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British Military P-1863 Whitworth Rifle

British Military P-1863 Whitworth Rifle

  • Product Code: FLA-2866-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

There is probably no muzzle loading rifle more renowned for accuracy than the Whitworth Patent Rifle. Sir Joseph Whitworth was an incredibly talented engineer who was responsible (among his many innovations and inventions) for the establishment of the first standardized thread system for screws. This is something we tend to take for granted today, but the standardization of thread count, thread pitch and screw diameter was a revolutionary idea during the mid-19th century when screws were hand made and hand cut. His reputation for being able to produce machines with tight tolerances lead the Board of Ordnance to approach him in 1854 to help with the design and manufacture of the machinery that would be necessary to install at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock. This facility would be the first one in England to produce small arms on the principle of interchangeable parts, a production method that had been pioneered in America by such companies as Colt’s Patent Firearms and Robbins & Lawrence. Subsequently, the Board of Ordnance asked Whitworth to provide input potential improvements that might be obtained in rifled small arms barrels. To this end, Whitworth consulted prominent gunmaking engineers like Charles Lancaster (who developed the “oval bore” mechanical rifling system) and Westley Richards (who was working with an octagonal bore mechanical rifling system). Whitworth’s interest in precision machining and in the potential for improved accuracy of firearms lead to his adoption of a polygonal, 6 sided, mechanical rifling system that proved to be very, very accurate. While he cannot be directly credited with the invention of the 6-sided mechanical rifling system, he can be accurately considered to have substantially improved it in such as way as to make it extremely successful. Much of his design accuracy was due to his work with the projectile, that he designed to be longer and smaller in diameter than the typical caliber of the day, yet retaining weight of a military service type bullet. His 530 grain, .451 caliber hexagonal bullet did not depend upon unreliable expansion of a hollow base in order to engage the rifling of the bore, but instead replied upon the tight mechanical fit of his bullet to the .451 polygonal bore. The end results were simply stunning accuracy for a muzzle loading firearm, with one test resulting in a 12” group at 1,800 yards; a group shot at just over 1 mile with a black powder muzzle loading rifle. These are the kinds of marksmanship results that are expected from today’s highly accurized bolt-action sniper rifles in .50BMG and .338 Lapua, not a 19th century muzzleloader. Whitworth began manufacturing his revolutionary rifles in 1857 and in 1860 formed the Whitworth Rifle Company in Manchester, England. Initially, the majority of his customers were serious target shooters, who were interested in obtaining the most accurate rifle of the period. He produced the rifles in a variety of styles from cased multi-barrel sets to military style match rifles, and everything in between. In 1862 Whitworth’s company was reorganized as the Manchester Ordnance & Rifle Company. There is probably no more famous, nor more desirable, variant of the Whitworth Rifle than the handful that were purchased by the Confederacy during the American Civil War, and put to such devastating use against the Union Army. These guns were all “2nd Quality” Military Match Rifles, and at least some of the later deliveries were equipped with 4-power Davidson telescopic sights, while earlier deliveries used Whitworth’s conventional rear sights and “globe” front sights. It is unlikely that more than 50 of the rifles were imported during the war, the legendary stories of their use and great accuracy have made them an iconic piece of American arms collecting history. While the Confederacy was actively attempting to acquire the extremely accurate and expensive rifles during 1861 and 1862 (Major Anderson of the Confederacy noted they were to have cost as much as “about 1,000, in the equivalent of gold, for reach rifle and one thousand rounds of ammunition.”), the British military was still exploring the possibilities of the Whitworth design. The Board of Ordnance had already experienced good results in testing other mechanical rifling systems, as their Brunswick rifles had worked well in the past, and the oval bore design of Charles Lancaster had almost been adopted over the 3-roove progressive depth rifling used on the P-1853 Enfield Rifle Musket. The board, however, understood that there were certainly advantages to Whitworth’s smaller bore size and tight tolerance mechanical fit projectile. Whitworth explored numerous variations of his polygonal design for the Board of Ordnance from 1858 to 1862 and produced many experimental rifles, which varied barrel length, rate of twist, barrel material, etc. in an attempt to find the perfect combination of accuracy, handling, weight and durability. The first rifles to be produced in any quantity were officially designated the Pattern 1862 Whitworth Rifle. These rifles were all produced at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock (R.S.A.F.) with 36” iron barrels, 6 sided polygonal rifling, in .451 caliber (52 bore) with a 1:20” rate of twist, and were intended to look very much like the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle musket then in general use. The iron mounted rifle used the same lock as the Pattern 1860 Enfield Rifle (then in production at RSAF and among various contractors), as well as much of the same furniture, such as the buttplate, trigger guard, etc. The rifle used 3-barrel bands rather than the two that was standard on the 33” barreled service rifles then in production. These 1,000 rifles were utilized in various field tests, and were commented upon favorably enough for the Board of Ordnance to authorized the production of 8,000 more rifles for field trials. These rifles, which would become the Pattern 1863 Whitworth Rifle, had slightly shorter barrels, at 33”, due to the fact that the barrels were made of steel rather than iron, and consequently weighed more than their iron counterparts. The new P-1863 also incorporated some minor improvements in the rear sight, and introduced a bayonet lug on the upper barrel band to accept a bayonet based upon the Pattern 1856 saber bayonet. The reason the bayonet lug (“bar” in English terminology) placed on the upper barrel band rather than directly on the barrel was the belief that it would be too difficult to adequately weld the bayonet lug directly to the steel barrel. As a result, the upper band was of the wide variety with a transverse pin through the band and stock for additional support. This pattern of barrel band had been introduced for the P-1856 Type II (or P-1858) “Bar on Band” series of rifles. These 8,000 rifles were produced at R.S.A.F. and were issued to a large number of regiments for field trials. In general, 68 of the rifles were issued each of the regiments that received them for trial (possibly to equip the “light companies”), and field reports were to be complied regarding the rifles in service performance over the next few years. At least 12 regiments not in service in Indian were issued the new P-1863 Whitworth Rifle, including the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, 1st Battalion Scots Fusilier Guards, 1st Battalion 3rd Foot, 2nd Battalion 5th Foot, both 1st & 2nd Battalion of the 60th Rifles and the 73rd Foot. Five additional regiments in Indian service were also issued the rifles, including the 42nd Highland Foot and 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade. In general, the reports from the field were quite similar, the rifles tended to foul badly when used in hot environments. In many cases it was difficult for the average solider to ram more than a half dozen rounds before the rifle became too fouled to load. When combined with the much higher cost per unit versus a standard P-1853 Enfield rifle musket, as well as the slower rate of fire, it quickly became obvious that the P-1853 was more than sufficient for the typical needs of the line infantry, and that even though the Whitworth had tremendous advantages in accuracy, it was not practical weapon for general issue. Although the guns remained in limited experimental issue through 1867-1868 with many of the regiments testing them, they were never considered a potential replacement for the P-1853 Enfield. In the end, the Whitworth design became an anachronism that proved the potential for smaller bore rifle accuracy, but at a time when the age of muzzle loader was coming to an end and the metallic cartridge breechloader was about to change the world of warfare forever. The Pattern 1863 Whitworth rifles were eventually returned to storage and eventually sold as surplus, becoming a sort of footnote in the history of 19th century British military small arms development. While the rifles never made a significant difference in the British military, they did manage to gain iconic status in the hands of a few of Confederate sharpshooters, and at the shooting competitions at Wimbledon, insuring that the Whitworth Rifle would never be merely a footnote to arms historians and collectors.

This British Pattern 1863 Whitworth Military Rifle is in about NEAR VERY GOOD condition and is a good example of the 8,000 rifles authorized for production at R.S.A.F. in 1863. The lock of the rifle is marked with the usual British (CROWN) to the rear of the hammer, over the letters V.R. for Victoria Regina, and indicating British government ownership. Forward of the hammer, the lock is marked 1863/ ENFIELD, and with a small (CROWN-BROAD ARROW) / S-R and with a very small 19. The obverse buttstock bears the expected R.S.A.F. storekeepers mark, a roundel that reads - R (CROWN) M “ ENFIELD in a circle around the inspection mark E / (CROWN) / 15 (inspector #15 at Enfield), all of which is over the number 1. The “1” indicates the rifle is “1st Class’ and made of interchangeable parts. The top of the breech is marked WHITWORTH’s PATENT, but most of the word “Whitworth” is illegible to due to pitting around the breech area. The left breech of the barrel is marked with usual British military proof and gauge marks for Enfield, and are over stamped with the sold out of service, surplus S. The right side of the breech appears to be serial numbered 3875, although the first two numbers are very difficult to read. If this serial number was part of the original marking system for the P-1863 Whitworth Rifles, it places this example nearly in the middle of their production run. The sight is complete and fully functional. The bottom of the barrel is marked FIRTH, who one of the four primary suppliers to steel barrels to Enfield for the production of these rifles. The bottom of the barrel additionally shows the inspection mark of an R / (CROWN) / 1 and the initials H and F. The rifle is in NEAR VERY GOOD condition and retains no original finish on the outer surfaces. The underside of the barrel, where it has been protected by the stock, retains about 20%-30% of its original blue, which is dulling and fading. The balance of the rifle has a medium pewter gray patina. The gun was probably lightly cleaned long ago, and the metal is mostly smooth (forward of the rear sight) and shows some scattered pinpricking and light pitting along its length. The breech and bolster areas show more significant amounts of pitting, which has partially obscured the name “WHITWORTH” on top of the breech, as well as the proof marks and serial number. The barrel shows a scattered patina of darker, age stained peppering along its length as well. The bore of the rifle is in VERY GOOD condition. The bore is partly bright with scattered light to moderate pitting along its entire length. However, due to the system of mechanical rifling, versus traditional rifling grooves, the pitting should have practically no effect on the accuracy of the rifle. A good scrubbing might improve the overall condition of the bore. The lock has a smoky gray patina, a little darker than the overall color of the barrel and is mechanically EXCELLENT. The lock functions perfectly on all positions and remains in very crisp mechanical condition. The cone (nipple) appears to be a very old replacement that fits the rifle perfectly and shows erosion and wear commensurate with the breach area of the rifle. The original cones for these guns were platinum lined with very small flash channels. This was due to the very high pressures created when firing the guns, especially with the hexagonal ammunition. The pressure cased severe erosion of the cones, and opened the flash channels enough that the pressures could damage the hammer. This resulted in the adoption of platinum liners for the cones to reduce the speed of the erosion. This cone appears to be a standard musket or rifle cone without the platinum liner and with a standard sized flash channel. The rifle retains its original rear sight, which is correctly marked and graduated for both types of ammunition issued with the guns. The sliding adjustment bar on the sight is marked with an engraved C on the right hand side and an engraved H on the left hand side. These indicate that the right side graduations are for the use of Conical (round) ammunition and the right hand graduations are for use with the Hexagonal (six sided) ammunition. The conical side is graduated to 1,250 yards, while the hexagonal side is graduated to 1,350 yards. The sight is complete and fully functional. The original front sight is in place near the muzzle of the rifle as well. The original ramrod is in place in the channel under the barrel and is full-length with good threads at the end. The original rear swivel is in place at the end of the extended iron triggerguard tang, and all of the hardware and furniture appears to be original to the rifle, with the exception of the upper barrel band and swivel. The original band would have had both a bayonet bar mount on it and a hole for the transverse pin that secured the band to the stock. This band is the correct width and general style, but does not have the hole or the bayonet bar. It is most likely an original upper band from a Type II P-1853 Enfield, and while an original part from the era and generally correct in appearance, is not quite right for the rifle. The stock of the rifle is in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition. The stock has been cleaned, resulting in some minor smearing of the R.S.A.F. storekeepers’ roundel on the stock, but it does not appear to have been sanded. The rifle retains relatively good lines and edges, with any rounding or softening of the lines appearing to be the result of the cleaning. The single biggest issue with the stock is that it has been spliced at the rear most band. The forend has been replaced from the rear band forward. The splice is not readily apparent unless the bottom barrel band is moved or the barrel is removed from the stock. The repair is so well done that it may be arsenal work. The forend is actually dovetailed into the main portion of the stock with a spline in such as was as to make it as strong (if not stronger) than when it was a single piece of wood. This quality, and the fact that the wood matches so well, suggest the repair is from the period of service and may have been around the time the gun was sold out of service. An additional indication that this was a British military repair is that the forend is drilled in the correct location and with the right size hole for the “bar on band” upper barrel band (which is no longer present). If the stock was only being restored to make the gun look presentable or salable, then there would not have been any need to do this extra work. This suggests the original “bar on band” upper band was still with the rifle when the stock was repaired, and was subsequently lost after the fact. As would be expected, the rifle shows the usual bumps, dings, bruises and mars that are typical of a 19th century military gun stock that saw actual issue, service and use.

Overall this is decent, is somewhat well used, example of a fairly rare British Pattern 1863 Whitworth Military Rifle. For most collectors a British military Whitworth rifle or a civilian military match rifle is as close as they will ever get to owning the nearly mythical Confederate Whitworth. This is decent displaying example that is in good mechanical shape, and will probably shoot pretty well if you want to experience what a Whitworth can do. These military rifles don’t come up for sale often, and when they do, they often bring strong prices. While this one is not a minty museum piece, it is a truly affordable example and is one that would be fun on the range, without having to worry about dinging up a $10,000 high condition Whitworth.


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Tags: British, Military, P, 1863, Whitworth, Rifle