Dr Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Revolvers

By Pollard, Justin | History Today, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Dr Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Revolvers


Pollard, Justin, History Today


Physicist William Ayrton (1847-1908) went to Tokyo in 1873 charged by the Meiji government with turning some of their medieval Samurai warriors into western-style telegraph engineers. Unused to the degree of murder and ritual suicide which his pupils indulged in, he would discourage swordplay in class by firing his revolver into the ceiling of the laboratory to get their attention.

Riddle of the Sands author Erskine Childers ( 1870-1922) was arrested by Free State Troops in Ireland in 1922 while carrying a revolver given to him by Michael Collins. As the bearing of weapons carried the death penalty he was tried and executed at Dublin's Beggars Bush barracks on November 24th, 1922, after first shaking hands with the firing squad.

Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) nearly lost his life when George H. Robinson burst into the Bank of England (where Grahame was Secretary) and shot at him with a revolver. Fortunately Robinson missed and Grahame helped in his capture.

During the Second World War Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1900-2002) learned to fire a service revolver in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. When asked how she would deal with the sort of Nazi invasion that had removed most of the other crown heads of Europe, she replied: 'I shall not go down like the others.'

Relief worker Lady Muriel Paget (1876-1938) found herself in Petrograd when the first Russian Revolution began in 1917 and, in her own words, 'looking into the mouth of a revolver with a fierce Russian behind it'. Undeterred by this show of force she continued: '! pushed the revolver away and laughed at the soldier, who let me pass.'

Pixley ka Isaka Seme (1882-1951), founder of what would become the African National Congress, trained in London as a lawyer before being admitted to the Transvaal side-bar in 1910. However, when a group of whites asked him to vacate the first-class carriage of a train, he pulled a revolver on them and was promptly arrested. …

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