The Arms collection is one of the museum's oldest and most extensive collections. Comprising over 3600 items, it is the most important of its type in Australia, with sub-collections of international significance.
The collection can be interpreted from a number of perspectives: the technical development of firearms and munitions, military history, social and political history, and the aesthetics of decoration and craftsmanship.
It comprises a broad range of weapons and associated items, including pistols, muskets, rifles, machine guns, swords, knives, bayonets, artillery pieces and armour. The majority of the collection dates from the 18th to the 20th centuries, although there is a small number of earlier items.
- The Cole Collection of firearms represents the golden age of English gun manufacturing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many items are of high aesthetic as well as technical value.
- 19th century military firearms, especially British Empire firearms, reflecting Victorian colonial life and colonial defences.
- Weapons seized in British Empire wars in the 19th century, including the Canning Indian Mutiny Collection and the Pretyman collection of items seized in the Boer War.
- A substantial and broad collection of Colt firearms, particularly handguns, from the 19th century.
- Representative examples of firearms with particular Melbourne and Victorian provenance, including firearms sold by local distributors and retailers.
- The 1907 model Savage automatic pistol serial no. 1, the private firearm of the director of Savage Arms, Colonel Benjamin Adriance.
- Japanese armour and swords.