M189__(?) Nepalese Gehendra
GENERALLY: This page, I am embarrassed to say, should have been updated quite some time ago. I hope to remedy that situation now.
This page previously stated: "This rifle is one of the most intriguing and enigmatic rifles in this era of Black Powder Cartridge Military Rifles." That enigma has, in large measure, been resolved by the making public of the large horde of 19th century rifles, armaments and accoutrements contained in the Royal Nepalese arsenal at Lagan Silekhana. I would imagine that by now anyone seriously interested in this rifle would have come across this information. Nonetheless, I suggest the following posts to get up to speed:
Firstly, note that while this rifle does in fact derive from the Peabody dropping block action as seen in various Peabody-Martinis such as the Turkish Peabod-Martini, is clearly NOT any kind of Martinil. The Martini improvement was a self-cocking action containing a coil-spring powered striker/firing pin. The Nepalese, almost exactly like the Peabody with Wessley Improvement, contains a flat spring powered hammer that cocks back and pivots forward through a hollow within the breech block, the hammer face having an integral cone shaped firing pin that strikes the cartridge primer through a hole in the breech block. It also strongly resembles early Westley Richards designs, such as reportedly used at the Wimbledon trials of 1870. But the rifle, being made at a time and place of strong British Martini-Henry influence, is rifled with Henry rifling! While it seems that "Gehendra" is a fitting name for this rifle, and it certainly seems that the name is going to stick, following a more general British nomenclature should actually give us the "Peabody-Gehendra-Henry." :)
Manufacturing is good, clearly arsenal or factory produced, and nearly all parts, including the small internal action parts, are serially numbered to the arm. Two barrel bands and nosecap are close matches for the British Martini-Henry. The buttstock, however, in a departure from the pattern of this rifle and quite unlike the both the Peabody and the Martini-Henry, is affixed not with a through-bolt but rather with conventional screwed upper and lower receiver tangs.
Walter reports that in an 1870 Peabody advertising broadsheet, Providence Tool Company claims to be making the "standard" Peabody rifle (i.e., side hammer) in several models and also offers the "... Peabody-Wessely, a self-cocking design with an internal hammer." (page 210). A. Ritter von Wessely obtained a patent on his Peabody improvement in 1869 and this rifle bears striking resemblances to that patent.
Walter, in Guns of the Gurkhas (see below) suggests that the genesis of the Gehendra could have been a Westley-Richards rifle circa 1869. The similarities are too striking to ignore.
PHOTO: The rifle shown is a Nepalese military issue "Gehendra." It is chambered for the .577-450 cartridge, rifled with Henry rifling, and profusely marked in Nepalese.
DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS: Huge Peabody-Martini-Henry type of receiver can easily confuse one into thinking that this is a Martini variant. It's not. However, it absolutely is a Peabody variant. The rifle does look a lot at first like a Martini-Henry Mark I, but is conversed in Nepalese script. The operating lever, like early Westley-Richards rifles and similar to the Portuguese Guedes used by South Africa (Z.A.R.), also forms the trigger guard and pivots on a pin in front of the trigger. It is distinctive in also having a tail which is curved in on itself forming an elongated loop. The lower band swivel is most inconveniently mounted ahead of the trigger but inside the operating lever-trigger guard and is prone to interfering with the operation of the lever. Martini type sights (or Greneer shotgun type fixed for the smooth-bores) and no bayonet stud. Rifled with Henry rifling.
MISC NOTES: These guns are also sometimes encountered in .577-470 India Police, which is the smooth-bore, ball version of the rifle with fixed sights. The guns are conversions from the rifles as their markings are identical with the rifles and in the same serial number range, and tooling marks would indicate that they were not manufactured originally as smooth-bores.
More Notes: Be wary of the dates on this arm. The Nepalese calendar is 57 years different from the "standard" western calender so dates likely do not correspond!
MORE SPECIAL NOTES: (Previous, and now obsolete notes: "I have located or seen 8 of these rifles (one rifle converted to .577-470 India Police, one cut to carbine length). All have 2 digit serial numbers except two with 3 digits. All carry different serial numbers. I have not seen any rifle with a 4 digit serial number. My presumption is that fewer than 1,000 of these clearly military issued rifles were ever produced. Perhaps only a few hundred.)
Walter, in Guns of the Gurkhas (see below) quotes a letter dated July 1906 in which the writer states, in part, "... The total number of rifles of this pattern [Gehendra] now in the possession of the State [Nepal] amounts to 8,983." Still quite a bit fewer than the Million or so Martini-Henry's produced!!
Yet more special notes: This from an alert reader!
From another wonderful correspondent:
Subj: British Blackpowder Military Rifles
Date: 99-09-16 08:23:48 EDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (John Baines)
Dear Keith ,
Re the Nepal Rifle:
It is most likely to be a derivative of the 1869 trials rifle submitted by Westley Richards, as like that rifle it has a hammer, flat mainspring and from the looks of your photograph a loading lever which pivots forward of the trigger guard, and is offset to the right from the trigger guard at its rearmost extremity. This rifle failed to win the contract for Westley Richards despite it winning much praise for it simpler (only 16? moving parts) action compared to that of Martini. Needless to say Westley Richards was not happy at the decision, and, when the Martini finally went ino service, began marketing his rifle, under the name the 'Westley Richards Improved Martini' to various overseas governments. It was I believe made in three models with the flat main spring either forward or to the rear of the hammer. I have two examples of this rifle & will photograph them both, and send you copies together with the 1869 drawings so that you can compare them for yourself.
Subj: Nepalese Peabody-Wessley-Henry/Westley Richards
Date: 00-02-06 15:53:24 EST
From: email@example.com (John T. Thorne)
In 1998, I saw two of these mounted in the commander's office at the Nepali Army Post located on the Bhote Koshi River in far northern Nepal, just south of the Tibetan border. I wondered what they were at the time. Somewhere, I have a photo and if I can find it I'll send it along. The major in charge told me that they were used in the Tibet-Nepal War of 1897-98, which was fought primarily in that area. By the way, his troops were armed primarily with SMLEs.
Date: 02-02-12 14:05:32 EST
I was just reading an old sales list from a British gundealer and found some intresting information about the rifle you discripted as Nepalese Martini-Wessley improved Westley Richards. There is no picture of the rifle but I'am sure it's that type of rifle. I will give you the complete discription as in the advertisement.
" - An intresting .577-450 Tranters Patent Martini rifle made for the Kingdom of Nepal, 33" brl. Henry rifled, ladder rearsight, 2 piece walnut stock, iron mounts. The rifle resembles the service M/H rifle, but features a cocking lever hinged in front of the trigger and is curved in such a way as to also form the triggerguard. The action is driven by a V-spring unlike the coil spring of the M/H. A new innovation in gunmaking which was distrusted by many in the trade.
Tranters patents relating to this design are 3622 of 1868 and 3557 of 1869.
This rifle has numerous Nepalese markings on the butt, action and triggerguard. It was most probably made in the Nepal Armouries C1870/1880's to a high standard for issue to the King's Guard. Rifles of this pattern were bought out of Nepal together with a large quantity of M/H MKIV in the 1960's by Interarms. It is doubtful if more than 500 were made."
J v Helden
These two books discuss the Gehendra, the first in nice detail:
Guns of the Gurkhas, John Walter, Tharston Press, Surrey, England, 2005.
Treasure is where you find it: The thirty Year quest to save the Royal Armoury of Nepal, Christian Cranmer, Tharston Press, Surrey, England, 2004.
Modern Breech-loaders: Sporting and Military, W.W.Greener, 1871, page 210.
Peabody Breech-Loading Fire-Arms etc etc (32 word subtitle), Providence Tool Company, 1870, pages 11-12.
Image above courtesy of Jean Plamondon
The muzzle end of the Nepalese Gehendra bears striking similarities to the British Martini-Henry. Note unique rod.
Left side of a good example of the Nepalese Gehendra. Note that the operating lever is held up against the rifle SOLEY by the pair of little clips at the very lower front of the buttstock. Absent the "clipping" action, the operating lever simply falls. Also, without a sling, the lower sling swivel falls vertically jamming the operating lever. Intriguing, but not the best design.
Another view of the left side receiver of the Nepalese Gehendra. It's a BIG action necessitating big hands to hold well.
Script of the Nepalese rifle and comparisons with Martini-Henry and Westley Richards:
The Nepalese Gehendra is profusely marked with wholly unique chartecters in Nepalese script. Unlike the Egyptian rolling block rifles, whose markings differ greatly being for the most part regimental markings, these are all marked identically except for the serial number.
The script appearing above is formed into the upper back of the receiver. The top line, which runs diagonally from upper left to lower right reads something like:
"Sri 3 Chandra Shamsher Jung Bahador Rana" which is the name to the Nepalese Prime Minister who achieved independence for Nepal, (I am told the Nepalese equivalent of our George Washington). Sri 3 is a very high caste (5 total, 5 being only the King). The Rana family ruled Nepal as heriditary prime ministers from 1846 to 1951 with the King as a figurehead. The script suggests that Chandra Rana, as Prime Minister, bought the rifle.
The second line is numerals with the numbers being 1962. However, since the Nepalesse calandar is 57 years behind the Western Calandar, such a date corresponds to 1905 AD. Late for a black powder rifle, but this is Nepal.
The single charecter below that is a glyph for "Number" suggesting that the charecters below that, Nepalese for 43, is a serial number. Of the 8 such rifles I have discovered, all of these numbers are 2 or 3 digits and although everything else is the same, these numbers are different for each rifle.
The script in this photo above reads "Sundari Rifles" (beautiful rifle or beautiful regiment).
I believe it to be a reference to a specific regiment. The low numbers of these rifles made suggest arming no more than a regiment.
10/05/99 New Note!! An alternate translation may be: "Sundarijal Arsenal" (In Nepal). I am now inclined to believe that this is the arsenal's markings.
The rear sight is sighted in with Nepalese script reading: 100, 200, 300, 400.
Does anyone have any idea what distances these measure? British yards pehaps?
Nepalese Gehendra above;
British Martini-Henry, below.
The Nepalese Gehendra top, Westly Richards (Built for Z.A.R) below. The late model Westly Richards is a true Martini action.
The Nepalese Gehendra Receiver and action parts exploded:
NOW compare the Nepalese Gehendra to the early Wessley(?) improvement "self cocking" gun action shown in the photos below!! The Westly Richards is an internal hammer self cocking imporvement over the Peabody hammer, driven by a conventional flat spring. This improvement is earlier than the late M1895(?) Westley Richards military rifle action design which appeared in the Z.A.R. Westley Richards. That rifle is more properly denominated a 'Westley Richards incorporating the Francotte Patent Breech' and is not so much a straight Martini but is a Martini derivative.
The above woodcut is taken from a Peabody pamphlet dated 1870. Figure IV (above) is titled "A Peabody self-cocking gun, with Wesseley improvement." Querry - Is the reference to "Wesseley" a misprint which should have read "Westley"? It seems likely in view of the very close similarity of the above to the early Westley Richards "Improved Martini" seen on the linked page.
Page built January 24, 1999
Revised September 26, 1999
Revised October 6, 1999
Revised October 11, 1999
Updated: Nov 5, 2021