The Henry Rifle

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Source: ‘The Volunteer’s Book of Facts’ by W. H. Blanch (1st Lancashire R.V.), 1862

At the latter end of 1860, a short paragraph “went the round of the papers,” to the effect that a new rifle had been patented by an Edinburgh gunmaker. It was further stated that the inventor had, in a recent trial of his rifle, scored as many as eight points out of six shots at 1100 yards, the first shot being a miss, and the remaining five being made, up of three centres and two outers. To say that this statement took the whole rifle world – makers and marksmen, by surprise, would give but a faint idea of the effect produced. It was deemed incredible, and many refused to believe that any but a “Whitworth” could produce such, results. However, it soon transpired that the rifle in question was none other than the “Henry,” which was destined, ere nine months had elapsed, to win for itself a name second to none for the correct scientific principles embodied in its construction, and for the extent and wonderful accuracy of its range.

We think it may safely be asserted of the “Henry,” that since the invention of gunpowder, no weapon has ever acquired a fame so universal and substantial in the same short space of time. The great results obtained from it, and the position which it invariably takes in every rifle contest, clearly prove to our mind that the principle of rifling adopted by Mr. Henry is a correct one, and that its fame rests not so much on the practised shots who have adopted it as upon some solid foundation of merit in its construction. The first time on which the “Henry” was brought into open competition with the “Whitworth” and other small-bore rifles, was on February 19th, 1861, at the annual competitive trial held by the National Rifle Association at Hythe, to determine the best weapon which should be employed to compete for the second stage of the Queen’s prize. The result is, no doubt, fresh ia the recollection of our readers.

By the rules of the Association, competitors were allowed to bring their own rests, and as Mr. Henry had not availed himself of this privilege, he would have been compelled, in the event of competing, to make use of the mechanical rest provided by the Association. Mr. Whitworth, on the other hand, came prepared with a splendid rest specially adapted for his rifle; and, as the chances of success were manifestly in favour of thc latter, Mr. Henry declined to compete, and Mr. Whitworth had a quiet “walk over.”

The next public competition in which the “Henry” put in an appearance was at Wimbledon, where it soon attracted attention from the astonishing results which it produced. At this meeting the proofs of its power and accuracy were of so numerous and satisfactory a character, that it at once obtained a high position, and established its claim to equality of place with its formidable rival the “Whitworth.” Nor did its fame end with this meeting, for day after day added to its prestige, and thus it rapidly advanced in public estimation until it became the favourite weapon of a large portion of the first marksmen of the day. The form of rifling adopted by Mr. Henry consists of a number of planes, generally seven, with a corresponding number of “lands,” or angles extending inwards, the apex of the latter being concentric with the centre of the surfaces of their contiguous planes.

It will thus be seen that the projectile has fourteen bearing surfaces, which tend to give it a steady, uniform motion as it passes up the barrel.