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The Bisley Boys: The Victorian Rifle Team and the Kolapore Cup 1897

A hand-picked rifle team travelled to England in 1897 – not for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in particular, but in a quest for one prize above all, the Kolapore Cup. The Kolapore Cup was created from a £100 donation by the Rajah of Kolapore in 1870 to England’s NRA (National Rifle Association), to allow colonial and especially Indian rifle shooting teams to compete against the best of the British Army.  Years later, in 1886, a scratch Australian team went to England to shoot for the prize at Wimbledon, at that time home of the NRA. They managed a credible fourth, but in the years since then, no Australian colony or combined team had tried for the prize. In 1897, the Australians were determined to try again.

In the Diamond Jubilee year, the NRA invited colonial rifle teams to compete at the Bisley ranges.   The invitation did not recognize pre-Federation Australia. The Victorian riflemen were only deterred from accepting the NRA challenge by a lack of funds but not from lack of talent or determination. The selected Victorians had been through exhaustive trials and were the very best shots in the colony, perhaps in Australia. In 1897 they had their eyes set on just one great prize – the Imperial Challenge Cup, better known as the Kolapore Cup. Although a parsimonious Victorian Government would not pay the costs of sending a team, the owner of The Age newspaper, David Syme, generously did so, much to the relief of the VRA (Victorian Rifle Association) and individual riflemen alike. It was this team that triumphed over the best shots in the Empire (including from other Australian colonies) to win the Kolapore Cup in 1897.

The team was made up from a diverse group of men. Most were immigrants from the British Isles. Only Hawker, Sloane, Kirk and Ross were Victorian born.  Downey was a first generation Tasmanian but had lived much of his life in New Zealand. Todd, Carter, Walker and Grummett were English born, Templeton was from Scotland and Reilly and Kelly from Ireland. Fargher was a Manxman (from the Isle of Man). However, they all saw themselves as Victorians first and foremost and increasingly, as Australians. Like many colonials, most kept ties with their origins – Templeton was an ardent imperialist; others, like Fargher, an ex-seaman, thought little of Royalty but maintained extensive family ties back ‘Home’.

Some were of an engineering bent. Hawker was a blacksmith who later built a steam powered car while Grummett held a successful patent for doors to the popular horse-drawn Hansom cabs. Others like Kirk and Carter were railways men of trades – coach builder and carpenter respectively. The team included practical men like Todd, a miner, and Sloane, a young stockman and grazier (albeit with some education at Scotch College in Melbourne). Kelly was a railway man and auctioneer. Templeton was an accountant and actuary. Only Templeton and later team member Ross had an office job. However, even Ross, a clerk in the Crown Solicitor’s Office, was expert in the physics of trajectory and elevation and was a keen field artilleryman. In fact almost all of the team were either serving in the militia or had served in volunteers or militia.

This history contains the detailed biographies of each of the Victorian rifle team 1897.

The Bisley Boys: The Victorian Rifle Team and the Kolapore Cup 1897, published Melbourne 2008. Copyright @ Andrew Kilsby