Got a new rifle yesterday, I did. Well not exactly "new"...it's one hundred and twenty five years old. It's a Martini-Henry MK. IV, a single-shot breech-loading rifle that took a black powder cartridge in caliber .450-577. It's old but tight and it appears to still be fully functional. (They built them good back then.)
I've wanted one of these for a long time, ever since I first saw the movie Zulu. These rifles were the backbone of the British Commonwealth military for quite some time, although this particular one is a bit too young to have been used during the Zulu War in 1879. (The Mk. II was the issue version back then.)
This was a military arm, as evidenced by the Royal Cipher (the crown) and the initials "V.R.", which represented "Victoria Regina" (Latin for "Queen Victoria"). Below that is "ENFIELD", which is where this one was made. Below that is the dtate of manufacture, 1886, followed by a lock inspector's approval stamp, placed there by the expert who inspected all such military arms upon his approval of that particular rifle: This one is interesting in that the Mark IV was produced for two years, in 1888 and 1889, yet this one is clearly dated 1886. This indicates that it was converted from an earlier Mark I pattern, as many were. Further proof for that comes from the fact that the Mark Number ("IV") is off-center. The receiver was originally stamped as a Mk. I and the "V" was added later when the rifle was converted to Mk. IV specs.
For those not in the know, in the mid-1880s, the British developed a new cartridge, the .402, which was superior to the .450 round. Accordingly, they began building martini-Henry rifles in this caliber, designating them EM Mk. I models. But about the time that they got going with this project, along came the .303 Medford cartridge, which was vastly superior to even this cartridge, and the Brits switched to that round instead. Since it was a serious logistical pain to try to stock the new round, plus the old .450-577 round plus this .402 round, about 64,000 of these .402 rifles were converted back to the older, less-effective .450-577 cartridge and used to arm the troops of British colonies. This is one of those rifles.The "KK.A" stamp on the lower edge shows that this rifle was "Sold out of service" or surplussed out from the Kirkee, India Arsenal, apparently in November of 1908. Like most of it's kind, this one was sent to the then-British colony of Nepal (The stock bears a faint Nepalese acceptance stamp dated 1908 as well) where it was stored and forgotten for many, many decades. The buttstock is a mish-mash of Nepalese markings and older British and Indian markings that were stamped out, most likely when it got to Nepal.According to the seller, a great guy whom I'd do business again with in a heartbeat, this particular rifle has been in the country well before IMA imported the bulk of the Nepalese guns,so it was almost certainly brought in as part of the first batch of Nepalese arms that were imported in the 1970's by Interarms, that great company built and run by the legendary Sam Cummings. (Thanks, Sam!) Now it's here at the Lair and it'll assume a place of honor in my gun room, waiting on the arrival of some vintage .450-577 ammunition and/or the tools that I'll need to reload ammunition for this old veteran. The breechblock is open, the barrel and chamber look great, and this rifle's voice will be heard again before too long, count on it.
Meanwhile, if you want to see Martini-Henry rifles in action, you can watch some being used here, in "Zulu".
I guess if I had a couple dozen equally-armed friends standing next to me, this rifle could come in handy during the next flash mob or London-style riot. Since it's likely to be just me and one or two others though, I think I'll echo the sentiment of poet Hilaire Belloc:
"Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not."
Granted, I don't have a Maxim gun (darn it...), but I do have an M60. It'll do in a pinch, I suppose.They should have had a few M60's at Isandhlwana. Maybe then they wouldn't have gotten shellacked so badly. (On second thought, courtesy of Lord Chelmsford's incredibly poor tactics, they'd have probably still been massacred even if every soldier there had been armed with a Minimi.)