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Queen Victorias Rifle Volunteers and Yeomanry 1859-1908

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The Volunteers Take Shape

In 1853 a Militia officer, Captain Thomas James Thackeray of the 2nd Somerset Regiment of Militia delivered a series of lectures at the Guildhall in Bath. These were published by Parker, Furnivall, & Parker of the Military Library, Whitehall and dedicated to Lord Palmerston, at that time Home Secretary. The book was entitled THREE LECTURES DELIVERED AT THE GUILDHALL, BATH ON THE PRACTICE OF RIFLE FIRING AT VARIOUS DISTANCES (Riling 640). There are only 43 pages and five plates but this is an important work in that Thackeray is addressing directly the ordinary citizen concerned with the defence of his home against the threat of foreign invasion. The lectures encompass in simple form the theory of ballistics, judging distance and simple tactics. These echo the methods of training being established by Colonel Hay at the School of Musketry, Hythe, just then being brought into existence, although it did not open officially until the following year. Thackeray expanded this work into THE SOLDIER’S MANUAL OF RIFLE FIRING, AT VARIOUS DISTANCES (Riling 704) which he produced in 1858.

The Volunteer Rifleman and the Rifle

Left: John Boucher's ideas for the uniform of Volunteers - 1853

1853 also saw the first of what became a positive stream, or perhaps river would be a better description, of output from the pen of John Boucher, of Surrey Villas, Camberwell. Boucher, an ex-officer of the 5th Dragoon Guards, was a compulsive writer, designer and later Captain of the First Company of the Surrey Rifle Volunteers. His name will crop up in the areas of books, rifle design and later in virtually every edition of the weekly VOLUNTEER SERVICES GAZETTE from its first appearance in October 1859. It is the opinion of a number of specialists working in the late 20th Century that John Boucher was basically unsound in his theories but should be given ten marks for sheer persistence and verbosity. His 1853 work was THE VOLUNTEER RIFLEMAN AND THE RIFLE (Riling 631). The first edition deals soundly enough with drill, training, ballistic theory, dress and even such esoteric arts as bullet casting (Second edition above). His A TREATISE ON RIFLE PROJECTILES: &c., &c., (Riling 669) of 1856 dealt with a variety of subjects and is a catalogue of condemnation of virtually every new principle. He especially dislikes the Minie which he describes as a “fallacy” and a “delusion”. Nevertheless, Boucher’s voice will continue to be heard for a great many years and gunmakers such as F. T. Baker made rifles to his design.

The Rifle MusketThe arrival on the scene of the new Rifle-Musket Pattern 1853 was greeted with enthusiasm and although supplies of it did not reach the Army in the Crimea until 1855, its comparative qualities were being widely discussed in 1854. Captain Jervis-White Jervis, R.A., wrote THE RIFLE-MUSKET: A PRACTICAL TREATISE ON THE ENFIELD PRITCHETT RIFLE, RECENTLY ADOPTED IN THE BRITISH SERVICE (Riling 649). This valuable work not only describes the rifle but goes at length into its manufacture with pictures of the barrel rolling and rifling machines. The work went into a Second Edition in 1859 but the First Edition has been reprinted (right) in facsimile in both 1984 and 1993.

The Second Edition was extensively modified and lengthened to accommodate the numerous changes which practical experience had forced upon the Enfield. Another little book to greet the Enfield in 1855 was the now extremely rare A COMPANION TO THE NEW RIFLE MUSKET COMPRISING INFORMATION ON THE CLEANING AND MANAGEMENT OF ARMS, AND ON THE MAKING OF CARTRIDGES. This is not in Riling. It includes numerous plates of the parts of the Enfield enhanced by colour tinting. Although the author was anonymous, he later produced an 1859 edition, presumably to cater for the new Volunteer demand. The new edition discloses his name, S. Bertram Browne, formerly First Class Instructor of Musketry of Hythe and author of THE ILLUSTRATED POSITION DRILL. The tinted plates are replaced in the 2nd edition by shaded ones as tinting was an expensive hand operation.

The Assistant Commandant and Chief Instructor at the Hythe School of Musketry, Colonel E. C. Wilford, was another whose duties involved him in lecturing to numerous audiences. His lecture of 10th July 1859 to the United Services Institution is the first of THREE LECTURES UPON THE RIFLE (Riling 750) published in 1859 by John W. Parker and Son, West Strand. The second lecture in the book is that of 28th May 1859 to the same audience and the final lecture was that given to one of the early Volunteer training courses at Hythe on 1st November. Leaders of the movement towards the creation of the Volunteers had taken the Hythe Course in July and August 1859 and it was then that a group of them decided to establish the National Rifle Association. These LECTURES are very well written and readable and would have provided excellent source material for Volunteer Officers lecturing to their own troops. The book is attractively but inexpensively bound in blue cloth laid down upon thin board, embossed and gilt, but with simple cut edges. This was a common binding method for cheap books during the mid 19th Century.

Rifle AmmunitionFor those whose interest lay in the technicalities of the weapons and ammunition (and today’s gun collectors), these books must have been fascinating and one other must be mentioned in this connection. RIFLE AMMUNITION, BEING NOTES ON THE MANUFACTURES CONNECTED THEREWITH AS CONDUCTED IN THE ROYAL ARSENAL, WOOLWICH (Riling 718) by Captain Arthur B. Hawes, a retired half pay officer of the Bengal Army, was published in July 1859. This is probably the best account there is of the processes involved in the manufacture of the paper cartridge for the Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle in its developed form. The book appeared with the approval of Boxer, and was intended for the use of the Army of India, but the War Office considered it to be so good that it requested Hawes to proceed by giving him an order for 200 copies for the Army generally in addition to those he could sell privately. This is an excellent Treatise and covers every aspect of the cartridge from the manufacture of the paper to the making of the barrels to store it in. It is impossible in this article to describe the contents in detail but the main headings are The Bullet, The Plug, The Cartridge, Metallic Tubes (for storage in damp conditions), Lubrication, The Cap, Ammunition Barrels, Rifle-Practice Targets, Experimental Targets, Mantelets, Rifle Rests, The Micrometer, Penetration of Rifle Bullets, Experimental Practice and The Vernier. There are 95 pages and 15 illustrations of which three are large folding plates stored in a pocket in the binding. Anderson’s machinery for swaging bullets from lead wire as well as that for extruding the wire is described in detail. Other machinery described includes the automatic lathe for making the box wood plugs (this is prior to the baked clay plug) and those for filling and lubricating. The new blank cartridge was especially noted. Prior to this period, blanks were very simple tubes of paper which did not give the soldier any practice in the technique of loading live rounds. The new blank was a facsimile of the ball cartridge which used a dummy bullet of papier-mache filled with powder. The soldier could now go through the exact loading procedure for the Enfield on every occasion. Hawes’ work is essential for any one studying the Enfield Cartridge and would have been popular with the technically minded Volunteer.

The Enfield cartridge from Hawe’s RIFLE AMMUNITION showing
the internal construction of both the ball and new blank rounds.
The lubrication can be seen as well as the band of purple paper round the blank to differentiate it - 1859

William H. Russell, the famous TIMES Special Correspondent, whose reports of the maladministration from the Crimea had such great influence on military reorganisation, brought his considerable powers of expression to bear in RIFLE CLUBS AND VOLUNTEER CORPS (Riling 724) which was published in 1859 by Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, London and New York. In his Preface to the book he closes by stating: “National instincts seldom err. We feel the danger in the air, and he is a fool who does not prepare for its coming.” Russell cites the dangers to our extended and wealthy coast line and its numerous ports and seaside towns from sudden raids by fast steam vessels carrying small bodies of troops that could land and wreak havoc before the central military authorities had time to react. He backs his assertion of the need for local volunteers by detailing cases where British ships during the Crimean Campaign had gone aground and been captured by small parties of Cossack Riflemen and Light Field Artillery before their crews had the time to get them off. Russell does not claim to be an expert in the subject of the rifle but he recommends his readers to the work of Hans Busk.

Hans Busk

Probably the single most influential author of the period prior to and at the beginning of the 1859 Movement was the barrister, Captain Hans Busk (1815 - 1882) of the Victoria Rifles. His unit was one of the very few surviving Association/Clubs from the Napoleonic period. In its earlier days it achieved a leading place in the history of shooting as The Duke of Cumberland’s Sharp-shooters. For those who might have believed otherwise, Sharpshooter is an expression dating well back into the 18th Century and has nothing to do with the rifles of Christian Sharps.

Hans Busk was born on 11th May 1815, six weeks before the Battle of Waterloo, and as far back as the 1830’s, as an undergraduate at Cambridge, was pressing the government to encourage the formation of Rifle Clubs for the defence of the country against possible invasion. When rebuffed by the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, he established a model Rifle Club in the University and published a series of articles in one of the quarterly journals. This series was revived by him in book form in 1858. In the preface to the Second Edition, dated 18th June (*) 1858, entitled THE RIFLEMAN’S MANUAL OR, RIFLES, AND HOW TO USE THEM (Riling 693), he describes how he has been persuaded to modernise and re-issue his earlier work. This Second Edition is, in fact, an early version of the well known THE RIFLE: AND HOW TO USE IT. A high level of interest in the Second Edition led to a Third dated 18th September 1858 followed by the Fourth on 18th May 1859. The Second is the only edition to appear in Octavo size, as from the Third Edition onwards it became a pocket book when the publisher was changed from Charles Noble to Routledge, Warne and Routledge.

By the end of 1859, following the government’s decision of 12th May, to permit Volunteer Corps to form under the authority of Lords Lieutenant of Counties, enthusiasm for the idea grew rapidly. Busk responded by writing in rapid succession RIFLE VOLUNTEERS: HOW TO ORGANISE AND DRILL THEM IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LATEST OFFICIAL REGULATIONS (not listed by Riling), HANDBOOK FOR HYTHE: COMPRISING A FAMILIAR EXPLANATION OF THE LAWS OF PROJECTILES AND AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SYSTEMS OF MUSKETRY, NOW ADOPTED BY ALL MILITARY POWERS (Riling 733), HANS BUSK’S TABULAR ARRANGEMENT OF COMPANY DRILL (not listed by Riling) and, not content with all that he was writing for the Volunteers, he also produced in 1859, THE NAVIES OF THE WORLD; THEIR PRESENT STATE, AND FUTURE CAPABILITIES (not listed by Riling).

The Rifle

Busk’s best known work is THE RIFLE AND HOW TO USE IT. This ran to at least eight editions. We have looked at the first three already. The Fourth to the Sixth were in the same style as the Third but the Seventh was greatly enlarged and featured Busk’s portrait as the frontispiece. All these editions appeared before the end of 1860. The earliest editions concentrated more on firearms development but, by the Fourth, equal emphasis is being placed upon drill and musketry.

Right: frontispiece from The Rifle and How To Use It

The only other work listed by Riling is HANDBOOK FOR HYTHE of 1860 which reached at least two editions. This is an excellent technical treatise for the training of officers at the School of Musketry at Hythe which had  been established by General Hay in 1854. Much of its material was used subsequently in the official TEXTBOOK FOR HYTHE published by H.M.S.O. in several editions.

Both THE RIFLE AND HOW TO USE IT and HANDBOOK FOR HYTHE were reissued in facsimile by Richmond Publishing Company in 1971 and second-hand copies are readily available. The first is still easily found in one of its original editions but it will be extremely unlikely to be an earlier edition than the Fourth. HANDBOOK is a very scarce in the original.

Handbook for Hythe

RIFLE VOLUNTEERS: HOW TO ORGANISE AND DRILL THEM was also written in 1859 and had reached its Seventh Edition by 5th January 1860. This is once again an indication of the enthusiasm with which the public took to Volunteering. The book is in the same pocket size format of the two just mentioned and is bound in boards with printed paper covers showing two soldiers dressed in the uniforms specified in the text within. The usual binding for the others is embossed red cloth with leather spines.

HANS BUSK’S TABULAR ARRANGEMENT OF COMPANY DRILL is an unusual little item. It is, in fact, a wall chart or poster, mounted on cloth like a map, and is intended to be hung upon the Drill Hall wall to provide an instant reference to all ranks of their respective positions and duties. He also produced a book of Rifle Target Registers.

His book NAVIES OF THE WORLD is not really applicable to the Volunteers other than its references to the risks of sea borne invasion but it is a valuable source for students of the navy and packed with data. Busk himself became Deputy Lieutenant of Middlesex and was also High Sheriff of Radnorshire, the location of the family seat.

(*) Footnote - June 18th was a date filled with meaning throughout the 19th Century in Great Britain. It was the day upon which the Battle of Waterloo had been fought in 1815. In 1855 it was the day chosen for the Assault upon Sevastopol following the Fourth Bombardment and had been given an almost mystical significance which made the failure of that Assault all the more poignant. Lord Raglan, himself a Waterloo veteran, died ten days later, some say of a broken heart.

The Pressure Mounts

The years 1859 and 1860 were particularly active ones in the literary field as writers sprang to both encourage the urge towards volunteering and to instruct the new citizen soldiers. From the provinces we have an example to consider from among those that appeared.

A Handy Book for Volunteers

A Handy Book for VolunteersRight: Captain W.G. Hartley’s ideas for the uniform of Volunteers - 1859

The small County of Denbigh in North Wales raised no fewer than nine Corps between 30th January 1860 and the end of 1861. Leading up to this, in July 1859, an officer of the County’s Militia, Captain W. G. Hartley of the Royal Denbigh Rifles, wrote A HANDY BOOK FOR VOLUNTEERS: OR, A COMPENDIUM OF INSTRUCTION FOR DRILL AND RIFLE .. (we will spare the full title). This is not listed by Riling but, unusually, it is listed by Gerrare as #1108 in the 1895 Bibliography. The book has eight introductory pages followed by 248 of text together with a number of charming illustrations of Volunteers in the author’s idea of the ideal uniform. This owes much to the Italian Alpine troops with plenty of cocks’ feathers in the hats and thigh length leggings under short breeches. Hartley gives a very full set of instructions for the management and training of Volunteers and goes at length into his ideas of uniform. A very interesting set of tables gives the degree of visibility at different distances and conditions of light for the various colours of uniforms that might be encountered. He favours brown as being the least visible of all the colours in most lights. His chosen rifle is the Lancaster Oval Bore and he pays great attention to the vital necessity of Judging Distance Drill. Much of the book is given to standard military instruction in drill including the Manual and Platoon Exercises and to both theoretical and practical rifle instruction.

In the next part we shall look at the flood of books that appeared with the Volunteers and consider the relationship with the National Rifle Association which grew out of the Movement and which probably represents their most visible link with the present day.


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