The venerable Martini Henry rifle is frequently featured in our firearms sales with each auction having at least three examples if not many more. The large numbers of these rifles available does not seem to be keeping the prices down however and we have seen the values of Martini Henry rifles appreciate considerably during the last year.
The long service life Martini Henry rifles see has meant that they were frequently adapted and altered to continue using these sturdy firearms. Originally chambered in the massive 577/450 round, the first conversions were by the British army re-barrelling them to fire the .303 cartridge. There are some Martini Henrys which were smooth bored for Indian Police work. Then there is the Morris tube adaptor which allows the standard Martini service rifle to fire a 297/230 cartridge. Many Martini Henrys were converted by Bonehill to fire .22 rimfire rounds, a friend of the author’s shoots an excellent example of one. We have seen Martini Henry rifles converted to shotguns firing both 20 bore and .410 cartridges.
Just when we thought we had seen most variants of this old war horse something arrived at the saleroom which took us quite by surprise. When clearing the gun and checking the breech was clear waiting inside the chamber for us was a percussion nipple conversion. The rifle in question is a LSA (London Small Arms Company) MkII rifle of otherwise standard pattern made in 1877. The rifle has seen quite significant use and shows all the signs of it. During this hard-working life the barrel has been taken out of the gun threaded to take a solid block inside the chamber to which a nipple has been fitted. Dropping the cleaning rod, now repurposed as a ramrod, down the barrel gives a bright metallic clunk informing you that a, the rifle is clear, but b, the block inside the breech isn’t going anywhere. Despite the look of the exterior of the gun the bore remains in relatively good order displaying strong Henry pattern grooves with only a couple of pitting spots. Whilst the gun has been around a lot, it has obviously been treasured and the functioning parts well looked after. The nipple takes a No.11 revolver cap which would have been commonly available in the late 19th or early 20th century when the conversion probably took place. The firing pin sets these off nicely. Fitting a cap is quite an art and takes more than a few choice words before it is achieved. It would probably be eased with a capping device such as the Tedd Cash examples available today. We are very tempted at the saleroom to fire this intriguing rifle but have resisted. It would however get some interesting looks from onlookers at the range when you are muzzle stuffing a Martini Henry.
The rifle has spent a considerable amount of its life in Ireland. You can only wonder why the conversion took place, who did it and what extremes pushed them to take a relatively modern piece of firearms technology and revert it to a bygone form of shooting. Was this last-ditch attempt to get any form of rifle serviceable the work of a desperate hunter needing food for the pot or was it a weapon used in the uprisings? We will never know and can only speculate.
The Martini Henry muzzle loader will go on sale as part of our 9th September 2021 firearms, arms and militia auction estimate £300 – 500.
Should you have any items you would like to include in one of our Arms and Militaria auctions we would be pleased to hear from you. Please contact Chris Large on 01270 623878 or email email@example.com
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