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Top Guns from SAS Founder, African Game Hunter and Field Marshall Hit Bullseye at Bonhams
David Stirling's Purdeys. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A pair of Purdey shotguns once owned by Colonel William Stirling, one of the two brothers who founded the SAS, were sold yesterday (8.12.10) for £42,000 at Bonhams Sporting Gun Sale in Knightsbridge.

Colonel William Stirling formed 2 Special Air Service in 1943, after his brother David, the original founder of the SAS was captured.

The pair of 12-bore self-opening sidelock ejector guns by J. Purdey & Sons had been offered for sale with an estimate of £18,000 to £25,000. The makers confirmed that the guns were completed in 1949 for Colonel W. Stirling, and were rebarrelled by the makers in 1975. They have remained in the same family since new.

William Stirling was the eldest son of Brigadier Archibald Stirling of Keir, and was educated at Ampleforth College and Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1932. He joined the Scots Guards, and during the Second World War commanded 62 Commando before forming 2 Special Air Service in May 1943 in Philippeville, Algeria, four months after the capture of his brother David in Tunisia. David Stirling known as the founder of the SAS sold the concept of a small active unit working behind enemy lines to army chiefs. After a rocky start it proved its value with many significant actions to its credit.

2 SAS saw service in both Sicily and Italy before returning to Britain in 1944, where both of the SAS regiments were joined with two French and one Belgian unit to form the SAS Brigade of the Army Air Corps which was then deployed during the Normandy invasion, working behind the lines up until the end of the war, when they were disbanded. William Stirling later became Honorary Colonel of the Scots Guards.

A rifle that belonged to a man who was a legend in his own lifetime, Frederick Selous, one of Africa’s greatest white hunters, was sold for £32,400 yesterday. It had been estimated to sell for £5,000 to £7,000.

The rifle was a rare Holland-Woodward patent .256 falling-block rifle by Holland & Holland, no. 21873, generally used for small game “but in the hands of an expert capable of dropping an elephant if shot through the ear,” according to Patrick Hawes, Bonhams Sporting Gun Specialist.

He adds: “This rifle was an absolute must for anyone who loves that period of African history, and who reveres the memory of Selous. He lived at a time when swashbuckling white hunters were king of the African bush and took an American president, Hollywood stars and crowned princes on safari to shoot game animals which then numbered in the millions.”

As Roosevelt wrote of Selous: "Mr. Selous is the last of the big game hunters of Southern Africa; the last of the mighty hunters whose experience lay in the greatest hunting ground which this world has seen since civilised man has appeared herein."

While most famously associated with Africa, Selous hunted and collected across Europe, Asia and North America between 1870 and 1907, as well as an area of Africa that ranged from South Africa to the Sudan. The Selous Collection of the Natural History Museum in London contains 524 mammals from three continents, all shot by him, as part of a collection of over five thousand plant and animal specimens and in recognition of which a bust of Selous was placed in the main hall of the museum in 1920. There is also the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, founded in 1922 and designatd a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

A very rare pair of French silver-mounted flintlock pistols by Napoleon’s gunmaker, Boutet, once in the collection of Field Marshall Sir Frances Festing, offered in Bonhams Fine Antique Arms and Armour sale in Knightsbridge on Wednesday, 24th November sold for £162,00, solidly beating its pre-sale estimate of £50,000 to £75,000.

The pistols, of presentation quality were made by Nicolas-Noël Boutet, (1761-1833), Directeur Artiste, Manufacture A Versailles. He is considered to be one of the greatest recorded gunmakers. From 1793 to 1818 he was artistic director of the Manfacture Nationale de Versailles where he was responsible for the production of some of the finest luxury and presentation arms ever made. The pistols were exhibited in the Tower of London, 1986-1996 and The Royal Armouries, Leeds, 1996-2010.

David Williams, Director of Antique Arms and Armour Department at Bonhams, comments: “This pair of duelling pistols are very fine examples of their kind, made by one of the foremost gunsmiths of the 18th Century. Their ownership by one of Britain’s most distinguished soldiers adds much to their interest and value.”

The pistol’s owner was known as a soldier who led from the front. “Frankie Festing” distinguished himself during WW2 campaigns in the Indian Ocean and Burma. His post war career was as successful.

Bonhams | Top Guns | Sporting Gun Sale | William Stirling |

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