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Matching cased pair of French .50 calibre duelling pistols with accessories, used by Sir Thomas Mitchell in Sydney in 1851


Matching cased pair of French .50 calibre duelling pistols with accessories, used by Sir Thomas Mitchell in Sydney in 1851

Object information


A circular tin of percussion caps and a mallet are missing from the set. The pistols are believed to have been used by Sir Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855) in a duel with Stuart Donaldson in Sydney on 27 September 1851. This was one of the last duels fought in Australia. Each protagonist fired three shots but, despite a close call on each side, neither was hit. The duel came about after Donaldson had made an "inaccurate public statement" about Mitchell at a time when the government was trying to ensure Mitchell followed its instructions more closely. Mitchell is best known for his roles as surveyor-general and for several explorative expeditions into what is now New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria in the 1830s and 1840s.

Physical description

A wooden case containing a matching pair of French .50 calibre duelling pistols marked 'ACIER'. Each pistol is rifled and has a percussion lock. Each walnut butt has flutes carved in it, and there is foliate carving to the fore stock. The octagonal barrel is heavily etched and engraved around the muzzle, lock and trigger guard. The walnut case in which the pistols are housed is fitted with an engraved bullet mould, a powder flask, a screw driver, clearing rod, a 'worm' and 28 bullets. There are also replicas of a circular metal container, a mallet, a broken knob from a ramrod and a brass escutcheon plate. These were missing from the original set and have been manufactured for the purpose of completing it. The brass escutcheon or key plate is physically attached to the case.

Educational significance

These are two duelling pistols owned by Major Sir Thomas Mitchell, an early Australian explorer.

Major Sir Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855) played an important role in the early exploration of colonial Australia. Born in Scotland, he trained as a surveyor in the army before moving to Australia to take up his appointment as Surveyor-General of the Colony in 1827. He remained in this position until his death.

Mitchell was responsible for exploring vast areas of south-eastern Australia and opening up new grazing lands in the southern parts of Victoria. His contribution to the surveying of Australia saw him knighted in 1838. Mitchell was also an accomplished artist, botanist and poet. He is also remembered for his 'hot headed' temper. It is speculated that he is the last person in Australia to ever challenge anyone to a duel.

At dawn on the 27 September 1851 Mitchell confronted Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson in Sydney. He had issued the challenge because Donaldson had publicly criticised the over-expenditure of the Surveyor General's Department. Both duellists missed their mark - only Donaldson's hat was damaged in the altercation. Their seconds stepped in to declare that honour had been satisfied and the duel was abandoned.

Object information



  • Maker

  • Acier
    Apply Acier filter
  • Acier might not be the maker's name or a part of it. It seems it means 'steel' in several European languages

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