.577/.450 Martini-Henry Rifles - Part 2

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Author: Øyvind Flatnes
Category: Black Powder Cartridge
Published: 11.24. 2007
Edited: Sunday 25 Nov. 2007, at 11:25 (GMT +1)
Views: 48316

Martini-Henry

Seven Martini-Henry cartridges and a .22 LR cartridge for comparison.

Loading black powder in metallic cartridges seems to be more and more popular here in Norway. The black powder cartridges are for many shooters the gate that leads to a membership in the Norwegian Black powder Union. The following article has its focus on the practical use of the old British infantry rifle, the .577/.450 Martini-Henry.

Find out more!
You can read more about the British Martini-Henry and Snider rifles, as well as other early breech-loading single-shot rifles in the brand new book From Musket to Metallic Cartridge: A Practical History of Black Powder Firearms.

My Martini-Henry rifle was bough very cheap at an internet auction not long ago. It is a Mk. IV with the long lever, which means it was probably not used by the British Army, but by some of their native troops in one of the colonies. It was made by the RSAF in Enfield in 1887, which indicates that it was one of the many .402" calibre Enfield-Martini rifles that was later converted to .577/.450 Martini-Henry rifles. The Mk. IV was not being made before 1888, but quite a lot of the Mk. IV's are stamped with both 1886 and 1887 on the right side of the receiver. All of these are converted .402" Enfield-Martinis. I soon discovered markings on my rifle pointing me in the direction of Nepal. On the rear sights I found the markings that revealed were the rifle had been used: N.E.P. and N.S. The latter initials means 'Native Service' and N.E.P. indicates 'Nepal'.

Thousands of Martini-Henry rifles were sold from Britain to Nepal during the last part of the 1800's. Nepal was never a British colony, but came under British influence after 1815. The background for this was that Nepalese Ghurkha soldiers invaded Northern India in 1814 and the British counterattacked with five armies shortly after. Four of the armies were annihilated, but the fifth managed to force themselves into Nepal, marched through the Katmandu Valley which brought them near to the Nepalese capital. The king of Nepal chose to negotiate for peace and shortly after a peace treaty was signed. The British were now allowed to cross Nepal to trade with Tibet. They were also allowed to enlist Ghurkha soldiers for the British Army. After having wiped out four of the five British armies, these soldiers had gained themselves enormous respect. Even today the British Army enlist Ghurkha troops.

Martini-Henry Martini-Henry

The sights are of a crude military type.

The two American companies Atlanta Cutlery and International Military Antiques bought several thousands Brown Bess, Enfield rifle muskets, Sniders and Martini-Henry rifles from Nepal in 2003. Most of them had been stored for over hundred years. Many of these arms are in fairly good condition, but there are also weapons that are in lousy shape and can't be shot. My rifle had a chip of wood missing from the butt and a little chip missing from the forestock, but was otherwise in good shootable condition. The bore was very good but the muzzle was of course a bit worn. A crowning fixed that. The old rifle was disassembled down to the smallest screw and the mechanism was bright and shiny on the inside. I removed a lot of old military storage grease which had protected the steel well.

Bullets and brass

If you are to shoot your Martini-Henry you have to be ready to do some preparations. You have to get hold of bullets and brass, and that's not the simplest thing in the world. I got brass directly from Bertram Bullets in Australia. They are high quality drawn cases and the cost was 4.40 AUD a piece. You can also get them from the British firm Kynamco.

Martini-Henry Martini-Henry

Home swaged Martini-Henry bullet and bullet for
.45-70 Gvt.To the right: A .577/.450 Martini-Henry
cartridge and a .22 LR cartridge for comparison.

It can be a bit tricky to find bullets. Notice that the bullet diameter has to be carefully chosen and the diameter depends on what Mk. your rifle is. Mark I-III has rifling diameter ranging from .465"-.467" and the bore diameter is about .449". The bullet diameter should be around rifling diameter: .465"-.467". Mark IV (which can be separated from the others by the long lever) has a slightly different barrel configuration. The bore diameter is about .453" and the rifling diameter is about .470"-.472". That means the Mk. IV needs slightly larger diameter bullets that has a diameter of about .470"-.472". Many shooters around the world shoots the .45-70 Gvt., and the bullets for this calibre measures .457"-.459". They won't shoot accurately in a Martini-Henry unless they are paper patched, because the diameter is too small. The original Martini-Henry bullets were also paper patched, as mentioned in part 1. The original bullet was .452" "naked", while they measured .465"-.468" when paper patched. When the Mk. IV was introduced in 1888 a slightly thicker paper was used and the bullet measured between 470" and .473" after patching. The ammunition for the Mk. IV could be shot in the other Marks without any problems.

Martini-Henry

Cartridge in the chamber.

Personally I haven't bought myself a bullet mould for my Martini-Henry. Instead I have made myself a hammer swage which I swage a smooth sided .437" 525 grains bullet that I use for paper patching in a .45-70 into a .454" Martini-Henry bullet. The die is very simple: A thick steel cylinder was bored up and honed until it measured .454" on the inside. From two steel bolts I've made the rods that form the nose and base of the bullet. The .45-70 bullet is sprayed with a small amount of WD-40 before it is put into the die, followed by the two steel rods. Then I place the nose rod on a hard metal surface and hit the base rod with a couple of hammer whacks. The bullet is now finished and looks surprisingly good. They were then sized to .454" in a sizing die and finally paper patched with four layers of Eaton's 9 lb. airmail paper up to .470".

The first shots

Martini-Henry Martini-Henry

Martini-Henry rifles are accurate
if they are fed with the right ammunition.

The brass cases from Bertram were too tight at the muzzle and the .470" paper patched bullet was too big for the case. Instead I used a 405 grain .457" Lee bullet to fire form the cases. The accuracy was lousy but the cases expanded a bit and after this operation they could take the larger bullets. I haven't shot the rifle much yet, but I have used Fg and FFg Wano black powder loads in the 85-80 grain range. At fifty metres (55 yds) I managed to set five bullets in a 1.8" group from the bench. Four of the shots were in a 1.2" group but the fifth shot was a flyer. Not perfect, but absolutely something to work with! The load was 80 grains of FFG and I used some toilet paper as wadding to prevent any air gap in the case. Then I loaded a card wad and a .24" thick grease cookie of beeswax and pig lard and a card wad over that again.

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