Sydney intruder's sword found in Ireland

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The Independent Online

The sword of an infamous cavalry officer who gatecrashed the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge 72 years ago has been found on a farm in County Wicklow, Ireland.

The sword of an infamous cavalry officer who gatecrashed the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge 72 years ago has been found on a farm in County Wicklow, Ireland.

Captain Francis de Groot infiltrated the official party and slashed the ribbon with his sword, declaring the bridge open "in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales". He was arrested and taken to a lunatic asylum, but was found to be sane and his sword - which had been confiscated - was returned to him.

Now the long-lost weapon has been traced by an Australian academic, Andrew Moore, who presented a paper on Irish-Australian history at University College Dublin. Afterwards, he was approached by a member of the audience who told him he was Frank de Groot, the captain's nephew.

"He said: 'I can solve the mystery of the sword. I have it'," said Professor Moore, a history lecturer at the University of Western Sydney. The sword is now being valued, and the National Museum in Canberra is hoping to buy it.

Captain de Groot's hijacking of the opening ceremony for the bridge - now a famous Australian landmark known affectionately as the "Coathanger" - has passed into Sydney folklore. The bridge had taken 1,400 men eight years to construct, and in March 1932 a crowd of a million people gathered to watch the state premier, Jack Lang, cut the ribbon.

As Lang prepared to do the honours, de Groot rode out of the group of assembled dignitaries and got there first. He was promptly arrested, the ribbon was hurriedly retied and Lang then cut it, to the accompaniment of a 21-gun salute and a ceremonial fly-past by the Royal Australian Air Force.

De Groot, who fought with the 15th Hussars on the western front in the First World War, was dragged from his horse and arrested. The police sergeant remarked: "I never had any experience of arresting an insane man on horseback." De Groot was later convicted of offensive behaviour and maliciously injuring one ribbon, and was fined £5 plus £4 costs.

It subsequently emerged that he was no longer in the regular Army, but was a member of a 1930s right-wing paramilitary group known as the New Guard.

Professor Moore told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that, despite his dubious political views, de Groot "did democracy a good turn" by dissuading some of the more militant members of the New Guard from staging a coup and kidnapping Lang. The group detested Lang's Labour government.

De Groot, a Dublin-born antique dealer and furniture manufacturer, sued for wrongful arrest after the incident and reached an out-of-court settlement. He died in Ireland in 1969.

The bridge cost £4.2m to build and is still the world's largest steel-arch bridge. Six million hand-made rivets and 53,000 tons of steel were used in its construction.

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