The Humble Gun Flint: Lost from a shooter’s pouch?
Amongst the Museum’s large collection of Tasmanian Aboriginal Stone Tools are several European gun flints. These were fixed into the firing mechanism of flintlock muskets and used to strike the spark needed to light the powder for firing. Gun flints are squarish flat shapes, and look quite out of place amongst the Tasmanian tools. The Museum’s examples were picked up by amateur collectors during the 1930s, in places like Oatlands and St Peters Pass, or along the New Town Creek in Hobart.
Gun flints arrived in Tasmania with the earliest European visitors. In his History of Tasmania, John West noted that in 1773 Captain Cook’s men deliberately left behind gun flints, barrels and nails, at an abandoned Aboriginal camp, when they took away the baskets and spears they found there.
Tasmania must have been awash with gun flints if a quick check of pre-1840 newspapers is anything to go by. They regularly feature in advertisements and appear to have been imported. Many gun flints found in Tasmania have been identified as coming from Brandon, an old flint-making town in Suffolk, England. In 2012 an archaeological dig in the Hobart CBD also discovered early nineteenth century gun flints from America.
Most of the Museum’s gun flints are fairly standard in their shape and colour, and look like Brandon flint. However, we have discovered some stones which are similar in shape but otherwise look quite different. They may not even be gun flints – or they may be a colonial musketeer’s attempt to make his own gun flint using local materials. These little mysteries are what make museum work so interesting, and the call is now out to locate experts in nineteenth century shooting equipment to help us answer these questions.
Jai Paterson, QVMAG Honorary Research Associate and Volunteer