In 1861 a challenge published in a Scottish newspaper that Scotland would shoot against England was taken up. The match was limited to Volunteers, in teams of eight, and was fired at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. To perpetuate the match Lord Elcho, afterwards the Earl of Wemyss (pictured right), who was the first Chairman of the Council of the National Rifle Association, presented the Elcho Shield for annual competition. The first match took place in 1862 during the National Rifle Association Annual Rifle Meeting at Wimbledon, Surrey, in the south of England, with England emerging the winners.
The Elcho Shield was an elaborate work of wrought iron. It was made by Elkington & Co., of Regent Street, London, at their manufacturing establishment in Birmingham. The Illustrated London News of 8 July 1865 describes it thus: "A medallion portrait of the Queen, wearing her crown, occupies the centre; beneath this are two volunteer riflemen, the one English and the other Scotch, meeting with a brotherly clasp of the hands, despite the ancient remembrances of Flodden and Banockburn, sculptured on each side. The groups in relief on each side of the head of her Majesty represent Queen Elizabeth reviewing her troops at Tilbury Fort, and Queen Victoria giving the prizes to her loyal volunteers at Wimbledon. Above the heraldic insignia, the other emblems of nationality, which separate the lower from the upper compartment of the shield, is seen the august form of Britannia, with the Lion at her back, while Peace and Plenty, with other allegorical personages, are seated in repose at her feet." The shield was first competed for in 1862. The English victors of the match had to content themselves with a drawing of the shield, it not being ready for presentation until 1865. A plaster cast model was presented in the intervening years.
Ireland, not having any Volunteers, was not eligible to take part in the Elcho Shield match. After many applications to the Wimbledon authorities to allow the Irish to enter for this prize, the strictness of the rule was relaxed and an Irish team was allowed to compete in 1865. The team was organised under the Captaincy of the Marquis of Donegall and, although finishing third that year, the Irish team score was higher than that achieved by England and Scotland on their first match.
"It is a subject worthy of remark that the Whitworth rifle, which carried the palm for so many years, was not used by any competitor for the Elcho Challenge Shield. The shallow grooved rifling, and hardened, expanding cylindrical bullet, manufactued by Mr. Metford, and introduced into his patent rifle in 1865, is now universally adopted, and has entirely superseded all the deep-grooved rifles with their mechanically fitting bullets. As regards the Metford rifle, it ought to be known that although Mr. Metford is the inventor of the rifle that bears his name, Mr. Gibbs, of Bristol, is the sole manufacturer of it. It is simply know as the Metford rifle, and Mr. Metford is not a manufacturer." Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Friday, July 16, 1869
In 1865 seven of the English team used Whitworth rifles and one, Sir Henry Halford, a Metford. The entire Scottish Eight used Whitworth rifles, while the Irish Eight used Rigby. This was Ireland’s first entry to the match which had commenced in 1862.
In 1873 Ireland won the Elcho Shield for the first time, beating England and Scotland. The competition took place on 17 July during the National Rifle Association’s annual Rifle Meeting at Wimbledon. Ireland's score of 1195 was twenty points above the English total of 1175, while the Scottish team trailed a long way behind on 1128.
The Captain of the Irish team was the Duke of Abercorn and the successful eight were Messrs. Young, Lloyd, Joyce, John and William Rigby, Milner, Johnson and Wilson. Young used a Gibbs-Metford rifle, whilst the rest of the team used Rigby rifles; all muzzle loaders
Entertainingly, Jeffrey L. Rodengen in his book ‘NRA: An American Legend‘, notes the win and continues: "That night the coveted trophy was paraded through the streets of Dublin on a gun carriage." Not only is the swift flight of the trophy to Dublin in Ireland before the prize giving miraculous, but at the time of the victory the Elcho Shield itself was many miles away at the Vienna Exhibition. Rodengen appears to have relied upon James Trefethen’s book, ‘Americans and Their Guns’ (an earlier history of the NRA in America) for some of this information and in paraphrasing Trefethen’s text introduced the error.
The Wimbledon prize giving took place on 19 July, the Princess Mary presenting the prizes. Although vociferously applauded the Irish Eight had to remain justifiably happy with their win but await the return of the trophy from Vienna. On 7 August a deputation of the Irish Rifle Association met the Lord Mayor of Dublin in the Mansion House. Here the Mayor was presented with a copy of the design of the shield. It was not until 18 September that the shield finally reached Dublin, where it was borne through the streets on a gun carriage drawn by eight horses and preceded by detachments of the 14th Hussars and the 34th Regiment, with the band of the latter and followed by similar detachments of the same regiment. Arthur Leech representing the Irish Rifle Association placed the shield in the custody of the Lord Mayor.
Rodengen also repeats Trefethen’s error in ascerting that the Elcho Shield is silver.
Trefethen and Rodengen are not alone in making errors when it comes to these points of detail. Ned Roberts in his 'The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle' states that the Shield was "competed for by teams of eight men from England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, Ireland and other countries." This is not correct; Canada and Australia are not eligible to compete.
The 1873 win of the Elcho Shield by Ireland brought about their famous challenge to the riflemen of America and the subsequent 1874 competition at Creedmoor, USA. This heralded a brief period of international long range competition which set the sport on the world stage.
Study of the records of the Elcho Shield competition allows some insight into the development of the match rifle. The following report on the trials for the English Eight held at Avonmouth, Bristol, makes some observation on rifles used:
"Not only were the competitors the elite of our national shots, but the weapons employed formed a more valuable collection than has yet been brought together, comprising the best rifles whose serviceable qualities had already been established, and some novelties in the gunsmith's art. Gibbs's famous local factory supplies Metford muzzle-loaders and Metford-Farquharson breech-loaders, while the Westley Richards Company have a new application of a Westley breech to Metford's barrel. This "Deely-Edge," as it is called after the names of the joint inventors, has a remarkably good breech action, and is very likely to become a prominent favourite when produced for Public sale. There are also a couple of Sharp's American breech loader, and an Ingram's (Scotch) muzzle-loader. Notwithstanding the greater amount of labour in the preparation of the charges and minute attention required, breech-loaders appear at least to maintain their popularity among connoisseurs." (Bristol Mercury, 6 June 1878)
In the Elcho Shield match that year five of the English Eight fired breech loaders; used were three Metford’s, a Remington and a Sharps (the remaining three used Metford muzzle loaders). This was the first year that breech-loaders were used in the match.
Ireland won scoring 1610 against England (1560) and Scotland (1552). The Irish Team, with one exception who used a Metford muzzle loader, fired with Rigby muzzle loaders. The Scottish team used muzzle loaders by Rigby (3), Metford (2), Fraser-Ingram, Ingram and McCririck.
It was not until 1881 that breech-loaders were exclusively used in the Elcho Shield match.