Jim Corbett is the best known and probably the most literate of the colonial era tiger hunters. His post-war books on the subject gained a worldwide readership and his fame spread and endured to the present day. Jim was a naturalist, a jungle expert, a humanist and a patriarch in his Kaladunghi village. After Partition, Jim moved to Kenya and spent his retirement there, hosting the Queen on the evening her father died and she transformed from a princess to Queen Elizabeth II.
Jim’s experience as a jungle survivor and hunter made him the object of the authorities when a man-eater was at large, especially when one had been unsuccessfully hunted by others. Jim used a number of rifles during his hunting career. However, the one which is of most interest to us, as Rigby dealers, is one which was presented to him in 1907 by the Lt. Governor of United Provinces to commemorate his slaying of the infamous Champawat man-eater.
The rifle is a Rigby -Mauser .275. These rifles were widely sold by Rigby between the early 1900s until around 1939, when WW2 ended the Anglo-German collaboration. The .275 Rigby is also known as the 7×57 or the 7mm Mauser. It is a superb medium game round, relatively flat shooting, with good penetration and anecdotally efficient killing properties. The 173 grain bullet travels at 2,300 fps and did service not only as a taker of soft skinned game, but also as an elephant rifle in the capable hands of WDM Bell, though it is no longer considered suitable as such.
Jim’s rifle took a number of well-documented man-eaters, including the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag. Upon Jim’s retirement from hunting, he gave it to Oxford University Press as a gift and a memento of their representation of him to worldwide readers. There it stayed for a number of years until it came to the attention of the police at a time when firearms ownership became more restricted. They argued about its storage for a while until it was agreed that Rigby would be the best place to store it, while it remained the property of OUP.
When Rigby changed ownership in the 1990s, the rifle stayed with former owner Paul Roberts. Bringing the story up to date, with Rigby now part of the Blaser group, the new management, under Marc Newton, bid OUP for the ‘Corbett Rigby’. Having agreed a price, the tiger-slaying rifle now resides at Rigby’s new premises at Pensbury Place in South London.
During 2015, the rifle toured the country to enable the public to view it and hold it. Having become the poster boy for the firm, Corbett’s Rigby has been used as the model for their new line of rifles, in the classic 275 Rigby calibre. This comes on the coat-tails of the success of the ‘Big Game’ version, which has been selling well for a couple of years in .416 and .375 H&H.
The plaque on the old rifle reads:
‘ Presented to Mr. J.G. Corbett by Sir J.P. Hewett KCSI, Lieutenant Governor of the United Provinces in recognition of his having killed a man-eating tigress at Champawat in 1907’,
It serves as a reminder of the DNA that runs through the Rigby-Mauser rifles of today and a relic of the long-dead days of the Raj. Perhaps we will see Rigby-Mausers in the field for another hundred years. We know the classic Mauser ’98 action will last that long and the features of the rifle remain evocative of properly-made, well-designed hunting rifles. They remain timeless. I want one!
The precursor to the new line of .275 Rigby rifles is a custom , best quality example, to be engraved with illustrations from Corbett’s books and donated to Safari Club International. This is well underway and promises to be a beautiful, unique piece of gun-making. The photo on the left shows the rifle in progress, on the bench at Rigby’s London premises. Expect to see it in all its glory at SCI in Las Vegas in January next year.