Boer War Rifles

I have been fortunate to obtain the kind permission of Dr John Osborne to reprint a set of articles that he has written. John is the President of the New Zealand Society of Gunsmiths and is a wealth of information and knowledge, which I am grateful to be able to share.


Carbines, Rifles, Bayonets & Shotguns used by New Zealand Mounted Rifles during the Boer War

 By John Osborne AA, ACRA, DTT, FSG, copyright. 25 February 2009.

Ten contingents of New Zealand Mounted Rifle Volunteers (NZMR) totalling 6495 with 8000 horses shipped from NZ served in South Africa between 1899 and 1903 (the term of service was one year), the largest proportion of representation from any British Colony. New Zealanders earned a reputation for expert horsemanship, resourcefulness, strength, speed and stamina. 228 died and 166 were wounded

The first three contingents (totalling 737) took a full part in Lord Roberts’ operations in 1900 against the main Boer armies. At Slingersfontein, in January 1900, some First Contingent men held a hilltop salient against a determined assault by superior Boer forces whom they dispersed with a bayonet charge in one of the few hand-to hand engagements of the war; it was named New Zealand Hill in their honour.

The three contingents also distinguished themselves at Sanna’s Post, Diamond Hill, and Rhenoster Kop. The Fourth Contingent (467) joined the Rhodesian Field Force in May 1900 via Portuguese East Africa. Farrier Sergeant W. J. Hardham, in January 1901 won the Victoria Cross for rescuing a wounded comrade under heavy fire. The Fifth Contingent (527) also joined in Rhodesia. The Sixth Contingent (579) and the Seventh (594) arrived in early 1901 to replace time-expired troops. The Eighth Contingent reached Africa in March 1902, still in time for some arduous service, the Ninth and Tenth contingents, over 2,000 men, arrived too late to see much service.

In February 1902 at Langverwacht (Bothasberg) the Seventh NZMR Contingent was engaged in severe action. A British drive was enclosing a large force of Boers who under cover of night used a screen of cattle to approach the driving line; they struck with overwhelming force a section held by New Zealanders who suffered 65 casualties in a unit of about 80. The Boers also suffered heavily and the remainder of their force surrendered shortly afterwards. By 1903 there were 227 Volunteer Units in New Zealand which had provided officers and men for the Ten Contingents


 The Fourth Contingent (467) New Zealand Mounted Rifles (Rough Riders) Regiment on Parade at Klerksdorp, Transvaal 26 November 1900.

 The First, Second, Third, Fourth and about half of the Fifth Contingents were armed with .303” Martini Enfield (Artillery) Carbines and 1888 pattern MKI sword / knife bayonets which were issued in New Zealand. When supplies of the 1500 New Zealand Martini Enfield carbines ran out or needed to be replaced in South Africa, New Zealanders were issued with arms from the British stores in South Africa.



 New Zealand issue .303” Martini Enfield MKI Artillery Carbine (ACI) converted at Enfield in 1897 from a 577.450 Martini Henry MkIII rifle originally made at Enfield in 1882. 1500 Martini Enfield Artillery Carbines and 1888 MKI bayonets were purchased by NZ Government in 1898 for use by New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Issued in NZ to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and about half of the 5th Contingents of NZ Mounted Rifles (Rough riders) who served in the Boer War together with 1888 MKI knife bayonets (top) compared to the MKII (Lower) c1901.These carbines continued in service with some NZ based volunteer corps, for military training purposes during WWI and WWII and issued to some Home Guard Units during WWII.


 Left; original Martini-Henry markings on right side of reciever. Centre; Ladder sight graduations 600 ‐ 2000 yds for a shorter 21” barrel carbine using nitro powder (cordite) compared to the ladder sight graduations 600‐1700 yards for the 30” barrel Lee Metford MKII rifle using 70 grains of compressed black powder. Right; Martini Enfield conversion markings on left side of carbine reciever fitted with a 21” barrel with Enfield 5 groove rifling, diameter of bore .303”, depth of rifling .0065”, width of lands .0936”, twist 1 turn in 10” left hand.


 Left; NZ acceptance number 685 of 1500. Centre; E = Enfield rifling, NZ Military ownership marks accepted (Nov) 1898. Right; Ramp sight graduations 200 to 500 yds.


Left; Pattern 1888 MKI, NZ acceptance number 212 of 1500. Center; made by Wilkinson Sword Co. 3’98

Note: many of these bayonets were driven into the hard ground with the butt of the carbine or rifle for use as tent fly pegs; see bruising to the head of this bayonet, quite common.



Left; P1888 MKII, NZ acceptance number 1182 of 1500, as used with the NZ LEC MKI and MKI* This bayonet was renumbered 15507 for use with MLE MKI* rifles issued to some New Zealand forces early in WWI. Center; made by Wilkinson Sword Co, London, 4’01 (April 1901) Right; drain hole at end of lug attachment recess.


Squadron of the 4th New Zealand Mounted Rifles (Rough Riders) with their New Zealand issue .303” Martini Enfield (Artillery) MKI Carbines and at 5th from left front row, 4th in from left centre row and at top row first left three riders armed with .303” Lee Metford MKII or Lee Enfield Rifles. When a carbine was lost or needed repairs the rider was issued with a Long Rifle from British stores to replace the carbine


Top; Lee Metford MkII, (MLM) introduced in 1893 with 10 shot Magazine. Metford rifling designed for use with black powder cartridges. Fitted with ramp (up to 500 yards) and ladder (up to 1700 yards) V sights on barrel, and on left side (see detail below) long-range sights adjustable from 1600 to 2800 yards. Used by some NZMR in the Boer War. Centre; Lee Enfield Mk I, (MLE) introduced in November 1895 Enfield rifling and sights altered for use with Cordite the new smokeless powder, new safety fitted to bolt at rear. Used by some NZMR in the Boer War. Originally the MLM MKII and MLE MKI were fitted with 17 ¼” long clearing rods housed through hole in bayonet boss and groove in forewood. It is understood the clearing rod originally fitted to the MLM MKII and MLE MKI was done away with and a cord pull through held in the butt was used by all NZMR for barrel cleaning. Lower; Lee Enfield Mk I*, introduced in 1899, only minor changes to previous model, no longer fitted with a cleaning rod through bayonet boss. Bore cleaning was by cord pull through and oil bottle stored in butt. Used by some NZMR in the Boer War. Sights re‐graduated to suit improved cartridges. (all fitted with 30” barrels)



Sights fitted to the 1894 Lee Metford MKII; vee sights ramp adjusts to 500 yards, ladder adjusts from 600 to 1700 yards. Note the ladder rear sight is only graduated to 1700 yards for .303” black powder cartridges, The long-range sights fitted to the left side of the Lee Metford MKII were also re‐graduated for the Enfield Long Rifles to suit the nitro powder.


Left; (MLM) Magazine Lee Metford MkII, made by Enfield 1894, last British Military rifle designed for use with black powder cartridges. Wore out quickly using nitro powder (cordite) cartridges. Second; (MLE) Magazine Lee Enfield Mk I made by Birmingham Small Arms and Metal Co. 1896. Third; (MLE) Magazine Lee Enfield Mk I* made by Birmingham Small Arms Co. in 1901. Only minor differences to the MLE Mk I most noticeable no cleaning rod and groove in stock. Fourth & fifth; Long range sights front left side oval foresight at top of arm (left image), long-range aperture fixed rear sight.


Squadron from the 6th Contingent NZMR armed with .303” Lee Metford or Lee Enfield Long Rifles issued from British stores. Note rifle butts sit in boot slung from right side of saddle and in right image lower centre rider has repositioned bucket in front of bag, rifle angled rearwards



Left; troopers from the 6th NZMR (Rough Riders) relaxing out of the sun using their Lee Metford / Enfield Rifles as tent fly poles, and their bayonets driven into the hard ground with the butts of their rifles to use as pegs to secure the strap tie downs attached to the rifle barrels poking out through a hole in the fly, a common practice but definitely not approved by the officers. Right; Squad from the 6th NZMR early 1901 armed with .303” Lee Metford or Lee Enfield Long Rifles and Cavalry Carbines issued from British stores.


.303” Lee Enfield Cavalry Carbine MKI* 1900 as issued where appropriate to the British troopers and in small numbers to some 5th, 6th and 7th Contingents NZMR. Designed to be loaded as a single shot with magazine cutoff in place or for rapid fire the cutoff hinged out to use the five cartridges in the magazine. Refer receiver band below. Courtesy Grant Sherriff.


Note. New Zealand Mounted Rifles were mounted infantry who rode to engagements, then dismounted and fought as infantry which required a bayonet. The British Lee Enfield Cavalry Carbine (LEC) was only a “stop gap” issued until the arrival of the New Zealand Pattern 1900 Lee Enfield Carbine fitted with a bayonet boss to accept the 1888 knife bayonet.




.303” New Zealand Pattern 1900 MKI. From early 1901 was issued to some 6th and 7th Contingents. In February 1902 the 7th NZMR Contingent was engaged in severe action and in one battle suffered 65 casualties. This Carbine is numbered 651 and issued during 1901 probably from the last batch of MKIs. Note the flat bolt head and magazine cutoff plate knob. Courtesy Grant Sherriff.



The 21” barrel .303” New Zealand Pattern MKI* had minor rear sight changes to the MKI. The MKI* was delivered to South Africa in batches from late 1901, with further batches delivered and issued during 1902 and the last batch delivered early in 1903. The MKI* was issued to some NZMR in the 7th, 8th, 9th & 10 contingents, the rest were mostly issued with Long Lee Enfield rifles MKI*.




Left; .303” Lee Enfield Cavalry Carbine MKI* 1900 as issued where appropriate to the British troopers and in small numbers to some 5th, 6th and 7th Contingents NZMR. Second ; markings on receiver make and date of NZ LEC MKI. Third; Date 1901 of issue and NZ issue number 651. fourth; This carbine was originally made as a Lee Metford Carbine LMC MKI 1894, with New Zealand’s urgent request in 1900 for special carbines was converted in early 1903 to NZ pattern LEC I*. Fifth; marks on stock NZ LEC 1*. Right; Date of issue 1903 and NZ issue number 1327 of a total 1500 special contract .303” NZ Lee Enfield Carbines fitted with a bayonet lug to accept the 1888 pattern (MKI and MKII) knife bayonets. 1484 of the 1500 NZ LEC carbines issued in South Africa returned to New Zealand with the NZMR troops and continued in service with some NZ based volunteer corps, the New Zealand Police as required, for military training purposes during WWI and WWII and issued to some Home Guard Units during WWII.



Squad of four riders from the 7th Contingent NZMR on food gathering duties, armed with New Zealand Pattern .303” Lee Enfield Carbines and 12 gauge side by side Shotgun


Side by Side 28 ½” three wire fine twist Damascus barrels, hammerless box lock made by Chas Osborne & Co, Birmingham c1900 Gun No 42773. During the Boer war special squads of the 7th, 8th, 9th 10th Contingents NZMR on patrol in remote areas were issued with shotguns for food gathering duties, This gun is reputed to have been one of those guns issued to a Waikato Rough Rider. Little is known about these guns and the type of ammunition bird and buck shot used. Research continues, the author would appreciate any information.


Left; The marks of the Birmingham Proof House 1890s to 1st August 1904 for 12‐gauge choke‐bored shotguns, nitro proof tested for use with a maximum charge of 45 grains of Schultze nitro powder and 1 ¼ oz of bird or buck shot. The gun has 2 5/8” chambers, both bores are choke tapered from 12 gauge .730” at breech to 13 gauge .718” at muzzle. Right; the attractive pattern of the three-wire fine twist Damascus barrels, although this gun has had considerable use there are still traces of the original browning surface coating. This Gun was manufactured and proof tested in Birmingham and marked Chas Osborne & Co, 2 Great Scotland Yard, the London depot.


Even after many years of service including the Boer War and season after season of duck, goose and pheasant shooting in the Waikato the box lock action is still tight and apart from a few dents, scratches and minor repairs this gun is now retired but is still sound with what appear to be all original parts. This shotgun has no military or NZ acceptance marks.



Left: A Wellington trooper, 1st New Zealand Mounted Rifles, fully clothed and armed before departing for the Boer War on the Waiwera 21 October 1899. Centre: A Canterbury trooper, 3rd New Zealand Mounted Rifles (Rough Riders), preparing to depart for the Boer War, the 3rd Contingent left Lyttelton (Christchurch) for South Africa on 17 Feb. 1900 after having spent some time at a camp in Addington. On their return to New Zealand in May 1901 they were disbanded. Right: An unknown trooper, 6th New Zealand Mounted Rifles armed with a .303” Long Lee Enfield rifle MKI* fitted with sling for carrying across his back or the butt of rifle could be placed in bucket slung from the right side of saddle. The rifle being held at all times.


The Boer Wars was the name given to the South African Wars First of 1880‐1 and Second of 1899‐1902, that were fought between the British and the descendants of the Dutch settlers (Boers) in Africa. After the first Boer War William Gladstone granted the Boers self‐government in the Transvaal. The Boers, under the leadership of Paul Kruger, resented the British colonial policy of Joseph Chamberlin and Alfred Milner which they feared would deprive the Transvaal of its independence. After receiving military equipment from Germany, the Boers had a series of successes on the borders of Cape Colony and Natal between October 1899 and January 1900. Although the Boers only had 88,000 soldiers, led by the outstanding soldiers such as Louis Botha, and Jan Smuts the Boers were able to successfully besiege the British garrisons at Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley. British and Colonial including New Zealand army reinforcements arrived in South Africa in 1900 and counter‐offences relieved the garrisons and enabled the British to take control of the Boer capital, Pretoria, on 5th June 1900. For the next two years groups of Boer commandos raided isolated British units in South Africa. Lord Kitchener the Chief of Staff in South Africa, reacted to this by destroying Boer farms and moving civilians into concentration camps. The Boer War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902. The peace settlement brought to an end the Transvaal and the Orange Free State as Boer republics. However, the British granted the Boers £3 million for restocking and repairing farm lands and promised eventual self‐government (granted in 1907).


Special Thanks and acknowledgements.

Grant Sherriff FSG, Dunedin, for images of his LEC and NZ Pattern LEC MKI Carbines
Alexander Turnbull Library National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, for all the contemporary images.
Queen Elizabeth II New Zealand Army Memorial Museum, Waiouru.
Osborne Arms Museum, for images of other arms, photographed by the author.
National Archives of New Zealand, Wellington, military records researched over many years.
John Osborne, “Carbines and Police in New Zealand” (1990) South Pacific Armoury N Z, ISBN 0‐908873‐01‐8‐zealand‐in‐the‐south‐african‐boer‐war Excellent Embarkation Database A brief history History of the Boer War
www.anglo‐ Anglo‐Boer War Museum Photo Gallery of the Anglo Boer War. Over many years numerous members of the New Zealand Antique and Historical Arms Assn. Inc.‐boer‐war some good information. an excellent guide