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Manning Index of South Australian History
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    South Australia - Sport

    Rifle Shooting

    Also see South Australia - Defence of the Colony.

    Rifle Shooting, Clubs and Associations

    (Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning, The Russians are Coming - copy in State Library.)

    From the 1830s until the turn of the 20th century astonishing changes were evident in the form of gunmaking. The percussion system appears to have been applied to guns at the close of the 18th century but in a somewhat primitive fashion. The old 'Brown Bess' was the weapon at the time of William III and weighed 11 pounds two ounces and had a barrel three feet six inches long, while the bullet was wrapped in a loosely fitting patch forming a cartridge. The inventor of the Minie rifle obtained from the government 20,000 for his contrivance and up to the turn of the 20th century it was succeeded by the Enfield, Snider, Henry and Martini-Henry. The latter weighed eight pounds two ounces with a pull of six pound and was very accurate up to 1,200 yards, with an actual range much exceeding that distance. The barrel was 32 inches long on the Henry principle with a spiral of one turn in 22 inches.

    The culverin and matchlock had developed into the Krupp and Martini-Henry and the 'Joe Manton' of a past generation forsaken for the breech-loading choke-bore of many patterns. Not a great many years before, 45 or 50 yards would have represented the reliable shooting of an ordinary double-barrelled gun, but in 1881 the guns, of both local and overseas manufacture, exhibited by Messrs Ekins & Company of Adelaide, were guaranteed to kill with loose shot at from 90 to 100 yards. This great change was brought about by the adoption of what was called choke-boring - that is the boring out of the breech to a larger size than the muzzle. The results were an increased range and greater regularity of pattern and penetration than could possibly be obtained with the ordinary cylindrical barrel.

    The question of rifle clubs in South Australia dates back to 1854 when the 'Member for West Adelaide' moved that the Volunteer and Militia Bill be replaced by one providing for 'the periodical training and exercise of volunteers [and] formed into local district rifle clubs.' Under such a system it was felt that military duty would become popular; the emulation of the various clubs would stimulate proficiency at the target, and discipline and efficiency acquired all the more readily because the training would be neither expensive nor needlessly irksome.

    As discussed in an earlier chapter, upon the disbandment of the Volunteer Defence Corps, rifle corps were formed throughout the colony and the Government Gazette of 23 February 1860 announced the construction of rifle butts on the south Park Lands 'for the purpose of exercising and training the Volunteer Force.' It is apparent that two ranges of 700 and 800 yards were made available for the purpose, with two additional ranges being added within 18 months.

    By 1861, the Editor of the Observer felt it a duty 'to make one more effort to rescue the rifle association from the oblivion its committee seem determined to plunge it.' A few months later he was pleased to announce that 'some agencies are in operation in South Australia for the establishment of a South Australian Rifle Association.' The chief object was to organise and sustain periodical rifle matches, not only between the volunteers of the city but to all comers. A further suggestion was that the city be divided into districts and a canvass of the merchants, tradesmen and others for subscriptions be undertaken with a view of funding the association.

    The tender of Mr W. Lines was accepted in mid-1861 for the erection of new butts. It was the same size as the existing one but differed in construction for it had a target on each side, the mounds from the 600 and 900 yards consisting of retiring rooms, with standing places on top. The existing fence was continued from Goodwood Road to South Terrace, near the cemetery, and thence to meet that portion then standing opposite Brown Street. Large gates were erected opposite King William and Brown Streets, one on the north side, and near Goodwood and Unley Roads on the south, besides a number of footgates.

    By October 1861 the butts were completed, ranges measured out, mounds raised and fencing finished and it was hoped that three butts would be opened for practice because 'now that the colony's money had been spent its credit was at stake, for public and private funds had been drawn upon in connection with the volunteer movement and the colony was on trial before the volunteers of the sister colonies and of England.' This new facility was a great convenience to the city volunteers who, henceforth, had no occasion to go to Glenelg, Brighton or Semaphore for firing at long ranges.

    A regret was forthcoming that the government had not fenced the range to prevent cattle and 'daring passengers', to and from Unley, crossing either range during firing. Indeed, it was the Park Lands that were fenced - an abject error neither contemplated when the money was voted by parliament nor authorised by that vote. Complaints were made that the cattle nuisance was worse than it was before the fencing for then, 'the cows, if let in, could walk out; but now, once in, they remained in for, "like Sterne's Starling" they "can't get out".'

    The first rifle match under the auspices of the newly-formed association, and open to all comers, was set down for 29 October 1861 when 339 competitors enrolled. For the general public and the volunteers some accommodation for refreshments was provided near the butts, while patrons wishing to enter an enclosed space were charged two shillings and sixpence.

    The match was a decided success and from 8 am to 5 pm the proceedings were 'unflaggingly sustained and excitement equal to that which attended a closely contested horse race animated the hundreds of spectators' who surrounded each of the shooting tents. The match, however, was so arranged as to prevent it being terminated on the first day and the public were, therefore, 'obliged to suspend their curiosity after having it wound up to the highest pitch.'

    The association became firmly established and a suggestion from the press was that 'one or two bands, at least, should be employed to fill up the lugubrious intervals with cheerful sounds', thus giving spirit to the proceedings and rendering such matches still more attractive. In November 1861 matches were held at the butts and funds totalling 920 collected by the committee, while an Australia-wide competition was envisaged as 'an excellent supplement to local matches.'

    Within a few months country rifle clubs were established at Strathalbyn, Kapunda and Gawler and it was hoped that this innovation would give fresh life to the old one, for there was no doubt that the spirit of friendly rivalry between city and country clubs would bring satisfaction to all sides. Further, it was hoped that in the near future matches would include competitors from the adjacent colonies and the role of the association would be such that it effected much good by increasing the skill of the colony's riflemen, especially at long ranges, and by causing a free introduction of the best weapons that were being manufactured.

    The butts on the Park Lands had to endure many difficulties, for friend and foe alike aimed their missiles at it. In 1863, Mr Strangways moved in parliament that a new ground be selected to the south of the Reedbeds 'because no steps had been taken to increase the existing accommodation where there was really no convenience for a long series of matches.' No accidents had taken place on the ground which was attributed to luck rather than care on the part of the authorities. Loading and reloading were carried on in a variety of fashions and with muzzles pointing in all directions. Even pouches were falling into disuse and competitors could be seen stepping back from the firing places and rummaging for their ammunition in bundles scattered about the ground under the feet of lookers-on.

    In June 1877 a deputation waited on the Chief Secretary urging the removal of the butts. Two reasons for the request were made; firstly, a new road connecting Unley and Adelaide was due to be opened thereby increasing traffic past the butts and, secondly, a number of inexperienced men used the butts with a consequent increase in danger to the passing public. Mr Shierlaw, one of the deputation, said that one morning he was walking by the butts, hailed the butt-man who responded to him and told to go on. He had not gone more than ten yards when the crack of a rifle and the whizz of a bullet reminded him of the danger through which he was passing. Early in 1878 the butts were closed and removed to 'a fine level stretch of ground on the west side of the Dry Creek railway and within a quarter of a mile of the local station.' It gave a clear range of about 6,000 yards and did away with the necessity for large expensive stone butts.

    As for the rifle association, by 1877 its affairs were in a parlous state to which a newspaper editor opined that:

    Government aid to the association was struck off the Estimates and when Mr Rankine brought forward his motion for that body to be provided with 150 he was too late to obtain a division or even a discussion. However, although the association was in a bad state, the volunteers remained, but were armed with a weapon 'not at all calculated to give them a first place amongst either colonial or English sharpshooters.'

    The association was rejuvenated when it held a meeting on the south Park Lands on 27 October 1874 and, in due course, there were several rifle clubs scattered throughout the colony. They had no assistance either from the public or the government, except a loan from the latter of a number of old Enfield rifles and a supply of ammunition at about cost price. Notwithstanding, the members of this association laboured with their worn-out muzzle loading weapons and some excellent shooting was done.

    To this association is due the credit of having got up the agitation that resulted in the formation of the Volunteer Military Force (VMF) and, having accomplished that object, the association found that the work it had done was undermining the foundation of their own institution as so much interest was taken in the VMF that many of their members deserted them to join that body.

    The council of the association then proposed to Colonel Downes that the government should issue Martini-Henry rifles on bond to a body of men whom they were prepared to raise, under the conditions that the force, so raised, would undertake to serve as an auxiliary to the VMF in the case of invasion or particular emergency. Colonel Downes favoured the proposal, the scheme was matured, the Rifle Companies Act was passed and assented to on 30 November 1878 and thus the association was thoroughly established by law. Soon afterwards the first company of the association was formed in Adelaide, to be followed by the organisation of other companies in different parts of the colony.

    A circular issued by South Australian Rifle Association in June 1878 suggested a reorganisation of the various clubs whereby they would be self-governing and only requiring them to be under the management of the association; beyond this they could choose their own officer, hours of drill and practice regulations. Accordingly, as an adjunct to the Rifle Companies Act authority was given for the formation of the National Rifle Association. The rules of this measure provided that 20 or more persons could form themselves into a company to be distinguished by the name of the town or district in which they resided and that every such company should form part of the said association.

    Rifles were lent by the government and the clubs supplied with ammunition free of cost. On the other hand, at their own expense they provided their own uniforms costing 3.18s.6d., subscribed nineteen shillings annually to the local company's funds and attended a certain number of drills. They were, with but slight reservations, absolutely free lances, and they could not entertain the least jealousy on account of the pay and privileges attaching to service in the Volunteer Military Force. At the same time they were not mere holiday soldiers, but formed a reserve which could, in time of need, prove to be a valuable auxiliary to the more regular establishment.

    In time it became a habit to sneer at the National Rifle Association and to regard its members as merely indulging in the pretty pastime of playing soldiers, 'but no such charge will hold good against our riflemen,' proclaimed the morning press. Gradually, but surely, the ornaments of the force dropped out and their places taken by others possessed of serious military views - men anxious to do more than show off well-made uniforms and earn reputations of being fair shots and willing to expend the time and labour necessary to become disciplined and effective soldiers. However, one of the wants of the association was that of capable officers possessing the requisite military knowledge to enable them to instruct and discipline their men, and sufficient enthusiasm in the cause they had espoused to make teaching a labour of love.

    At the close of 1880, partly owing to a desire to be free from the restraint of military drill, and partly to the fact that General Downes was opposed to the 'back' position in rifle shooting, a number of men formed themselves into the South Australian Rifle Club and Mr C. Taylor, of the Reedbeds, granted a piece of land running parallel with the road from the old Fulham Post Office to Henley Beach and targets were fixed in the sand hummocks, so that the firing could be from east to west. A low lying swamp cut off access to the targets, except on horseback, but this was remedied later by a footbridge being thrown over the swamp at the narrowest part. The existing road to the range was to the left of the post office, but when the bridge was completed a visitor could take the bus to Henley Beach and by walking about 300 yards southwards from the hotel would see the danger flag flying.

    The range was opened on 11 December 1880 when among the matches fired was one by sides chosen by Mrs and Miss Smith, the competitors firing five shots each at 400 yards and at the closure they adjourned to a refreshment tent supplied with wines, etc., by Mrs Oliver of the Henley Beach Hotel.

    The arrival of various teams of crack riflemen from the neighbouring colonies on 16 August 1882 marked an era in the history of rifle competition in Australia for the first time a trial of skill took place between a number of really representative rifle teams selected from all the best shots in four different colonies on the same ground at the same time. On 20 August 1882 matches were held for the selection of the South Australian team and the butts at Port Adelaide presented a more animated scene than it had on any previous occasion. Of course, local jealousies were aroused during the selection of the team and as it is said that no man ever poked a fire to another man's satisfaction, so it was that no committee ever selected a rifle team without exciting criticism.

    As we draw to the conclusion of this chapter mention must be made of a man who served the interests of rifle shooting for many years and whose name was perpetuated by the Dean Range on Section 446, Hundred of Port Adelaide. The man who was to become Brigadier Dean joined a cavalry section of the volunteers formed at a meeting in the Adelaide Town Hall; three years later he received a commission. He began shooting early in 1878 with the volunteer rifles and was largely responsible for the formation of the Commonwealth Council of Rifle Associations of which he was appointed secretary in 1889. Ten years later, when new legislation was passed, he was appointed chairman. In 1921 he visited Britain and vacated his position after 12 years service. He was the first man in South Australia to receive the Volunteer Decoration at the hands of the Prince of Wales, the ceremony taking place on the Victoria Park racecourse in 1901. He was captain of the Commonwealth team which visited Great Britain in 1913 and led the State team on many occasions.

    By the close of the State's 100th year in 1936 there were 153 rifle clubs in South Australia with 15 of them being linked to the militia and, of that affiliate's 807 members, 802 were pronounced 'proficient'. Until 1931 the clubs were under civilian control and. in each district there was a supervisor, while the whole movement was administered by the Defence Secretary. In 1931 control passed to the Adjutant-General's Branch at army headquarters and in each military district the clubs were administered by a staff officer for rifle clubs. In 1935 there were 47,622 members of clubs in the Commonwealth and South Australia, with less than one tenth of the total population, had considerably more than one tenth of the riflemen.

    General Notes

    Proposed rifle clubs are discussed in the Register,
    23 August 1854, page 2b; also see
    Observer,
    4 May 1861, page 6e,
    30 November 1861, page 6e.

    "German Rifle Club Meeting" is in the Chronicle,
    30 April 1859, page 3b; also see
    Express,
    3 April 1866, page 3c and Place Names - Glen Osmond.

    "Early Rifle Shooting" is in the Register,
    22 September 1928, page 11e.

    "Rifle Matches" is in the Observer,
    10 November 1860, page 4h,
    1 and 22 December 1860, pages 6d and 5f,
    12 January 1861, page 6d.

    "Rifle Ranges" is in the Observer,
    13 April 1861, page 6f.

    "The Rifle Association" is in the Register,
    30 April 1861, page 2f,
    5 October 1863, page 2f.

    "Rules of the Rifle Association" is discussed in the Register,
    16 July 1861, page 2h; also see
    29 and 30 October 1861, pages 2e and 2e,
    5 and 12 April 1862, pages 2e and 2f,
    6 October 1862, page 2e,
    20 February 1867, page 2c.

    "The Annual Rifle Matches" is in the Register,
    29 June 1863, page 2f,
    3, 7 and 23 July 1863, pages 3a, 3b and 2h,
    8 October 1863, page 2g.

    Information on the City Rifle Club is in the Express,
    15 February 1864, page 2e,
    16 May 1864, page 2e.

    A sketch is in the Illustrated Adelaide Post,
    1 December 1870, page 4.

    "Mr W. Hughes's Challenge Cup" is in the Observer,
    13 May 1871, page 12f,
    15 July 1871, page 4c,
    14 October 1871, page 4d.

    A rifle match, English versus German, is reported in the Register,
    22 June 1875, page 6e.

    The first general meeting of the SA Rifle Association is reported in the Observer,
    31 October 1874, page 5c.
    An annual report of the SA Rifle Association is in the Observer,
    12 August 1876, page 19f,
    Express,
    18 August 1877, page 3b,
    Register,
    19 October 1878, page 5g,
    Observer,
    26 October 1878, page 22d;
    also see 8 March 1879, page 21e,
    24 May 1879, page 10e.

    A rifle match, English versus German, is reported in the Register,
    22 June 1875, page 6e.

    "The Rifle Butts" is in the Observer,
    23 February 1878, page 11b.

    "The New Rifle Movement" is in the Register,
    24, 28 and 29 June 1878, pages 5b, 5b and 5f,
    13 July 1878, page 5c,
    Observer,
    29 June 1878, page 24g,
    13 July 1878, page 18f.

    "Rifle Ranges" is in the Observer,
    16 June 1877, page 7f,
    "A National Rifle Association" on
    19 October 1878, page 10b,
    "The Rifle Association" on
    24 May 1879, page 10e.

    The Rifle Butts" is in the Register,
    16 February 1878, page 5b,
    "Positions in Rifle Shooting" is in the Advertiser,
    27 November 1879, page 7b,
    22 and 25 March 1880, pages 7e and 1g (supp.).

    The formation of the South Australian Rifle Club is reported in the Advertiser,
    13 December 1880, page 6f; also see
    26 February 1881, page 4d.

    "Rifle Association Easter Campaign" is in the Express,
    20 April 1881, page 3d.
    A sketch of a country rifle match is in the Pictorial Australian in
    April 1881, page 53.

    "Notes on Firearms" is in the Observer,
    4 March 1882, page 18e.

    The second annual ladies' match is reported in the Express,
    25 August 1883, page 2c; also see
    Observer,
    30 August 1884, page 19d.
    A photograph of a ladies' rifle team is in The Critic,
    23 October 1897, page 4.
    "Ladies' Rifle Association" is in the Register,
    17 October 1907, page 8e.
    A photograph of a "Ladies v the Law" event is in the Chronicle, 19 June 1915, page 28.

    An inter-colonial rifle contest is reported in the Observer,
    27 August 1887, page 19a.

    Annual matches are reported in the Express,
    9 and 10 September 1891, pages 7d and 4c.

    An editorial on the SA National Rifle Association is in the Advertiser,
    16 September 1893, page 4f.

    Biographical details of Richard Sampson, a champion marksman, are in the Observer,
    3 April 1897, page 16d,
    of W.H. Galliford, President of the Adelaide Defence Rifle Club, on 17 February 1900, page 16d.

    "The Adelaide Rifle Club - A Presentation Shield" is in the Register,
    7 March 1900, page 10e.

    An Adelaide Rifle Club meeting is reported in the Observer,
    8 December 1900, page 19d.

    "A Safety Rifle Range" is in the Advertiser,
    22 June 1900, page 3h,
    21 July 1900, page 10c;
    historical information on ranges appears on
    15 August 1900, page 6e; also see
    18 September 1901, page 4c.

    "Rifle Shooting and Defence" is in the Register,
    18 September 1901, page 4d.
    Photographs are in The Critic,
    28 September 1901, page 11.

    "A World's Rifle Record" set by Corporal L.H. Lovely is reported in the Observer,
    1 February 1902, page 30d.

    Photographs of the opening of butts at Glen Osmond are in The Critic,
    22 March 1902, page 5.

    An editorial is in the Advertiser,
    16 September 1902, page 4c;
    photographs are in the Chronicle,
    26 September 1903, page 42,
    Observer,
    1 June 1907, page 31.

    "A Wonderful Rifle Record [J.T. Lake]" is in the Register,
    23 and 27 October 1902, pages 5d and 4h.

    Biographical details of G. Howitt are in the Register,
    18 May 1903, page 4g.

    "An Hour With the Markers" is in the Register,
    8 October 1904, page 6g.

    "District Rifle Shooting - New Scheme" is in the Register,
    30 March 1906, page 3f,
    14 May 1906, page 6e.

    "The SANRA Matches" is in the Advertiser,
    23 March 1907, page 4f,
    "The Man and the Rifle" on
    27 November 1907, page 10g.

    Photographs of the King's Prize event in England are in the Chronicle,
    31 August 1907, page 29;
    also see Place Names - Orroroo and
    Chronicle,
    14 August 1909, page 30.

    "British Riflemen - Enthusiastic Public Welcome" is in the Register,
    26 November 1907, page 9c-g.

    Letters concerning rifle clubs are in the Advertiser,
    31 March 1908, page 11h,
    7 April 1908, page 10h.

    Photographs of winners of competitions are in the Chronicle,
    22 January 1910, page 30,
    of the Banks' Rifle Club in the Observer,
    26 June 1915, page 30.

    "Among the Marksmen - Some Reminiscences" is in the Advertiser,
    27 September 1911, page 8h.

    Rifle shooting is discussed in the Register on
    15 March 1910, page 6d,
    11 August 1911, page 6d,
    12 March 1913, page 6d,
    7 May 1914, page 6b,
    12 February 1915, pages 4c-6g,
    30 April 1915, page 7f,
    28 June 1915, page 6d,
    26 May 1916, page 4c.

    "Off to Bisley" is in the Register,
    5 and 7 May 1910, pages 5c and 5g;
    also see 18 July 1910, page 6d.

    Biographical details and a photograph of Mr C.M. Billin are in the Express,
    19 August 1910, page 6.

    "Encouraging Rifle Shooting" is in the Register,
    11 August 1911, pages 6d-7c.

    Biographical details of J.T. Lake are in the Register,
    3 February 1915, page 6h,
    of R.H. Hall on 15 July 1924, page 9d.

    19 June 1915, page 28,
    of a shooting competition on
    5 March 1927, page 39,
    Observer,
    29 September 1923, page 30,
    of shooting teams on
    27 September 1924, page 34.

    Reminiscences of early rifle shooting are in the Register,
    12 December 1916, page 7b,
    24 June 1924, page 5f,
    22 September 1928, page 11e.

    "New Rifle Clubs" is in the Register,
    30 April 1915, page 7f.

    Photographs of a match at Port Adelaide range are in The Critic,
    24 November 1920, page 14.

    "The Bisley Team - F.S. Bleechmore in Charge" is in the Register,
    20 and 26 January 1928, pages 10h and 10 (photo.).

    "Veteran Riflemen" is in The Mail,
    3 November 1928, page 9e; also see
    25 November 1933, page 17.

    "Membership of Rifle Clubs Growing" is in The News,
    20 August 1936, page 4g.

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