Above: Martini-Henry Mk III
Below: Martini-Henry Mk IV, cocked, ready to fire.
(Photos courtesy Jean Plamondon, Military Guns Photo Gallery)
GENERALLY: The Martini-Henry should more properly be called the Peabody-Martini-Henry as it is actually the Peabody pattern modified to a self-cocking hammerless design through the work (and patent) of Friederich von Martini of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, and the rifling design of Edinburgh gunmaker Alexander Henry (which rifling itself is a modification of Joseph Whitworth's work!)
Britain's observations of the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Danish-Prussian War (1864), the adoption of the Prussian needle-gun and the French Chassepot (1866) convinced her of the need to modernize her arms to maintain parity with the rest of Europe. Additionally, this was a time of enormous Empire for Britain, covering over one million square miles of the earth's surface. This required arms of unusual flexibility.
In 1864 an Ordinance Select Committee was formed to find a replacement for the venerable P53. The committee recommended adoption of the Snider-Enfield as an interim measure, owing to the ease of conversion of huge stocks of P53s, but the committee also knew that a truly capable replacement would be needed in due time. The Snider did buy Britain that time.
After exhaustive trials, the then committee selected the Peabody-Martini in 1871, to which it added the Henry rifling system. Ammunition experiments with short .50 cal cartridges and long fragile cartridges, both unsatisfactory, led ultimately to the selection of the "Short Chamber" round with a .577 Snider base necked to .45in. Containing an 85 grain charge behind a 480 grain bullet this cartridge greatly extended the range of British infantry.
From its adoption in 1871 as the Mark I through the Mark IVc, the Martini-Henry would remain the mainstay of British Infantry forces until in and the Sniders were replaced by the Lee-Metford and its progeny in the 1890's. Some Martini-Henrys continued to soldier on with colonial forces well into the 20th century!
PHOTO: The rifles shown in the above photos a Martini-Henry Mk III and the late Mk IV.
Among the Marks: There are numerous small differences between and among the Marks and the reader is referred to the text by Dennis Lewis, recommended below, for a detailed account. In summary though, the Mark I will be dated pre-1877, be marked with a "I" on the right side of the receiver, have a serrated (fully chequered) buttplate (not definitive) short cocking lever, large cocking indicator lever and the lower sling swivel mounted on the buttstock below the cocking lever and a cleaning rod with a sharp shoulder. Most Mark Is were subsequently converted as noted to Mark I-IIs. The Mark II is similar to the Mark I but dated 1877 or later, marked with a II on the right of the receiver, smooth buttplate, lower swivel mounted at the front of the trigger guard, tulip-head cleaning rod with a slot and cam swell just above the upper band to both lock it into place and allow it to be withdrawn easily and sights with deepened notches. The Mark III was approved in 1879. The external appearance of the Mark IIIs differs little from the earlier Marks, however it differs in the mode of attaching the forearm to the receiver. This is done by means of a steel tang held by two screws attached to the underside of the forearm which, in turn, attach by means of a lug to the receiver rather than the earlier pin which ran transversely through the forestock ahead of the receiver and through a block on the bottom of the barrel. Consequently, there is no pin through the forestock on Mark IIIs. In addition, the barrel knox form had two flats instead of the one found on the Mks I and II. The III also introduced a smaller cocking indicator (taken from the carbine models). Receiver dates are usually post 1879 and marked with a "III". The butt is marked with the maker's roundel above a "III" above a "1".
Mark IV rifles presented the greatest external changes of all the marks. These came in the interim time during which the British were experimenting with the .402 calibre Enfield-Martinis. Large numbers of Enfield-Martinis had been produced at a time when the .303 Lee-Metford was just comming online and the .45 Martini was still in wide service. Thus most of the Enfield-Martinis were converted to Martini-Henrys by rebarreling and through maximum use of Enfield-Martini components. Approximately 100,000 Mark IVs were produced. Mark IV recognition is readily apparent. Most noticeably, the operating lever is substantially lengthened (5 inches!) to improve cartridge extraction problems which came to light after campaigns in the Sudan, and the receiver itself is rounded, cut down and sloped at the back to improve the grip of the rifle. The buttstock was narrowed and fitted with a correspondingly narrower buttplate affixed with brass screws to minimize rust freezing into place and brass liner between the buttplate and stock for the same reason. The operating lever cup is also often found in brass. The nosecap now had an integral cleaning rod catch, unlike all previous marks, and the cleaning rod, originally designed for use with the Enfield-Martini, was of a new design. The Mark IV was made in several patterns, denominated A, B and C. The A and B patterns are conversions of the Enfield-Martinis, while the Mark IV-1C pattern is either a mix of old and new parts or all new parts. Differences among the three Mark IV patterns are not great, the most apparent, however, being the ramp style front sight on the Bs and Cs as distinct from the barlycorn style on all previous models. All Mark IVs were made at Enfield and are receiver marked with Crown over V.R., over "Enfield", year of manufacture, small crown over broad arrow and marked "IV" over "1". The right side of the buttstock carries the Enfield roundel over IV over 1.
MISC NOTES: The British Military Martini
MKs (Enfield Martinis):
Martini-Henry Infantry Rifle, MK I, 1871-1876
Martini-Henry Infantry Rifle, MK II, 1877-1881
Martini-Henry Infantry Rifle, MK III, 1881-1888
Martini-Henry Infantry Rifle, MK IV, 1888-1889
Note that the markings in the buttstock will sometimes appear as 'III' over 'I' for example. The first marking refers to the Mark of the weapon. The second marking refer to the class, and is sometimes amended in use. ie a Class one weapon ('I') would be downgraded to a second class ('II').
NON ENFIELD makers, such as BSA&M (Birmingham Small Arms & Manufacturing) continued to build the Mark II well into the age of the Mark IV, so do not be surprised to find a Mark II dated as late as 1889 although not built by the Royal Armoury at Enfield.
Wonderfully Helpful Letters!!
Subj: Martini-Henry Mk I
Date: 02-01-09 19:34:31 EST
From: email@example.com (A J Hare)
The three characteristics that make the Mk1 stand out from others are: 1 - the 'hinge pin (or axis) quite noticeably made of BRASS. The other Mk's are steel. 2 - the 'large cocking indicator as you can see by the pics extends into the crown design. Even at a distance or without looking at the date, you can pick out a Mk 1 from the others by this pin and the brass axis. 3 - the other is the button shaped ramrod head. Again a one-only design for the MK 1. The plate clearly shows the VR for Queen Victoria, Enfield for Enfield production, the date 1873 (these were introduced in 1871) and below this the numeral 1. for the Mk.
(Photo courtesy of AJ Hare)
The Martini-Henry Mark I, showing large cocking indicator, the
Roman numeral "I" below the "Crown V" and the BRASS
hindge pin. The "I" and the brass pin are unique to the Mark I.
(Photo courtesy of AJ Hare)
This tulip shaped cleaning rod head is also unique to the Mark I
Martini-Henry, the deisgn being changed for subsequent Marks.
And another wonderful letter:
Subj: Re: Martini Henry MkIVc
Date: 99-11-10 11:37:38 EST
From: J36 DI 43
Unfortunatly the only way to know for sure [whether you have] an A,B and C is to look at. The C has the exact same barrel length as the Martini Henry MkIII which is 33.187". The A and B have barrel lengths 33.062", yes the difference is that minute. Also the knox form of the C is slightly longer than the B. The A's knox is very short. Can't really go by dates as C was made in 1888 and 1889 only but the A and B were made then also. It has always been hard to pick the C out not because they did not make that many but because it is so similar to the B and most people just refer to all three as MkIVs.
I have checked all reference to help you know for sure. A good way will be to take the breech block out and check its markings. The A and B were conversions of the Enfield Martini .402 to Martini Henry MkIV .577/.450 and will have an EM possibly lined out and a IV on the side of the breech block. As the Pattern C was made up of parts in store and not a conversion of complete Enfield Martini its breech block will have a the IV but not the EM.
Another longshot is that the A and C had the IV newly struck so it looks IV. and the B had the V added next to the I so it looks like I.V and sometimes the I and V are misaligned. It is easy to tell the A and C apart as the A has the barlycorn front sight and the C has the bead on the ramp as does the B.
Hopfully this rambling will help. Pictures usually do not help as well as good description.
Jason Atkin's wonderful Martini-Henry Rifles and Carbines
Randy Davis's Martini Gallery
For additional wonderful
commentary see the Martini article
relating to the Siege at Mafikeng
The Mark I-II
Mark II muzzle end with re-designed rod
This rifle started life as a Mk I. Notice how the second Roman Numeral "I"
was subsequently stamped to the left of the original. Date of manufacture
is an additional give-away. See chart above.
A Mark III
Action Open, cocking lever shows "cocked."
(Photos courtesy Jean Plamondon, Military Guns Photo Gallery)
The reinforcing bar below the forestock and ahead of the
receiver is a distinguishing charecteristic of the Mk III.
The Mark IV-1c.
Martini-Henry Mark IV1c, surplused from military service.
Martini-Henry MarkIV1c illustrating the ramp front sight and Enfield cleaning rod.
Martini-Henry Ventometer: (courtesy
of Warren Wheatfield)
Page built June 6, 1997
messed with April 1, 1998
Re-built October 5, 1999
Revised February 26, 2000
Revised February 4, 2001