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Queen Victorias Rifle Volunteers and Yeomanry 1859-1908

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The Urge To Volunteer, 1850 To 1859

The Metropolitan Rifle Corps In Hyde Park

Metropolitan Rifle Corps in Hyde Park

From Left to Right; Working Men’s College, South Middlesex, South Kensington, London Scottish, London Scottish & Kilt Company, St. George’s, 1st Surrey, Honourable Artillery Company, City of London, Civil Service, Volunteer Guards, Inns of Court, Victoria Rifles, 1st Middlesex Artillery, Queens Westminster, London Irish, West Middlesex, 1st Surrey Mounted Rifles (The Illustrated London News, 27 October 1860)

A study of the books influencing the Volunteer Movement must, of necessity, commence with those appearing during the years leading up to 1859. Volunteering had flourished during the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon and was, therefore, still sufficiently recent in the memory of most people to permit of its being revived. The great Duke of Wellington, himself, had already been sufficiently concerned to make his views on the necessity for national defence known as far back as 1847. Two further developments in the early 1850’s had helped to bring this about.

Chronologically, the first was the quite sudden development of long range rifle shooting. This evoked considerable interest and from around 1850 a number of books dealing with the subject of the new Minie System started to appear. Existing rifle clubs, although not many, had continued the traditions of the earlier period in a manner analogous to those of our own Home Guard Rifle Clubs, which flourished after the end of the Second World War, and in some cases still do. The second major factor was the Crimean War which brought home to the public something of the nature of modern war and the perils of foreign invasion.The advent of steam navigation had opened our shores to surprise attack. The Indian Mutiny served to reinforce the general interest in matters military and in rifle shooting. At the same time the Continental Powers were all engaged in re-equipping their troops with the latest in small arms after observing their effects in the Crimea.

This was not only happening in Europe. In the United States of America, Congress authorised a Military Commission to tour Europe, visit the conflict in the Crimea and submit detailed reports of their findings. Two massive reports were prepared after this visit and published at Washington in 1860 and 1861. The first is entitled MILITARY COMMISSION TO EUROPE, 1855 AND 1856 - REPORT OF MAJOR ALFRED MORDECAI, OF THE ORDNANCE DEPARTMENT. The second is entitled REPORT ON THE ART OF WAR IN EUROPE IN 1854, 1855 & 1856; BY COLONEL R. DELAFIELD, U.S. ARMY, AND MAJOR OF THE CORPS OF ENGINEERS, FROM HIS NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS MADE AS A MEMBER OF A “MILITARY COMMISSION TO THE THEATER OF WAR IN EUROPE,” UNDER THE ORDERS OF THE HON. JEFFERSON DAVIES, SECRETARY OF WAR. The Secretary of War mentioned gained great fame, or a few would say notoriety, shortly afterwards as President of the Confederate States of America. These two reports are very large and well worth reading but the date of their appearance precludes them from having had any influence on the British Volunteer. They are mentioned solely as illustrating the nature of the international activity that was going on. The Mordecai Report is listed by Riling as No. 744 and the Delafield Report as No. 761. The preamble to the Reports states that 20,000 copies were to be printed.

One of the earliest books on the new system for British readers was published by Henry Wilkinson, the gunmaker of Pall Mall, in 1851. In a small green soft covered booklet of only 24 pages entitled OBSERVATIONS (THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL) ON MUSKETS, RIFLES, AND PROJECTILES (Riling 613), Wilkinson, already well established as an author with his ENGINES OF WAR (1841), discusses the latest theories and draws upon the work of Captain Gustave Delvigne, the co-developer with Minie of the new system. The book went into a second edition the following year when it was expanded to 38 pages and although Wilkinson expresses doubts about the Minie system, as he is pressing his claims for his own bullet design, it added materially to the public interest in the subject. Wilkinson's bullet, although not taken up by the British, was adopted by the Austrians as the projectile for the Lorenz rifle and was very successful in that role. The second edition of WILKINSON'S OBSERVATIONS was republished in facsimile some years ago (pictured above). A Third Edition of 60 pages was published in 1858.

The year 1852 brought three mote titles. We have not been able to examine the first but will cite Ray Riling, who gives it the number 621, THE RIFLE: ITS USES AND ADVANTAGES IN WAR, IN THE VOLUNTEER SERVICE AND IN SPORTING PURSUITS ... by “Long Range”. Published in London by T. Bosworth with seventy pages, it is worth mentioning because of its specific reference to the Volunteer Service.

Another gunmaker, Charles Lancaster, also produced in 1852 a small pamphlet of 26 pages entitled BY HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL LETTERS PATENT. 1851. LANCASTER’S SMOOTH-BORED RIFLES. This is excessively rare today, is not mentioned by either Riling or Gerrare, and only two copies are known to exist, neither of which are in the British Library. Although this is mainly an advertising effort on behalf of his Oval Bore system, he does go at length into the comparison trials then being held between the latest types of rifle. He quotes from Colonel Chesney’s Exhibition Lecture at Cork in Ireland in which the Colonel details the results of trials made at the request of the General Committee of the Management of the Cork Exhibition, for the purpose of testing the relative merits of the recent improvements in fire arms. The shooting was conducted at the range at Belvelly and specific mention is made of the use of a pattern of rifle that Lancaster was making for the Stock Exchange Club, evidence of the continuing relationship between the target shooting fraternity and the still surviving element of Volunteering. The list of rifles tried was impressive and it included those of Lancaster, Wilkinson, Truelock, Rigby’s Polygroove, Minies by Rigby, Allport and the Pattern of 1851, Captain Cowper, Nellican, Knox, Lippold, the Prussian Needle Gun, and rifles from Germany and Norway, as well as smooth bore muskers and carbines.

Colonel Chesney, himself, produced a substantial volume in the same year entitled OBSERVATIONS ON THE PAST AND PRESENT STATE OF FIRE-ARMS, AND ON THE PROBABLE EFFECTS IN WAR OF THE NEW MUSKET: ... (Riling 617). In its 376 pages he includes not only a history of warfare and firearms but also a completely new system for reorganising the Royal Artillery. Two chapters are devoted to the “New Musket” and, being a Gunner, he immediately comprehends the danger to Field Artillery from rifle armed infantry. These fears were only too realistic as the Russian Gunners found two years later in the Crimea. The recognition of the value of trained marksman was, in itself, one of the main influences leading to the great Volunteer Movement of 1859.

Part 2 looks at some of the many books that appeared discussing technical aspects of the Enfield rifle and ammunition, plus drill.


‘Riling’ references are to: ‘Guns and Shooting: A Selected Chronological Bibliography’ by Ray Riling
(Greenberg, New York, 1951)