The India Pattern Brown Bess Musket represents the final evolution, some would call it a “de-evolution”, of the classic British military flintlock infantry musket that had first been standardized in the decade leading up the adoption of the Pattern 1730 Land Pattern Musket. While the British Board of Ordnance never really applied “Pattern Dates” as a classification system to their series of “Land Pattern Muskets”, which would serve the army in one form or another for a century, the use of these pattern dates (as applied by researchers like DeWitt Bailey and Erik Goldstein) makes it easier to identify specific model variants and their traits. It also provides a context in terms of time period as the muskets evolved.
During most of the 18th century, the British Board of Ordnance replied upon a parts contracting system that required makers to deliver specific gun parts (locks, stocks, barrels, furniture, etc.) to the Board of Ordnance. These parts would subsequently be “set up” or assembled by government workmen, primarily at the Tower of London, but sometimes at Dublin Castle as well. It is through this system of parts suppliers and Ordnance assembly at the “Tower” that this mark eventually came to replace the name of the lock maker on the exterior of the locks of the muskets, a tradition that would continue well into the 19th century, even after it had become quite normal for the Board of Ordnance (later the War Department) to purchase completed arms from vendors, rather than parts to be assembled by the government. Through most of the 18th century, the Land Pattern Musket (or Brown Bess) underwent a number of relatively minor changes. These were mostly in the form of the lock, the evolution of the furniture, and eventually as the century progressed, the shortening of the barrel. This barrel shortening began with the adoption of the Pattern 1769 Short Land Musket, with a handier 42” barrel. With the name “Short Land” differentiating it from the standard “Long Land” pattern with its 46” barrel. The pressure placed on the Board of Ordnance during the American Revolution forced the Board to start contracting for complete arms in addition to parts to assemble arms, in order to get enough guns into the field for the use of the troops. This experimentation with buying completed arms and having them inspected by government viewers would become standard operating procedure by the middle of the 19th century. However, during the period of the American Revolution it was a novel solution to the problem at hand.
The purchase of completed arms produced by contractors lead to some innovations that would follow the “Bess” through the rest of her service life, including the appearance in the John Pratt contract Pattern 1779-S muskets of Pratt’s improved ramrod pipe. This experimentation with completed arms from contractors and the acceptance of minor variation from the standardized Ordnance pattern set the stage for the adoption of the Pattern 1793, “India Pattern” (Type I) Brown Bess.
At the conclusion of the American Revolution, the British military began to downsize. The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 not only ended the conflict in America, but also brought to an end a decades long conflict between England and France, Spain and the Netherlands. During the ensuing decade, the British military was at relative peace, with the exception of some minor conflicts in her other colonial possessions, primarily in India. In 1793, the War of the First Coalition broke out in Europe, pitting England and a host of allies (Austria, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, Sardinia, and others) against the newly established French Republic. England would remain on a war footing through 1814, fighting the Republic of France and subsequently Napoleon’s French Empire with only a brief respite during 1802-1803. With the Treaty of Paris, the exile of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty to the throne of France, all appeared to be well in the world again. However, Napoleon’s escape from Elba in February of 1815 brought England back into conflict with France and started the 100 Days War, which culminated with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. During the more than two decades of constant conflict with France, the Board of Ordnance was completely overwhelmed with the demand for muskets, not only for their own armies but to help supply their allies as well. The pressing and sudden need for arms in 1793 forced the Board of Ordnance to approach the East India Company for help procuring arms. The East India Company had a huge private army that was necessary to protect and control their far-flung business ventures around the globe, especially in India. The East India Company had adopted the Windus’ Pattern musket in 1771 as their standard long arm, and they would use this arm through the 1820s. As noted by Erik Goldstein and other writers it was at best an “inelegant” weapon when compared to earlier pattern of Brown Bess muskets and was in fact down right clunky. The weapon was shorter, with only a 39” barrel, but retained the nominal .75 bore of earlier British muskets. The gun was essentially a simplified version of the previous Land Pattern muskets that was cheaper and easier to produce quickly. It did, however, remain a robust and practical fighting musket. The shorter barrel meant that only three ramrod pipes were necessary to secure the rammer, while earlier Land Pattern arms had used four. The furniture was also simpler, without the more ornate finials and decorative embellishments at the ends of the brass fixtures. The lock was blockier and solid, but hardly as streamlined and attractive as the “Banana” shaped locks of early Land Patter arms. The British Board of Ordnance acquired 28,920 of these India Pattern muskets directly from the East India Company, and since so many of the Birmingham contractors were set up to produce this pattern of musket, the Board let contracts with many makers to manufacture this simplified Brown Bess for the military. The Board continued its old system of acquiring parts and setting up guns at the Tower of London as well, but the need for arms was so overwhelming that the Ordnance supply system all but failed, and reliance upon contractors for completed arms became the norm. Between 1794 and 1809 more than three quarters of a million India Pattern Brown Bess muskets (Type 1) were assembled and put into service. In 1809, the India Pattern underwent a minor chance, replacing its un-reinforced swan necked cock with a heftier reinforced cock that was less likely to break. These Pattern 1809 muskets, or India Pattern (Type 2) would be produced in huge numbers, with production estimated in excess of 1.3 million between 1809 and 1815. With the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June of 1815, the pressing need for arms came to an end, and the British Board of Ordnance would not find itself in need of procuring any more muskets until the adoption of the percussion ignition system at the end of the 1830s! While often considered a footnote to the history of the Brown Bess by serious Bess collectors, the two variations of the India Pattern Bess would serve the Empire during the height of the Napoleonic Wars, including the Peninsular War (1808-1814) and the Hundred Days war that culminated with the battle of Waterloo, and it would be the standard arm for the British forces in America during the War of 1812 (1812-1814). Thus, from an historic standpoint, the British India Pattern Brown Bess Musket is about as important as any other iconic battle weapon that had a major impact on the history of the world.
This British “India Pattern” Type 1 Brown Bess is in about VERY GOOD overall condition, and based upon its somewhat interesting markings represents either an oddly inspected, very early acquisition by the Board of Ordnance, or more likely an American acquired British musket from the period of 1799-1800. The musket appears to be 100% original and in its original flintlock configuration, although it is missing its sling swivels. The musket is very well marked throughout. The lock is crisply and clearly marked TOWER in a vertical arc to the rear of the hammer and with the royal cypher of King George III, a (ROYAL CROWN) / GR forward of the hammer. The lock is additionally marked with a small (CROWN) underneath the flash pan, but without the expected “Broad Arrow” below the crown, a true conundrum for a British military used arm. The gun is also void of the standard “King’s Proofs” on the upper left breech, which would consist of a (CROWN) / GB / (BROAD ARROW) and a (CROWN) / (CROSSED SCEPTERS). Instead the barrel shows a doubled set of the crowned crossed scepters proof marks, with a (CROWN)/4 government inspection between the proofs. Most interestingly, the stock bears a clear, 1786 dated storekeepers’ mark, dated some eight years before the first British military acquisitions of this pattern of musket. This would be a good time to note that from extant examples of British military muskets of this period, it seems clear that the storekeepers’ stamps were not replaced on an annual or even semi-annual basis, and it is not uncommon for guns to bear a storekeepers’ stamp that is several years earlier than the firearm itself.
In George Moller’s seminal three volume set American Military Shoulder Arms, he discusses and depicts a similarly marked Brown Bess musket. On pages 111-115 of Volume II, Mr. Moller discusses the acquisition of some 9,400 “Short British Muskets”, which based upon the period description as having 39” barrels can safely be assumed to have been India Pattern Type I muskets. Of those guns, some 400 were “cleaned and repaired” at the Schuylkill Arsenal in 1800 and were subsequently marked “US”. It is one of those “US” marked muskets that Moller pictures, but his descriptions of the unusual variation in proof markings; particularly the lack of an arrow under the crown on the lock and the unusual variation in barrel proofing mentioned above, suggests that this musket may be part of that group of 9,400 muskets. It is also worth noting that in 1805 some 500 of these India Pattern Brown Bess muskets were specifically selected from the muskets in store at Harpers Ferry by the Adjutant of the Marine Corps, F.K. Fenwick for the use of the US Marines. The Marines were so pleased with their Brown Bess muskets that they continued to use them through the War of 1812. They found the shorter barrels, longer bayonets and larger caliber all preferable to the US muskets then in production at the National Armories.
The musket retains matching mating marks throughout the gun, a file slash marking of \ / | |. The lock remains in original flint, as does the barrel, with no indication of reconversion, welding or bushing of the touchhole, although it is somewhat large and shows moderate erosion. As noted earlier, the musket is in about VERY GOOD overall condition. The metal retains legible marks throughout, with the lock more crisply marked than the barrel. The barrel has a mottled salt and pepper patina showing moderate pitting at the breech, erosion at the touchhole, and pitting in the pan. The barrels shows some lightly scattered pitting and oxidized discoloration forward of the breech, over a pewter gray patina. The lock has a pleasing pewter patina as well, with some scattered wisps of lightly oxidized age staining. The lock is mechanically excellent and functions perfectly on all positions and retains its original, early production swan-neck cock. The bore of the musket is in about FAIR condition and shows a thick layer of old accumulated dirt and debris along with heavy oxidation and moderate pitting along its length. A good scrubbing would certainly improve the bore, but it will never be shooter. The brass furniture has an attractive goldenrod color and was probably lightly cleaned long ago. The original steel ramrod is in place in the channel under the stock, and remains full-length, with only the threads at the end missing. The original front sight/bayonet mounting stud is in place on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle, as well. Both sling swivels are missing. The stock remains in VERY GOOD condition throughout and is fairly crisp. It is full-length, solid and free of any breaks or cracks. The stock shows the usual assortment of scattered bumps, dings, surface scrapes and mars, but nothing beyond normal wear and tear and nothing that would suggest abuse. There is a very old chip out of the mortise behind the lock and a smaller one missing forward of the lock. Both are likely the result of improper lock removal. There is also a small chip missing to at the rear of the breech plug tang. The discoloration of the underlying wood makes it clear that the damage occurred a very long time ago and is not remotely recent. The apron (aka “beavertail”) around the breech plug tang remains crisp and has been decorated by the addition of small hash lines around its perimeter, giving the apron the appearance of the edge of a pie. These marks show wear and appear to be fairly old as well, but it is impossible to determine if they are from the period of use.
The musket is accompanied by a correct and original India Pattern Socket Bayonet. The bayonet fits the gun well and remains in VERY GOOD condition as well, matching the patina of the gun. The bayonet has the usual 4” socket and the blade measures 16 ½” to the neck from the tip. The bayonet is unmarked, except for a punch dot hardness proof and what might be the remnants of a maker’s mark on the ricasso. The bayonet has a mostly smooth, lightly oxidized brownish gray patina and is a nice accompaniment to the musket.
Overall this is a solid example of an early production British Pattern 1794 “India Pattern” Type 1 Brown Bess Musket that may have been part of the acquisition of such guns by the United States during the turn of the 18th to 19th centuries. The gun is very well marked with interesting variations of the expected Board of Ordnance inspections and has a particularly interesting 1786 storekeepers mark. Whether the gun was an export to the fledgling American nation or saw standard British service, it was certainly witness to some of the most turbulent times of the early 19th century, including the world-wide Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. This is a solid example of an early production, swan-neck cock British musket that was the beginning of the end of the Brown Bess pattern in the British military.