We met up with Jonathan Ferguson, Keeper of Firearms & Artillery at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, to learn about a weapon that was made famous by the Boer and Zulu Wars: the Martini-Henry rifle.
During the 1860s, several European armies began to equip their troops with modern breech-loading rifles, leaving behind the now-outdated muzzle-loading musket. By the turn of the decade the British had adopted a breech-loading single-shot lever-action rifle - the Martini-Henry, named after Friedrich von Martini, a Swiss engineer and Alexander Henry, a Scottish gunsmith.
Produced at the Royal Small Arms Manufactory at Enfield, the Martini-Henry Rifle became the standard issue weapon for the British army from 1871 until 1889 and was used in campaigns across the British Empire, in Afghanistan, the far east, Sudan and South Africa.
The speed of innovation during the mid-19th Century was truly staggering. Within a few decades of the Napoleonic Wars, the British army’s standard issue weapon had evolved from a heavy, smoothbore Brown Bess musket to a deadly rifle equipped with a new breech-loading, ignition and rifling system.
The Martini-Henry rifle is still perhaps best known for being the weapon used by British redcoats during the Zulu Wars in southern Africa, made famous by the film ‘Zulu’ starring Sir Michael Caine, and in the Anglo-Boer War - both costly campaigns for the British.
During the latter conflict, the iconic rifle was actually outclassed by the Mauser Bolt-Action Rifle supplied in admittedly limited numbers to the Boers by the German Empire. Concerned with the superior performance of the Mauser, which, combined with guerrilla tactics, was inflicting heavy casualties, the British sought ways to improve the Martini Henry - leading to all sorts of innovations, some more successful than others...
In this video filmed at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, History Hit presenters Luke Tomes and Louee Dessent are given a crash course in the history and development of arguably the most iconic British Empire rifle by firearms expert Jonathan Ferguson before testing out just how effective the rifle was in the hands of novices.
Later, Jonathan Ferguson would be firing the Martini-Henry rifle at simulated flesh and bone, to assess the deadliness of the weapon and the damage it would have inflicted on the battlefield.
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00:39 History of the Martini-Henry
03:10 Pattern 1853 Enfield
05:42 Snider-Enfield Breech Loading Rifle
07:11 Martini-Henry Mark I
09:52 Martini-Henry Modifications
13:44 Martini-Henry Bayonet
15:47 Firing Martini-Henry
20:20 Simulated Flesh and Bone Test
24:14 More Firearms Videos!