It's not often one finds antique guns with history that can be traced back over 100 years. This Winchester 73 saddle ring carbine is one of the few that we know exactly where it went and what it did during its life. To some, the Model 73 is so deeply enmeshed with the American West that we often overlook the fact that Winchester was a world superpower when it came to the sale of its repeating rifles. Winchester salesmen like T.E. Addis travelled the globe peddling Winchesters to 6 different continents with almost evangelical zeal. This particular Winchester found its way to the frontier of another continent out West...in fact it went so far West, you might say it almost went East.
In the year 1888 it was shipped to the continent of Australia to a dealer in the colony of Victoria named James Rosier whose store was located in the city of Melbourne. While Winchester lost nearly all of its shipping records in the 1930's leaving some us collectors with a lifetime of frustration over all the golden history forever lost, Rosier was one of a few dealers who stamped all of the Winchesters retailed through his store with a tiny "J.R." and an inventory number located on the bottom of the frame. Over the years, Rosier's tiny markings have often been overlooked and when found, usually mistaken for other things by Winchester collectors. BTW, you won't read this in a book so please don't email me asking what publication I found this in....this is from 20 years of personal collecting and learning from old-timers...they took the time to pass it on to me so its my responsibility to pass it on to you guys....J.R. on the bottom of the receiver means JAMES ROSIER! As interesting as this all sounds imaging this carbine sitting on a rack or inside of a crate inside of Rosier's Melbourne store on 66 Elizabeth street was just the beginning of this little 73 src's life as well as a few of its brothers in the 271,000 serial range. Yes, there's more, quite a bit actually!
Rosier sold this little carbine to the Victorian Penal system where one day it entered through Blue stone walls of the castle style fortress known as the Pentridge Prison. The Pentridge prison was built in the 1850's....quite impressive with high granite walls with a tower with a large clock beside the front gate. It operated for nearly 150 years up until just recently, 1996 I believe, where it housed some of Australia's most hardened criminals. No doubt, the large magazine capacity and fast action was why 1873 was regarded as one of the world's best repeating rifle for several decades. This made it an ideal solution for guarding prisoners. Most of the 73 carbines used at the Pentridge prison were carried for decades by the prison staff and have very distinct markings and wear patterns. One common feature on many of these carbines is a number sometimes painted on the wood or in this case, hand engraved on the carrier block. This number I am told was assigned to a specific guard at the prison or a specific area of the prison. Another commonality on the Pentridge guns are muzzle wear consistent with being laid against the granite walls of the prison. All guns generally have a very smooth pleasing light patina and perfect bores which is logical given the fact that guards rarely fired upon prisoners.
In addition to the Pentridge prison markings, this carbine also bears markings from the Melbourne Gaol (Gaol is the Aussie word for Jail) which was the local Jail located I believe on the South side of the Pentridge prison. The markings are located on the left side of the stock and are very light but what it says is "MG" with an Broad Arrow over the number "5"...MG stands for Metropolitan Gaol. This is one of several Pentridge guns I've seen that saw use at the Metropolitan Gaol as well as Pentridge.
Most of the Pentridge guns were used for several decades and possibly as late as the 1940's. During the 1950's, the prison began selling off their aging 1873 carbines. I have heard several stories of these guns being sold to citizens of Melbourne at the front gate of the prison around the year 1955 for 5 Pounds each! What a deal! However, when prison officials realized that these 1873's were winding up in the hands of dealers and selling for more, they halted the sale at the front gate. The remainder of the 73 carbines were locked up in the prison armoury where they were inventoried during the mid-late 1970's and were sold at public auction in 1980.
This particular carbine is a classic example of a Pentridge prison 1873 carbine. Its a standard SRC in 44-40, 20" barrel, full magazine, with carbine style buttplate. It has the typical wonderful light brown patina with good clear markings and edges. The screws are fantastic, very good overall. The loading block is hand-engraved with the number "86". The wood is in Fine condition, very solid with no chips or cracks, completely untouched with tight wood to metal fight that is mostly overall very even to the edges of the metal. The action is nice and the bore is nearly mint, still bright and shiny with perfect rifling. Most 73 carbines were regarded as utility guns designed especially for use on horseback as they were short and easy to carry with 12 rounds of firepower delivered with a few flexes of the lever and trigger....the result is most are in poor shape. Having lived inside a public institution for nearly 100 years, this carbine escaped much of the abuse and neglect that most 73 src's incurred. Its a nice clean solid example of 73 saddle ring carbine that was well looked after with a history that's hard to beat...how many 100+ year old Winchesters have you seen with a known history that dates back to 1888. Not only do we know the dealer who retailed it but, how it was used, and where it was used at both a Prison and Gaol. Just a fantastic 73 carbine!