M1871 - M1889 British Martini-Henry Marks I-IV

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Above:  Martini-Henry Mk III
Below:  Martini-Henry Mk IV, cocked, ready to fire.

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(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.
  • Photos below illustrate, for comparison, features of both the Mark I-II, an early Martini-Henry which started life as a Mark I and was transformed into a Mark II by the addition of an improved trigger assembly, redesigned trigger guard, refined sight, re-designed cleaning rod and plain buttplate in lieu of the serrated original, and a very late model Mark IV-1C.
DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS:  The British Martini-Henry generally, is a hammerless rear-pivoting design based on the Peabody, operated by a cocking/loading lever behind the rigger guard. It is fitted with a 2-piece stock, the forestock affixed with conventional barrel bands, the buttstock mounted to the back of the receiver with a massive screw running from beneath the buttplate to the receiver back. Often unmarked on the left side of the receiver, except possibly small proofs just behind the barrel, the right side is profusely marked with a large crown over V.R. (Victoria Regina) over ENFIELD over the date of manufacture and an additional crown over broad arrow and then the Mark (as, e.g., "I" or "IV") and then possibly series and other marking. The right side also sports a cocking indicator which shows the status of the firing mechanism, back-cocked, vertical-uncocked, or fired.  The barrel is often marked with numereous proofs on either side of the rounded knoxform. Buttstocks are very often well marked on the right side including the Enfield roundel cartouche, with date and Mark, and often carrying unit markings and extensive foreign service markings (denoting service everywhere from Nepal to India to the Sudan!)
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: ajhare@superaje.com (A J Hare)
To: KeithDoyon@MilitaryRifles(.)com

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.

Art

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

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Mark II muzzle end with re-designed rod

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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

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Action Open, cocking lever shows "cocked."

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(Photos courtesy Jean Plamondon, Military Guns Photo Gallery)

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The reinforcing bar below the forestock and ahead of the
       receiver is a distinguishing charecteristic of the Mk III.

The Mark IV-1c.
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Martini-Henry MarkIV1c illustrating the ramp front sight and Enfield cleaning rod.

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Above:   Martini-Henry Mk III, short lever.
Below:  Martini-Henry Mk IV, long lever.

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Left:  A Mk III, last of the short lever Martinis.
Right:  A Mk IV.  Note the difference in shape of the rear of the receiver.

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  The business end of a Mk III
  (Photo courtesy Jean Plamondon, Military Guns Photo Gallery)

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The markings in the buttstock 'III' over '1'. 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') might be
   downgraded to a second class ('II').

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 Proof markings from the left receiver and barrel of a Mk IV; however
   these markings changed very little from the Mk Is to the Mk IVs.
 

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Above:    Mk IV cartouch is faint, but foreign service marks are readily apparent.
   Large numbers of Mark IVs were issued to Indian Army units and carry
   Indian markings on the right buttstock. This rifle's excellent buttstock
   markings clearly demonstrates such farflung assignments! Note also
   this rifle's honorable discharge from the service ... the mark which looks
   like an X or an astrick above the 12 over F.  This is the British "opposing
   broad arrows" denoting that the rifle was released as surplus from military
   stores and made available for civilian sale or distribution.

 Below:  Lively markings on the earlier Mk I-II rifle's buttstock that also
   show that this rifle started life as a Mk I.

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N E P. = Nepal     N S = Native Service (info per Warren Wheatfield)
   Hence, Nepalese Native Service issued rifles.   I am not sure whether these rifles
  would have pre or post dated the indigenous Nepalese Peabody-Wesseleys.

    (One thing is certain, these Martini-Henrys had a LOT of history!!)

Page built June 6, 1997
messed with April 1, 1998
Re-built October 5, 1999
Revised February 26, 2000
Revised February 4, 2001

Updated: Oct 29, 2021