Four antique guns, of “priceless” historical value and provenance, as well as three bullet moulds and a silver shooting trophy, have been stolen from the Council Room inside the Foster Museum in Main Street.
As yet unidentified offenders cut through the wire fence at the rear of the Museum grounds before forcing the external door into the research room at the back of the main building between Sunday and Wednesday, December 5 and 8, 2021.
Foster and District Historical Society members had entered the Museum via the front door for a routine administration session last Wednesday morning.
The members noticed that the research room door was standing open, that information books in the Council Room were out of their correct places, and that the guns had been taken from their cabinet.
The break-in and the theft of the four deactivated guns were immediately reported to Victoria Police, with an officer from Bass Coast Crime Scene Services based at the Wonthaggi Police Station attending on Thursday morning December 9, 2021.
Victoria Police officers are currently examining closed circuit television footage that seems to indicate the incident may have occurred during the very early hours of Monday morning December 6.
Three of the guns are muzzle- and breech-loading rifles, while the fourth is an incomplete, muzzle-loading double-barrelled shotgun acquired from Mrs E. Need of Leongatha in 1977.
One of the missing rifles had been issued to William Morgan, who was engaged and paid by the Government to shoot wild cattle between Alberton and the Agnes River.
These cattle had escaped from herds driven along the stock route between Western Port and East Gippsland during the 1840s and 1850s.
This single shot, muzzle-loading rifle was donated to the Museum by Mrs B. Cole of Foster in 1990, who had also given one of the stolen bullet-moulds to the Historical Society in 1989.
One rifle is described in the Museum records as being a “Kerr Match Rifle, [a] muzzle loading, percussion lock target rifle fitted with large bore barrel, manufactured by the London Armoury Company in 1862” with “walnut stock, steel ramrod and furniture”.
Its lock plate is engraved with “LAC/1862”, “Crown/VR” (indicating Queen Victoria and Government ownership), and London proof marks.
Mr Dan Cripps of Port Franklin contributed a single shot breech loading rifle to the Museum’s collection in 1980, and an “Antique Gun, Muzzle Loading” was acquired from Mr A. Need of Woorarra East in 2000.
Another of the moulds that was taken was used to make revolver bullets and was donated by Mr C Cowell of Foster in 1980, and the third mould, made of steel and brass with wooden handles, was acquired in 1992 and is thought to have come from the estate of Mr F. Medley of Toora.
Provided by Mrs M. Meikle of Toora in 1977, the silver shooting trophy, in the form of a serviette ring, has crossed Martini-Henry rifles engraved on each side.
The earliest type of Martini-Henry rifle first entered British Army service in 1871, with subsequent models employed until the end of World War One.
The firearms were secured inside their cabinet with strengthened cable attached to the building’s sub-floor structure as required and approved by the Victoria Police Licensing and Regulation Division.
Those responsible for the robbery shifted the three information books in their Perspex stands kept on top of the guns’ display cabinet onto the floor before carefully removing the plate-glass top of the cabinet and laying it against the books.
The glass shelves holding the guns were also moved aside without damage before the cabling was cut and the guns, moulds, and trophy extracted.
None of the other exhibits inside the Museum nor any of the buildings or the displays outside in the grounds were disturbed.
Historical Society president Meg Rogers said she and her fellow members were “distressed and saddened” by the robbery.
“Everyone in the Society had been so happy with the success of the event we’d held at the Foster Museum on Sunday afternoon [December 5] to open our new Communications Past and Present exhibition and to honour two of our long-term members,” she said.
“We couldn’t believe it when we came in on Wednesday to do some cataloguing and found that we’d been robbed!
“Since nothing else appears to have been touched in the Museum, it’s clear the perpetrators knew what they were after and exactly where they were.
“The guns, and the bullet moulds and trophy may have a little worth to collectors, but to the Historical Society and the Museum, they are simply priceless because they are important pieces of our own local community’s history,” Mrs Rogers said.
“We are keen to have these exhibits returned and we appeal to anyone with knowledge of who might have been involved in the break-in, or where the items have been taken, to help us get them back.”
The Victoria Police Bass Coast Crime Scene Services officer who performed the initial investigation, took photographs of the gun cabinet and its location, and the damaged fence and research room door, and searched for evidence inside and outside the Museum.
Copies of the CCTV footage has also been supplied to Victoria Police.
A Victoria Police spokesman asked those who may have witnessed any unusual activity at or near the Foster Museum or in the adjacent car park between 12 midnight and 3 am on Monday morning December 6 to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.