Elcho Shield Rifles, 1878

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Elite national shots in teams of eight from England, Ireland and Scotland competed annually for the Elcho Shield, firing at 800, 900 and 1000 yards. Study of the records of this competition allows some insight into the development of the match rifle. The following report on the trials for the English Eight held at Avonmouth, Bristol, makes some observation on rifles used:

“Not only were the competitors the elite of our national shots, but the weapons employed formed a more valuable collection than has yet been brought together, comprising the best rifles whose serviceable qualities had already been established, and some novelties in the gunsmith’s art. Gibbs’s famous local factory supplies Metford muzzle-loaders and Metford-Farquharson breech-loaders, while the Westley Richards Company have a new application of a Westley breech to Metford’s barrel. This “Deely-Edge,” as it is called after the names of the joint inventors, has a remarkably good breech action, and is very likely to become a prominent favourite when produced for Public sale. There are also a couple of Sharp’s American breech loader, and an Ingram’s (Scotch) muzzle-loader. Notwithstanding the greater amount of labour in the preparation of the charges and minute attention required, breech-loaders appear at least to maintain their popularity among connoisseurs.”

Source: Bristol Mercury, 6 June 1878

In the Elcho Shield match that year five of the English Eight fired breech loaders; used were three Metford’s, a Remington and a Sharps (the remaining three used Metford muzzle loaders). This was the first year that breech-loaders were used in the match.

Ireland won scoring 1610 against England (1560) and Scotland (1552). The Irish Team, with one exception who used a Metford muzzle loader, fired with Rigby muzzle loaders. The Scottish team used muzzle loaders by Rigby (3), Metford (2), Fraser-Ingram, Ingram and McCririck.

Some further contemporary observations regarding breech loaders follow:

“The shooting of the present year has been marked by a large use of breech-loading match rifles, principally of American manufacture. In the hands of Mr Humphry, for instance, the Remington rifle produced some wonderful scores. On the other hand, the brilliant shooting of the Irish team in the Elcho Challenge Shield matches, all of whom used the Rigby muzzle-loader, except Major Young, who used a Metford, shows that the muzzle-loader, if equalled in accuracy, is certainly unsurpassed at present. Indeed, after the conclusion of the match Mr John Rigby, the best shot of the team, and the inventor and maker of the rifle bearing his name, claims that the result of the match showed that there was nothing in the fuss that was being made over these new weapons. At the same time he made an announcement which will interest all small-bore men – namely, that he hoped to have ready before the next meeting of the Association a breechloading match rifle which should do as well as the muzzle loader. The only objection that has been urged so far against the American breech-loader is that it is subject to an occasional wild shot, producing a miss which the user knows is not due to any fault of his own. If Mr Rigby succeeds in obviating this defect, he will fulfil his promise of producing a breech-loading rifle equal to the muzzle-loader.” 

Source: Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 24 July 1878

It was not until 1881 that breech-loaders were exclusively used in the match.