The Snider Breech-Loader Rifle

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Source: The Engineer, 9 November 1866

AT the present time when the “Snider question” is exciting so much interest and discussion, and when the Government factories are busily employed in turning out large numbers of what will, for some time, be the national weapon, we think a description of the Snider rifle and its ammunition will not prove uninteresting to our readers.

We believe we are correct in stating that with the exception of a small sketch which appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette some months ago, and which, though very interesting, did not go much into detail, no perfect illustration of this rifle, in its present state of perfection, has yet been published. The accompanying woodcuts have been carefully prepared from a Government converted Enfield.


Fig. 1 represents the rifle open, with the empty case partially extracted.

In Fig. 2 it is shown as open, with the striker towards the observer.

Fig. 3 represents a section of the breech apparatus, with a cartridge inserted ready for firing.

The breech is closed by a cylindrical plug, perforated longitudinally, and at an angle with its axis by the striker. A spiral spring surrounds the striker, and prevents it touching the cap in the cartridge until struck by the hammer. The extractor is attached to the hinge of the breech-plug, and consists of a detached portion of the flange of the barrel into which the base of the cartridge fits. To load the piece the breech is opened by raising the plug by the projecting lip, and then pulling it towards the body. This latter movement draws the empty case into the cavity of the breech, from whence it may easily be dislodged after pushing back the extractor. The cartridge is then inserted and the breech closed.

The Boxer cartridge, the ammunition selected by the Government, is represented in section and elevation; and in our engraving we have substituted the Metfordbullet for the present service projectile, as we believe that this arrangement is to be carried out in practice.

The cartridge consists of a piece of thin sheet brass coiled round a suitable “former,” and covered with waxed paper. One end or this case is fixed into the metal cap ordinarily employed for forming the base of such cartridges, and the other is choked into the rear cannelure of the bullet. In order to prevent any escape of powder between the case and the bullet a wad of cotton wool is inserted at the base of the bullet, over the powder. When the cartridge is fired the explosion causes the case to expand, so that it fits the chamber exactly. Immediately after the discharge it slightly contracts, so that no difficulty is experienced in extracting the empty case.

The Metford bullet only differs from the ordinary Enfield projectile in two points. A hollow cavity is constructed through the axis of the ball to within a short distance of the hollow at the base. This cavity is filled with charcoal powder, confined by a plug of putty or some such substance, and its object is to place the weight nearly to the centre of the projectile, to lighten the axis, and thus to secure greater rotation. A lower trajectory is obtained with these bullets than with the ones at present in use. The other difference is the introduction of cannelures round the bullet, which serve to hold the lubricating compound. Some complaints have been made of the kind of anvil used in the caps of these cartridges, but as they can scarcely yet be said to have undergone a thorough trial, we are unable to form an accurate judgement. We confess that we cannot quite account for the deep-rooted antipathy that exists in this country to the copper cartridge, either with the ignition in the flange or otherwise. It is as safe as the capped cartridge, it forms a better obstacle to the escape of gas at the breech, and it is, moreover, waterproof. We have seen a Peabody cartridge laid on the partially opened jaws of a vice, and its edge hammered until nearly flat without exploding.