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M1871 Alexander Henry - In Progress
M1871 New South Wales Alexander Henry
During the second half of the 19th century the Australian states, like Canada and other British Commonwealth nations, all adopted British military issue arms. However, as Britain was already stressed to provide updated arms for her own army and not always able to timely rearm her colonies, some of these far-flung possessions turned to alternatives. It was in this turmoil that the Australian colony of New South Wales (at that time the states which were to later become the Australian Federation were independent entities) placed orders for the falling block rifle devised by Edinburgh gunsmith Alexander Henry (1828-1894).
Since as early as 1865, Henry had been engaged in submitting his rifle designs in the competitions before the [British breech-loading selection committee (correct name?)] for a replacement to their existing Snider-Enfield (q.v.) service rifle, a conversion of the British P1853 muzzle-loader that was recognized as a stopgap and that would become substantially obsolete by the time of the adoption of a new rifle. By 1867, Henry's improvements were such that his entry was moved on to the final rounds of competition. The Henry rifle won the "best breech mechanism" in the 1868 trials, ahead of the Martini entry (which was essentially the overall concept invented by William O. Peabody (Peabody, q.v.) as improved by Frederich von Martini) and the Westley-Richards entries. While Henry was awarded a £600 prize resulting from this competition, a third set of trials was undertaken in 1869, by which time the Westley-Richards had been withdrawn, leaving only a determination to be made between the Henry entry and the Martini as further modified by the British armory at Enfield.
Following these extensive trials the British finally adopted their first purpose-built breech-loading military rifle, the Enfield Martini-Henry (q.v.) in 187_ as the ______ [formal name of the Mark I]. This Martini was an amalgamation of the Peabody (q.v.) with Martini improvement, to which Henry's contribution was his exceptional seven-groove polygonal barrel rifling). But development and adoption of the Martini had taken long enough that the British were hard-pressed to manufacture sufficient Martinis quickly enough to meet domestic demand, let alone rearm colonies.
Up until this time, Alexander Henry rifles made and sold mostly for sporting use. The rifle is a dropping block design, more closely similar to the American Sharps action than to any other military design of the day. In 1870 the New South Wales government placed its first order with Alexander Henry for 2500 rifles and short rifles [how many of each?] along with saber bayonets, the manufacture of which was initially subcontracted to Westley Richards (1871). Later orders were manufactured by the National Arms and Ammunition Company and the Braendlin Armoury Company. The first rifles were delivered about late 1871. The order contained both long rifles chambered for the .450-3 1/4" Boxer-Henry Long cartridge, a cartridge originally tested and rejected for the Martini-Henry, and carbines chambered for the .450-2 1/2" Short chamber cartridge. The British adoption of the Martini-Henry in 1872 gave the NSW authorities pause, as they debated whether to abandon further Henry orders, but they remained committed to the Henry and moved ahead with additional orders. NSW did, however, adopt the standard British service cartridge, the "Short Chamber Boxer-Henry .45 caliber" which came to be known as the .577-.450 Martini-Henry. Earlier delivered rifles were converted to the Martini-Henry cartridge by shortening the barrel from its original 34½ inch length to about 33¼ inches and re-boring the chambers to accept the .577-.450.
In all, there were eight separate New South Wales orders with the Alexander Henry Arms Company [check proper name] for their rifles, short rifles and carbines. The weapons were issued variously to the "Permanent Artillery," Naval Brigade, and various combinations of regular and volunteer infantry, artillery, cavalry, mounted rifles, cadets, engineers, police and prison guards.
Kirton estimates as many as 6,000-7,000 New South Wales Henrys were produced. Winfer (British Single Shot Rifles, Vol. 1 - Alexander Henry) at p.92 says that “surviving records point to orders of up to 5,400 and possibly more than 6,000."
The New South Wales series of contracts appear to have been the Alexander Henry Company's only military contracts for its rifles.
The M1871 Alexander-Henry is a single-shot, vertical dropping block design in which the operating lever, situated in front of the separate trigger guard, is pivoted down and forward which lowers the breech block exposing the chamber for loading. In overall dimensions and in mountings the rifle is quite conventional with two barrel bands, sling swivels and butt plate very similar to the Martini-Henry. The particularly odd thing is the left hand mounted outside hammer. Apparently, that was thought to be an advantage, although it may well have been adopted in order to circumvent patents. Curiously, the hammer is constructed in such a way that, for a right-handed shooter, even when cocked it restricts access to the chamber somewhat, and forces the shooter to manipulate the cartridge carefully to get it fully seated into the chamber. The hammer strikes a spring-loaded firing pin positioned diagonally, left to right and downward through the block. To accommodate the receiver, the stock is two-piece, with separate forestock and buttstock similar to the Martini-Henry (q.v.), and the lock is of back-action design (like the Werndl's (q.v.), but uniquely situated on the left side of the rifle. Unlike the Martini though, with its massive, internal buttstock bolt screwing into the rear of the receiver, the Alexander-Henry's buttstock is retained by extended upper and lower tangs mounting wood screws. Aside from the left-hand action, the rifle's features include a falling block rather similar to the Sharps, and operated by a button-locked lever underneath. The lever wraps half way round the trigger guard so that the catch button faces rearward. The button at the end of the lever engages a hook on the bottom of the trigger guard. A conventional cleaning/clearing rod is mounted in a channel below the forestock and is retained by [____?___]. Barrel bands are identical to those of the Martini as is the nosecap. Both are screw retained with the front band mounting the upper sling swivel as well as the lug for the base of the rifle's yatagan [?] bayonet, positioned on the band's right side. The buttplate is smooth with a very short, rather pointed upper tang mounted with two screws, both in the bottom. The rear sight, mounted well forward of the receiver, is a conventional ramp-and-leaf sight nearly identical to the Remington (q.v.) rifles of the day with its leaf riding fully within the ramps when fully lowered. The left ramp is marked 1 through 4 (hundred yards) and the leaf marked 5 through 0 (10) in hundreds providing elevation adjustments out to 1,000 yards [triangulate].
The M1871 Alexander-Henry is a vertiAfter firing, the left mounted hammer is brought to half-cock which, although somewhat clumsy, is made easier by the especially narrow wrist of the rifle. At the same time, the middle finger which had been immediately behind the trigger guard at firing, pushes the catch button on the operating lever forward, disengaging the operating lever from the catch welded to the bottom of the trigger guard. This allows the operating lever to drop, lowering the breech block vertically in its receiver channel by means of a toggle link. This exposes the chamber while a sharp forward thrust at the end of the operating lever's stroke allows the u-shaped extractor to engage the rim and extract the spent case. The top front of the breech block is beveled back to allow room for the extractor to pivot backwards with the empty case. If done with the correct technique, the extractor can also serve as ejector, totally clearing the spent case from the action. With the chamber clear, a fresh cartridge is thumb pressed into the chamber, although this is somewhat more clumsy than, say, a Snider's as the receiver's sides are only comfortably large enough to allow the cartridge access to the chamber. A fat thumb is definitely a hindrance.
After inserting the cartridge, the operating lever is returned to engage the trigger guard catch, toggling the breech block vertically up and back into battery. Pulling the hammer to full cock makes the rifle ready to fire. When fired, the hammer strikes a spring-loaded firing pin positioned diagonally, left to right, and downward through the block to hit the center-fire primer of the cartridge.
Although there were claimed advantages to the left mounted lock and hammer (which would surely be clearly evident to any left-handed rifleman) it seems that the Henry's uniqueness regarding that feature says more than any evaluations need to about the relative merits of the plan.
Uniquely for a military rifle, the hammer and a back-action lock are fitted on the LEFT side of the rifle. Also, the "push button" operating lever which lowers the breech block for extraction and loading is highly distinctive and, together with the hammer location, are dispositive for identifying this rifle.
The left side of the receiver is marked "HENRY'S PATENT", the top of the barrel between receiver and sight is marked "HENRY'S PATENT RIFLING" and the lock plate is marked "ALEXR HENRY," all of which makes identification rather straightforward. Manufacturing information is stamped on the right side of the receiver along with year of manufacture, for example "W.R.A & A Co" above "1871". That is, Westley Richards Arms & Ammunition Company above year built. Alexander-Henrys may also be marked for example "N.A.& A. Co Ltd" over "1877" if built by National Arms and Ammunition Co or "B.A. Co. Ltd." over "1873" if made by the Braendlin Armoury Company. The buttstock on the Australian contract rifles is marked in ½'' (13 mm) letters "N.S.W." (New South Wales) above a serial or rack number and can also carry manufacturing information, such as "National Arms and Ammunition Co." or "Braendlin Armoury Company." Other markings on the rifles examined included conventional British proof marks on the left rear of the barrel and left front of the receiver and, on top of the barrel lying just ahead of the receiver, an "S" pierced by opposite arrows.
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
The left side of the receiver is marked " HENRY'S PAT.", the top of the barrel between receiver and sight is marked "HENRY'S PATENT RIFLING" and the lock plate is marked "ALEXR HENRY," all of which makes identification rather straightforward. Manufacturing information is stamped on the right side of the receiver along with year of manufacture, for example "W.R.A & A Co" above "1871". That is, Westley Richards Arms & Ammunition Company above year built. Alexander-Henrys may also be marked for example "N.A.& A. Co Ltd" over "1877" if built by National Arms and Ammunition Co or "B.A. Co. Ltd." over "1873" if made by the Braendlin Armoury Company. The buttstock on the Australian contract rifles is marked in ½'' (13 mm) letters "N.S.W." (New South Wales) above a serial or rack number and can also carry manufacturing information, such as "National Arms and Ammunition Co." or "Braendlin Armoury Company." Other markings on the rifles examined included conventional British proof marks on the left rear of the barrel and left front of the receiver and, on top of the barrel lying just ahead of the receiver, an "S" pierced by opposite arrows.
Overall Length: 49.2 inches
Barrel Length: 33 inches
Weight, empty: 8.84 lbs
Rifling: 7-groove; LH, composite
Sight: Ramp-and-leaf, graduated from 100 to 1,000 yds (91.5 to 915 meters)
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS
It appears that New South Wales also ordered short rifles with barrels 31½ inches in length. These would have been full-stocked and substantially identical to the rifle but for length [albeit with rear sight graduated _______?]
Police carbines, with 22 ½ inch barrels mounting carbine sights, were also adopted, these being only half-stocked with single barrel band and lacking any kind of bayonet lug. While the short rifle would chamber the infantry cartridge, the carbine was initially chambered for the Henry designed .450-2 1/2" Short Chamber cartridge. Adoption of MH Carbine cartridge?
The Alexander Henry rifle was fitted with two distinct pattern sword bayonets, an 18 inch (458mm) straight bladed sawback bayonet for the infantry rifle and a re-curved yataghan blade bayonet of 22¾ inches (578 mm) intended for use with the short rifle [and the artillery carbine. Was there one?] With no industry in New South Wales sufficient to manufacture either rifles or bayonets, the bayonets too were acquired abroad. As Birmingham was to long arms, so was the city of Solingen in Prussia's industrial Ruhr Valley to swords and "cold steel." In the case of NSW, they contracted for bayonets for their Alexander Henrys from the renowned sword and bayonet firm of Weyersburg in Solingen, Germany (Prussian at the time).
Weyersburg made Henry bayonets can be recognized by their dimensions and by the "Knight's Head" trademark of Weyersburg. Known examples have crossguards marked with a letter followed by a number, with matching letter-number along the scabbard locket lip. Both patterns have the same hilt assembly, ¾ inch (20mm) muzzle ring diameter and crossguard ending in a flat spatula quillon.
The Alexander Henry rifle of the British trials featured a .45 inch bullet atop a coiled brass rimmed case (sometimes "rolled-case ball cartridge") designed substantially like the Snider British service cartridge then in use. To provide the requisite power, the case was especially long, __ inches. This cartridge was the .450 Boxer-Henry long, aka .450 rimmed and was the chambering for which New South Wales adopted the Alexander Henry rifle. But again, the cartridge was long, and with its coiled case proved both clumsy and delicate, neither good attributes for a military item.
When the British adopted the Martini-Henry in 1872, they did adopted a shorter, albeit fatter case to improve handling and durability while retaining their desired energy. This cartridge became the standard British .577-.450 cartridge (details under BRITAIN, Martini-Henry Marks I – IV).
This adoption, by New South Wales' patron and primary defender in the event of serious troubles, was cause for concern but the NSW authorities resolved the issue adroitly by purchasing newly-made Henry rifles in the British .577-.450 cartridge chambering and converting their small existing stocks of Henry rifles to the new cartridge thus bringing all Henry rifles to new cartridge standards. Today, virtually all NSW contract Alexander Henry rifles are found chambered for the .577-.450 Martini.
While the infantry and short rifles chambered the standard issue British rifle cartridge, this round was far too powerful to fire without unacceptably punishing effect on the shooter. [Discuss the carbine round]
Alexander Henry rifles were manufactured by at least three concerns in addition to the trials rifles built by Alexander Henry & Co., Edinburgh, which did not make any of the NSW issue rifles. Henry's first New South Wales contract, for 2,500 rifles, short rifles and carbines, was first sublet to Westley-Richards Arms & Ammunition Company, of Grange Road, Bournebrook, Birmingham. In 1872 the National Arms & Ammunition Co. Ltd., Sparkbrook, Birmingham, was formed to establish factories on a "complete and extensive scale" for the manufacture of rifles, arms and ammunition. The company acquired the works and contract rights of Westley-Richards, and manufacture of the Henry rifle would continue under the name of NA&A. The [three/four/five?] NA&A would see about ____ rifles built. From 1872-5, and again in 1880 Henrys were built by the Braendlin Armoury Co., Ltd., also of Birmingham.
Two lengths of rifles were produced: [KDNote-why?] - long rifles with (originally) 34½" barrels (later converted to 33¼" length as the rifles were re-chambered to the .577-.450 cartridge), and short rifles, with 31¼" barrels. Carbines were built with 22½" (Walter says 20") barrels.
The first order, marked 1871 was produced by Westley Richards. The second order was produced by National Arms & Ammunition (marked N.A.&A. Co. Ltd. 1872) (most weapons beginning with the second order were either converted to .577/.450, or originally produced in that caliber). The 3d through 5th orders were produced by Braendlin Armoury Company ("B.A. Co. Ltd.-1873, -1874, or -1876"), the 6th order was again by N.A.&A. Co. Ltd.-1877. The 7th order was again by Braendlin, marked 1880, and the 8th and final order was again by National, marked 1880. The 7th and 8th orders were probably all carbines for police use.
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
No other country is known to have utilized the Alexander Henry rifle in military service.
PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES