included photos of this Colt Frontier revolver, which is calibre 44/40, serial number 155570, originally with a 7½ inch barrel, and according to The Peacemaker and Its Rivals, by John E Parsons, was manufactured in 1894.
Also included is a photo of the jacket of Outback Policeman. The Commonwealth of Australia Police badge shown was the standard badge in Vic Hall’s days, (1920s and 1930s), when the Northern Territory Police Force was administered from Adelaide.
In addition to books by authors Ion Idriess and Vic Hall, relating to the Northern Territory Police Force, Sidney Downer’s Patrol Indefinite, a concise history of the Force, was published in 1963. More recent publications include Justice All Their Own - The Caledon Bay and Woodah Island Killings 1932 – 1933, by Ted Egan, Frontier Justice – A History of the Gulf Country to 1900, by Tony Roberts and Patrolling The ‘Big Up’ – The Adventures of Mounted Constable Johns in the Top End of the Northern Territory, 1910 – 1915, edited by Darrell Lewis. Looking further to the Kimberley, and the West Australia Police Force, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance, by Howard Pedersen and Banjo Woorunmurra is a work to be read in conjunction with Ion Idriess’ Outlaws of the Leopolds.