Well, this could actually go all the way back to the Brown Bess, however I wont! I need to draw a line in the sand somewhere, or A, I wont ever get this project finished, B, I will have to beg, borrow, acquire even more rifles to photograph and wish I had……. or C, I will end up on another tangent so……I will start with a .577 Snider Enfield, then move onto a Martini Action, and then the No1***, (wish they were mine!) but this ought to give a basic understanding and background to the progression and advances. No it doesn’t explore such gems as early troop trials rifles or to the depth at this stage I would like to give. But it does give someone who is new to the Enfield’s story, simple building blocks in which to learn from.
Snider .577 cal
This particular example is of a New Zealand marked Artillery Carbine. A vast number of these Snider’s were converted and also issued as Constabulary Carbines. This particular Snider postdates the first ever issued “Armed Constabulary” rifles in NZ. That was in the early to mid 1800’s when a consignment of 80 Lovell’s pattern carbines were sent New Zealand and issued to the Constabulary to help protect and guard the gold being transported from the Otago gold fields to Christchurch.
These were in fact the first NZ issued rifles and bear the “NZ” stamp as well as the BO and other British markings. The example below is one of the original 80, with issue number and NZ markings, it
is currently the project of an ambitious restoration to bring it back to working condition. Updates later on that project, but a project that we will closely watch!! more pictures at the bottom of the page.
The type of breach on this rifle is called breech-loading. The snider was an early attempt to convert the older, slower muzzle-loading rifles to such breech loaders. The action concept is rather simple, but far more effective than the muzzle loader . The rear of the breach is a hinged breach block, this is opened and a round inserted into the chamber. The breach was then closed and locked into place via a simple locking device. The hammer has then raised and was in turn ready to fire. The first breeches didn’t have very good (if any) locking devices to hold the breech closed and in place. These were interestingly enough refered to as suicide breeches! These initial design issues were soon overcome!
The rifle fired a round that was .577 in calibre and the projectile weighed approx 450gr. As well as the shortened carbine there were long-barreled versions, these measured approximately 1200mm long!
These rifles also carried the Tower mark, as well as including other proof marks, military acceptance marks, as well as the royal cyphers. Woodwork was often marked in a similar manner. The example below shows the gun makers mark as well. This particular Rifle has the NZ with its rack number on the Butt.
The Snider was produced in large numbers and was replaced in the early 1870’s by the Martini-Henry.
The Martini-Henry Mk III
The Martini-Henry replaced the Enfield Snider in the early 1870’s
The Martini-Henry was the marriage of the Swiss inventor Frederick von Martini’s action and Mr Alexander Henry’s barrel. The British War Office in 1866 had organised a competition in order to encourage as many designs and concepts as possible. It was as a result of this competition that the Martini action was chosen.
In 1869 a further trial was held in which the Henry barrel was used. It was chambered in the .450 cartridge. As mentioned on other pages the barrel utilised polygonal rifling that was suited to the propellant of the day, that being black powder.
The Martini-Henry MK I was approved on 3rd June 1871. It underwent a number of changes, the MkII was approved April 1877, but what is most of interest was again in the variations. These being the Cavalry Carbine approved on the 24th September 1877, the Artillery Carbine approved 21st July 1879.
Whilst the pattern for this particular rifle was approved in 1879, it didn’t see introduction into service till 1882. The MKIII was manufactured at the RSAF Enfield, BSA, LSA, as well as the NAA (National Arms and Ammunition) and HRB (Henry Rifle Barrel Company). This particular rifle is dated 1884 and is marked with the letters VR, this stands for Victoria Regina. This indicates the regent at the time this rifle was made was Queen Victoria. The rifle is also adorned with a crown above the VR and on the side lever is a small broad arrow. This “Broad Arrow” being an acceptance mark into military service, It is a common symbol that you will see on British military rifles.
The method by which ammunition was loaded into this rifle was by way of a falling block design, the actual action is called a Martini action. The top of the rifle as you can see to above was in fact a hinged breach block . This block would lever down allowing access to the breach when the lever behind the trigger was pulled down. This lever clearly visible in the photo to the right. It was in this state that the round was feed into the rifle.
When the round was in the breach, the lever was then pulled up, this in turn closed the breach and the rifle was ready to be fired. The Martini-Henry was a single shot rifle and did not have a magazine like later Enfield rifles would have. It was however a fast and smooth improvement over her predecessor.
The round itself is a monster compared to modern-day rounds, but was a standard round of it day, .45 cal.
Images kindly permitted by Paul, cheers again mate!
The SMLE MKI ***
I’ve omitted a couple of rifles that could have probably gone here that show the rifles natural progression. However, I felt that this early SMLE embodied all their influences and not only demonstrated the key aspects but also turn of the century modern ideas.
The SMLE is in essence the culmination and collaboration of designers like Metford and Lee, with the help of Royal Ordinance Factory managers and designers such as Speed. It further owes its development to outside influences such as Remington, Sharps and Burton, the very rivals to the Lee and Enfield amalgamation. Also with modernisation such as transitioning from black powder to nitro cellulose.
But what makes this rifle different from its predecessors, was it becoming standardised in its shape for all branches of the military. Gone were the Long lees and the carbines, now it was a standard SMLE.