Mystery pistol uncovered

MYSTERY: The ancient gun is currently in Waihi with a conservator who is working to determine if there is a maker's mark  on the barrel. The grip has not survived but the metal section remains.
MYSTERY: The ancient gun is currently in Waihi with a conservator who is working to determine if there is a maker's mark on the barrel. The grip has not survived but the metal section remains.

Mystery surrounds the discovery of an ancient gun during digging for the Victoria Park Tunnel.

The double-barrelled pistol was found at the bottom of a well near Napier St at the southern end of the tunnel project.

Archaeologist Sarah Phear says a team member made the discovery.

EXCITING FIND: Clough and Associates archaeologist Sarah Phear says an ancient gun has been found near Napier St in a well south of the Birdcage Hotel.
EXCITING FIND: Clough and Associates archaeologist Sarah Phear says an ancient gun has been found near Napier St in a well south of the Birdcage Hotel.

"There have been different artefacts found in different layers of material. The pistol was found right at the very bottom. There were layers of soil and rubbish on top of it."

She says one of the pistol's barrels had been fired but it's unclear if it was loaded.

It is thought the pistol could have been used for personal safety as robberies and muggings did occur in new colonial settlements.

However, it may also have been used for criminal purposes, and the fact that it was discarded raises questions about its use.

Ms Phear says the gun is thought to be more than 100 years old and it was recovered during final monitoring of excavation work.

"It's really unusual, particularly in this location. I wonder what it's doing down there – it certainly looks like it hasn't got down there by accident. We've worked on this project for more than a year and that's the only well we've found."

Other artefacts discovered in the well include the remains of a bucket, leather shoes and a stoneware blacking jar.

The gun has been taken to Waihi where it is being treated to prevent corrosion.

"The conservator will stabilise the metals and x-ray it and will look for a maker's mark," Ms Phear says.

New Zealand Transport Agency stakeholder and communications manager Helen Cook says the pistol is an exciting find because of the mystery that surrounds it.

"The tunnel project runs through an area of great cultural importance to Maori. Freemans Bay, before its reclamation in the early 1900s, was a thriving industrial port with ship builders, sawmills, foundries, gasworks and coal merchants. Behind the port was a community described by some as Auckland's first and only real slum."

Ms Cook says the whole area has a multi-layered history and has gone through massive change.

"Most of the finds have been the remains of old structures like sea walls and wharves. While they have not been particularly exciting, I am sure they have contributed to a better understanding of the area's early European history."

The Police Museum in Porirua said more information would be needed before the pistol could be matched with a record of crime from the time.

Auckland City Harbour News