The subject came my way via a rather circuitous route. Slightly outside my area of expertise, it, nevertheless, appeared as the subject in an e-mail to my business, as the last remains of a deceased estate. The late owner’s family sought my advice as to how to deal with what had become a tricky issue. Nobody in the family was interested in guns and they knew nothing of the law.
As a result, the rifle had been taken by the local police and was being held by them as if it were a restricted item. The family told me they had been advised it was a weapon and that they would have to pay to have it ‘disabled’ if they wanted to take possession of it. This meant they could not dispose of it or keep it.
I requested some photographs in order to be able to advise them and when they appeared on my screen, it was immediately apparent that we were dealing with a rifle of percussion ignition and muzzle loading pre-dating 1939. These facts place it securely in the Section 58 category of antique firearms. These, of course, require no licence as they are not classified as ‘weapons’ under the law.
A quick e-mail to the governing firearms licensing team, followed by an e-mail stating the error on the part of the local police and I had the issue resolved. A letter of authorisation from the officer in charge to release the rifle to me quickly followed and I went to collect it from the station.
What had been described as a ‘wall hanger’ arrived and appeared to be rather more interesting than I had first thought. Military weapons are not my forte but a friend visiting me to shoot pheasants, while on leave from his duties as an army officer, helped fill me in on the interesting piece of history that was now decorating my study.
It is an Enfield rifled musket, based on the 1853 pattern that saw widespread service in the British Army, notably in the Crimea. Developed for use with a modified Minie long lead ball with hollow base, It was issued to troops in 1855 and proved very accurate up to 600 yards, with an ultimate range of up to 1200 yards. The 500 grain, .577 calibre lead ball was lethal. It had sufficient power to punch through four inches of wood, even at long range.
Typically, these rifles were 55” long and weighed 9.5 lbs. The 1856 pattern was the same rifle reduced by 6” to make it more suited to cavalry.
The ammunition for the rifled musket was part of the reason for the 1857 Indian Mutiny, because the loading operation involved troops biting a greased paper cartridge, pouring the powder down the barrel, then loading the paper-patched bullet. Rumour spread that the paper was greased with pork, or beef fat, which upset both Hindu and Muslim troops. This unrest fermented until finally boiling over into full-scale revolt, beginning with Sepoys of the British East India Company’s army.
After British forces suppressed the Mutiny and restored order, Indian troops had their Enfields smooth bored. This was partly to make loading easier, as a smooth bore does not require a greased bullet but it adversely affected the accuracy and durability of the weapon.
This particular example bears the name ‘B. Cogswell’ and the address ‘224 Strand, London’ on the lock plate. Inside, the bar-action lock is of fine quality. Benjamin Cogswell was the founder of the firm that became Cogswell & Harrison. Benjamin Cogswell started trading as a gunmaker from the 224 Strand address in 1842 but did not style his guns under his own name until 1857. He moved from there in 1863, when Edward Harrison joined Benjamin’s son (also called Benjamin) to form Cogswell & Harrison, the style under which the company still trades.
So, this rifle can be dated to between 1857 and 1863, while the firm was styled ‘B. Cogswell’. It was probably purchased by a gentleman volunteer (precursor to the modern Territorial Army). In those days, officers and volunteers could purchase their own weapons privately and they were often of better quality than those issued to troops.
Sights are ramp fore and ladder rear and there is a lug for bayonet fixture. The barrel is 32” long and overall length of the rifle is 48”, suggesting it was a sergeant’s or possibly officer’s private purchase, rather than a regular issue private soldier’s weapon. It has two bands, rather than the three of the standard rifle. Weight is a modest 8lbs. I would suggest that it is an 1856 model.
The rifle came to me as a wall-hanger, but the bore looks reasonably clean and, while there is wear on the metal parts, it looks shootable and the wood and other materials look to be in sound condition. What is required now is a bullet mould and some black powder, primers and patches. Trained troops could be expected to fire three shots per minute with the Enfield P1853.
It is an interesting fact that the common term ‘the thin red line’ derives from the performance at the Battle of Balaclava of the British infantry (actually the 93rd Highlanders) holding formation in the face of a Russian cavalry charge, using their Enfield rifled muskets to devastating effect.
The eight-hundred-strong Russian cavalry squadrons charged the five hundred Highlanders, commanded by General Sir Colin Campbell, intent on taking Balaclava from the British. They were met with volley fire at 500 yards and 200 yards, which broke the first wave. They re-formed and attacked the right flank but were met again with several close-range volleys, which caused them to retreat and, ultimately, withdraw.
The Enfield P1853 saw the important transition from smooth bore to rifled weapons in the British Army. It changed warfare significantly and was adopted by several other countries. The 1853 was modified to breech-loader using a Snider patent in 1866. It was replaced as an infantry rifle by the 1871 issue of the Martini-Henry.