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Military Rifles in the Age of Transition
(Non-U.S.) Black Powder, Metallic Cartidge, Military Rifles
1865 to 1890
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M1867(?) SIAMESE TABATIERE
M1867(?) Siamese Tabatiere
Very little is known in the West concerning the firearms of the Kingdom of Siam prior to their adoption of the Type 45 Siamese Mauser in 1903. However, the monarchy would have been quite well aware of European firearms developments. The British had a long-standing presence in India and had defeated and began colonizing the Burmese in 1826.
By the 1840s the threat to Siam from the western colonial powers was clear, having been dramatically demonstrated by the British First Opium War with China (1839–1842). In 1850 the British and Americans sent missions to Bangkok demanding the end of all restrictions on trade and extraterritoriality for Westerners (that is, immunity for their citizens from Siamese law) but the Siamese were able to refuse. In 1855 the British returned in force demanding immediate concessions and this time the Siamese were forced to accede.
But by this time the more serious threat to Siam was from the French who preferred colonial empire to the British's mere commercial exploitation. The French under Napoleon III had occupied Cochinchina (encompassing Saigon) in 1859 and had secured a “protectorate” over Cambodia in 1863. In 1867 they established a protectorate over southern Vietnam. Following the abolition of the Napoleonic monarchy in 1870, France under the Third Republic, was no less voracious in attempting to compete with the British. In 1874 the French seized the Annam region (what is now central Vietnam) which became a part of French Indochina in 1887.
During this turbulent period, Siam was ruled by an especially able diplomat, King Mongkut (reign 1851-1868 as Rama IV) followed by his extraordinary son, King Chulalongkorn (reign: 1868-1910 as Rama V), now known as Rama the Great. Through exceptional diplomatic and administrative skill over the course of his 40 year reign, Chulalongkorn was able to maintain Siamese independence and to bring the nation more substantially into the modern age. (Fascinating Note: Rama V was the first Siamese king to have a full western education, having been taught by a British governess, Anna Leonowens, and whose places in Siamese history were fictionalized as The King and I.]
As neither the French nor the British were willing to sell large numbers of arms to the Siamese during this period, they acquired weapons from their European rivals, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from whom they purchased a number of Gew.1871 Mausers from Germany and Gew.1888, 1888/90 and 1895 Mannlichers from Austria-Hungary. And, almost certainly, also from Belgian firms in Liege who either manufactured rifles for Siam or sold them surplus rifles previously bought from others, even the French for example. French Mle1859/67 Carabine de Chasseurs have been seen marked with the Siamese Chakra on their receivers.
It is entirely likely that independent arms merchants might have pursued sales to smaller nations looking to upgrade their defensive capabilities during the colonial competitions in 19th Century Asia. The Tabatiere illustrated here may well have been such an arm.
The Siamese Tabatière:
The Tabatière conversion system was adopted and utilized only by France, with the possible exception of Siam. In addition to clearly French built and French converted Tabatières, there are Tabatière rifles carrying Siamese markings which were obviously purpose-built, just as the British continued manufacturing Snider rifles when their store of P1853 rifles available for conversion were exhausted. These new-built rifles would be the only purpose-built Tabatières so far discovered.
NOTE: The rifle illustrated here is not a full-length infantry rifle by the standards of the day. This rifle is shorter even than the Mle1859/67 French Carabine de Chasseur 'a Tabatières, the French jager/skirmisher short rifle version of its Tabatière infantry rifle. Presumably there are Siamese long rifles somewhere, but we have not come across one thus far.
Interestingly and tellingly, there is absolutely nothing French-built about the Siamese Tabatière illustrated here, although Belgian-French design is found throughout.
The most readily apparent distinguishing characteristics of this rifle are its unique rear sight and its virtually American nosecap. The closest analog to this rifle’s rear sight is that of the M1867 Austrian Wanzl series, although the Siamese arm is quite distinct on close examination. The Siamese rear sight consists of a short, blocky, two-position flip-up leaf atop a short, blocky wedge-type base soldered to the barrel. The nosecap was almost certainly modeled after the British Snider / American Springfield muskets of the day.
The breechblock is fully an early Type 1 design except that the thumb lever is something of a cross between the French Types 1 and 2 and differs noticeably from both. The lock is the modeled on the French Mle1853 design, but it’s only marking is “14” inside the lockplate. Its hammer is similar to the French model, with a similar tall, straight, vertical hammer spur but the end of the spur is somewhat more slender and sculpted.
The two barrel bands Belgian-French design, but the location of the sling swivel differs from the French. Like French rifles of the day, there is a single escutcheon on the left side of the rifle anchoring a transverse lockplate screw.
Stock: Without markings, and also no evidence of ever having been French, including no sign of buttstock cartouche nor of a “Holy Water” plug, although it is marked in the barrel channel with several hashes suggesting possible re-assembly at some point in its career.
Lower sling swivel, trigger guard and trigger guard tang are all unequivocally Belgian-French in design, although not in manufacture.
Most unfortunately, no rod was present so no observations could be made regarding a rod. The rod pictured is a French version after-market replacement.
All of the parts, including major assemblies, nosecap and bands, except screws, are marked “14” other than the lock screw which is marked “12.” The upper barrel band and the buttplate tang are also marked with a circled “W.” The barrel is marked “351” and 17.8, an unmistakable indicator of its Tabatière caliber. The barrel is also marked in small type “61” where it abuts the receiver on the right side, and the receiver is identically marked “61” beside its larger “14.”
The receiver is further marked with a crown over “N” on the left, a letter “M” on the top right and on top with a small “F” in a circle above the larger and utterly distinctive six-bladed Siamese Chakra. (“In Siamese mythology, this is the irresistible weapon of Indra, the king of the lower heavens, with which he can, at his pleasure, drive his adversaries from any part of his dominions.” Alabaster, Henry, The Wheel of the Law: Buddhism Illustrated from Siamese Sources, Trubner & Co., London, 1871, at page 286.)
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
Overall Length: 48 ¼ in (1225mm)
Barrel Length: 31 in (787mm)
Rifling: 4-groove, concentric just as with the French Tabatières.
Rear sight: Disappointingly, the Rear Sight is not graduated at all. It flips to two positions only. Unfortunately, we do not know to what range these rifles were sighted, what units of measure were used, nor how many units were represented by this sight.
Unknown, but very likely to be an analog of the French 17.8x32mm Tabatière cartridge.
Unknown. However, this rifle barrel is the same exterior diameter at the muzzle as that of the French Mle1867 infantry and dragoon rifles, as well as the contemporary Swiss M1842/59/67 Amsler-Milbanks, both of which derive originally from Belgian designed and produced earlier muzzleloading rifles. Also, not so very surprising, this unique Siamese rifle is fitted with a bayonet stud below the barrel in the same position as both the French and the Swiss rifles.
While we do not know what bayonet was actually issued with this rifle, it will mount both the French Mle1822/67 & Mle1857/67 angular socket bayonets issued for use with the French Tabatiere rifles just mentioned, as well as the Swiss M1851 angular socket bayonet utilized with the Swiss rifles just noted.
Unknown, but Siam did not have the manufacturing capacity to build rifles during this era itself. Siam would have had to import them, and the gunmakers of Liege, Belgium would have been an obvious choice. These could not have been made in large numbers.
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