Andy Chaloner


The Sunday Independent headline - Sunday 8 June 2008


Soldiers in Helmand unearth British rifles lost in 1880 massacre



In June 2008 it was announced in the media that two Martini-Henry rifles dated 1874 and 1878 were for sale in The Lanes Armoury, Brighton. It was reported that British soldiers serving in Afghanistan were obtaining permission to bring back recovered weapons looted from the bodies of their Victorian forebears. After having them verified as over 100 years and obtaining permission to own them, the rifles are then flown from Kandahar Airfield to RAF Brize Norton. Once back in the UK the owners are free to sell them to either collectors or Gun Dealers.





The 1874 Martini-Henry Rifle that has returned from Afghanistan



All British soldiers who served in the Second Afghanistan War would have brought back there rifle at the end of hostilities, the Martini-Henry rifle was still the current service rifle and would have to be accounted for. The fact that these two rifles fell into the Afghan hands would point to the fact they were actually taken by force, the largest loss of equipment during the war was at the battle of Maiwand. The only British Regiment involved in the battle was the 66th Foot, there is a strong posibility that the rifles did in fact belong the Berkshires as the native infantry regiments present at the battle still used the Enfield Snider rifle.



In 1871 the British army adopted the Martini-Henry rifle; this was a replacement for the.577 Enfield Snider. The rifle was a single shot breech-loading lever-actuated rifle, the action was designed by Frederich Martini, a Swiss gunsmith and the barrel was designed by Alexander Henry an Edinburgh gunsmith. The Martini-Henry was a great improvement over the Snider rifle, the muzzle velocity, range and stopping power was far superior.



Example of the breach open and closed and the actuation level open


The Martini-Henry used a .577 / .450 black powder cartridge with lead projectile. The rifle was sighted from 100-1500 yards but most effective at 500 yards, the length of the rifle was 49 inches (1250mm).




There was a modification to the Mk1 by replacing the bronze breech axis pin with a steel pin which would tranform the gun to a Mk2, then by simply adding an additional roman numeral “I” offset to the existing “I” on the receiver  (see right).






A bayonet was required for the Martini-Henry, it was decided that as there was a large stockpile of surplus 1853 Socket Bayonet these would be ideal, this was originally designed for the Muzzle loading Rifles. The blade on this type of bayonet curved slightly away from the muzzle of the rifle so you would not stab yourself when loading the gun. These were simply modified to fit the barrel of the Martini.

In 1876 a purpose built Socket Bayonet was introduced and designated the Pattern 1876, the 1853 bayonet was always believed to be on the short side so the Pattern 1876 was made five inches longer. It was also possible to modify the 1860 Sword Bayonet.


The Martini Henry Mk1 was produced from 1871 to 1876

The Martini Henry Mk2 was produced from 1877 to 1881

The Martini Henry Mk3 was produced from 1881 to 1888

The Martini Henry Mk4 was produced from 1888 to 1889

There was also Carbine produced from 1877 to 1896


The rifle was not only used during the Afghanistan War, the gun was also the standard British rifle and was used in 1879 at the battle of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.


The Martini-Henry was forever immortalised in the film Zulu. Although the film had many historical inaccuracies it does symbolize the colonial rule of the Empire during the Victorian era.


In the film, Colour Sergeant Bourne (Nigel Green) in referring to the fact that the Zulu’s have gone remarks “it’s a miracle”. To which Lieutenant John Rouse Merriott Chard (Stanley Baker) replies, “If it’s a miracle Colour Sergeant, it’s a short chamber Boxer Henry .45 calibre miracle!”



A scene from Zulu (1964): Battle to restore 'Zulu' hero Henry Hook's reputation

















Sir Michael Caine in Zulu