Arming The Volunteers

The British Volunteer Rifle has a keen interest amongst collectors and shooters of historical firearms. One oft repeated observation is that Volunteers had to purchase their own rifle. This can be misleading and is only correct for the earliest months of the establishment of the Volunteer Force in 1859. Through the year there were three War Office circulars offering to equip a Corps to the extent of 25% of its arms, then 50% and in December 1859, 100% on the effective strength of the corps.

The Volunteer Rifle Dilemma

In June 1859 the Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk, chaired a meeting called for the purpose of raising a Volunteer Rifle Company for the Holkham District of the county. While addressing the meeting he outlined issues associated with the selection of a suitable rifle – these dilemmas must have been echoed throughout the country in the early days of the burgeoning Volunteer Movement. Only .577 calibre (or 25 gauge) rifles which would accept government ammunition and government musket caps were considered as weapons for Volunteer units.

Big Guns: Manufacture

The conditions which are essential to the safety and efficiency of a big gun having already been explained, it only remains to give a description of how these are practically carried out in the great industry which has its head-quarters at Woolwich.

Big Guns: The Materials

Although Great Britain had become possessed of a national arsenal, it was many years before anything approaching to a perfect system was introduced as a substitute for castings of iron and brass. Even now, though iron is employed so universally for the every-day purposes of life, there is a great amount of ignorance of the principles upon which it ought to be manufactured.

Big Guns: Their History

An historical overview from the 14th century, as improvements in the construction of ‘big guns’ followed the development of the metal trades.

Artillery, 1862: Whitworth Guns

Mr. Joseph Whitworth produces a large display of guns and projectiles prepared on his system, which differs in many points from that of his great competitor and rival, Sir William Armstrong. Whitworth for a considerable time rejected “built-up” guns, and formed all natures of his ordnance, however heavy, of solid masses of what is called “homogeneous metal,” a puzzle-the-vulgar phrase, for tough steely iron, without fibre, i.e., with minute saccaroid crystallization. Latterly, however, he has employed for his larger guns in many instances this material in heavy thicknesses, for an internal tube, reinforced at the breech-end with one or more plies of rings, of the same, or of other qualities of iron, shrunk on with initial tension; and in this we are quite sure he is right.

Artillery, 1862: Armstrong Guns

The great display in the British division of Class 11 is made by the CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT, in all its divisions of service. From the Royal Carriage Department there is a very large collection of gun carriages for garrison, naval, and field service, with all their adjuncts, including all the recent alterations and improvements made on these in connection with the Armstrong guns. In the Gun Factory Departments the Armstrong guns themselves are represented by several mounted, and unmounted pieces, large and small.

Artillery, 1862: Projectiles and Rifling

In small arms the projectile of lead is so soft, small, and mouldable, that no serious difficulties are found in causing it to adapt itself to the spirals of the barrel, so as perfectly to take the spin without injury to the spirals; but the case is widely different in great guns. The mass of the projectile must be of rigid material, of iron or steel; either, then, some tertium quid of soft and mouldalde material, like lead, must be adapted to its exterior, that shall at the moment of projection adapt itself to the spirals also, or workmanship the most exquisite and precise must be employed to produce in each shot a rigid piston, perfectly fitting the spirals.

Artillery, 1862

The text and illustrations published here have been extracted from ‘RECORD OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION, 1862’, published by William Mackenzie, Glasgow Edinburgh and London. The author gives brief historical introduction and proceeds to discussion of the then current state of development of artillery.


INDEX: ordnance
1. mounted guns; artillery.
“the gun was a brand new piece of ordnance”
synonyms: guns, cannon, artillery, weapons, arms, munitions, military
2. a branch of government service dealing especially with military stores and materials.
“the ordnance corps”

The British Soldier – At Home

We shall endeavour to give some idea of the life of a soldier at home; not as a combatant armed with musket or sword, and marching in foreign regions, but as a fellow-citizen requiring pay, food, dress, lodgment, medicine, culture, recreation, and some sort of provision for his old age. To make this large subject at all manageable, we shall confine it chiefly to the infantry regiments of the line, and to the common soldiers of those regiments – forming the main-stay of our army.