As we know, the Irish rifle team that traveled to America in 1874, and later, used rifles made by John Rigby of Dublin (for more information on those matches see The Story of Creedmoor and in the Historic Shooting Books article, select Irish Riflemen in America by Leech).  Subsequent to that time, Mr. Rigby moved to England to assume the post of Superintendent of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield and then, upon retirement, returned to the private gunmaking trade.  Here we have a detailed description of those years in England from the book Experts on Guns and Shooting, by G.T. Teasdale-Buckell, published in London in 1900.  It is a rarely seen contemporaneous account of the time when military establishments were moving to the “small bore” rifles and smokeless powder – truly a revolutionary time for small arms development.   – GAS

by G.T. Teasdale-Buckell

The appointment in September, 1887, of Mr. John Rigby the well-known Dublin gunmaker and rifle shot, to the post of Superintendent of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, was received throughout the Kingdom with satisfaction and relief. It was thought that he was the right man to superintend the manufacture of arms he could use so well. His talent for both manufacture and shooting is hereditary, derived from two or three generations, the first of which was established as a shot and gunmaker in Dublin more than a century ago.

He proved the truth of public opinion, and that he was eminently fitted to control the great Government establishment where the small-arms ot the country were to be manufactured and entirely re-modelled by him. Amongst the most treasured relics of the grandfather of the late superintendent is a silver medal, bearing on one side the inscription: “Independent Dublin Volunteers, Reward of Merit,” and on the other “Presented to John Rigby, March 25th, 1781, being the best shot in the Grenadier Company of Independent Dublin Volunteers.” Another relic of this ancestor is in the form of a pair of silver cups, presented to him in 1816 by the contractors for small arms in Dublin, “As an acknowledgment of his exertions in the interests of the trade.”

William Rigby, who also carried out several Government contracts, succeeded to the business in 1810, and subsequently entered into partnership with his younger brother, John Jason Rigby. The guns and rifles of this firm were well known sixty years ago. The late Superintendent of the Royal Small Arms Factory, therefore, comes of a family in which gunmaking has been the occupation and rifle shooting the recreation for over a hundred years. The present head of his family entered Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of sixteen, obtained honours in science, took his degree, and left the University to join his father, on whose death, in 1858, the business came exclusively into his hands.

In 1860 Mr. Rigby invented and patented the method of forming cartridge cases of coiled sheet brass; this was adopted by Colonel Boxer four years later in the construction of the “Boxer” service cartridge, used for Snider rifles. Mr. Rigby made several futile attempts to obtain public recognition for his claim to priority in this invention, but his patent, nevertheless, proves its justice. In the earlier history of the N.R.A. it was customary to hold yearly a series of trials at Woolwich, to which makers of military fire-arms were invited to send their productions: the object being to select the best long-range rifle, to be placed in the hands of the sixty competitors entitled to shoot in the second stage for the Queen’s Prize. In 1862 Mr. Rigby first entered these contests – in opposition to Whitworth and Henry. In 1864 Mr. Rigby again entered his rifles, his principal opponents being Whitworth, Henry, Storm, and Baker. In l865 the superiority of Mr. Rigby’s rifles over those of his opponents was demonstrated: and they were the weapons with which the second stage for the Queen’s Prize was fired in that year; the weapons were afterwards presented to Sharman -the winner and his fifty-nine colleagues. It should be mentioned that the fine sportsman and match rifleshot, the late Captain Horatio Ross, used rifles of Mr. Rigby’s manufacture thirty years ago, and it was with one of these that he won the Cambridge University Long Range Cup, in 1867, after two days’ contest. Mr. Rigby has been selected to form one of the Irish Eight team twenty-eight times since 1864. In 1878 he led the Eight to victory with the highest long-range score ever made at Wimbledon (215 points) up to that time. Among his other trophies have been the Abercorn Cup (several times); the Wimbledon Cup (three times); and the Gordon Bennett Cup, won at Creedmoor in 1877: the Irish Championship 1878-1895, 1896.

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that Mr. Stanhope sought Mr. Rigby’s expert assistance to enable him to arrive at a sate decision on the recommendations of the Small Arms Committee, then, in 1887, in course of preparation.

The Small Arms Committee had at that time decided to adopt the .303 bore and the Lee magazine system, modified in various details of the breech action by the assistant works manager Mr. Speed. For the rifling, a design of Mr. Metford’s had been finally adopted by the Committee, but without the accelerating twist for which this inventor’s name had become noted. The service ammunition was still unsettled as to form and size of case, material of bullet and primer, and as to the kind of powder to be used.

It was feared at the time that smokeless powder could not give the required ballistics without an internal pressure in excess of that of black powder.

In 1889 a provisional cartridge, loaded with pellets of compressed black powder, was adopted, and the manufacture of the Mark I. Magazine Rifle was pushed on. Activity prevailed at Enfield in 1890-1891, the number of men employed reaching 3,300, and the output rose to over 2,000 rifles a week.

Enfield was now for the first time provided with a chemical laboratory, for examining into the purity of the stores used, and with a 50-ton Buckton machine for testing the steel employed.

The manufacture of Maxim guns was undertaken, and .45 bore and .303 bore guns, with their mountings, are turned out in numbers.

The details of Mark II. Magazine Rifle were worked out, the pattern was reduced in weight, and the strength of the breech action was increased. Later a six-shot cavalry carbine and the Lee bolt action, modified by the addition of a safety bolt, was designed, approved, and manufactured to take the same ammunition as the rifle.

At first, after the adoption of cordite powder, the barrel of Mr. Metford’s design would not stand more than 3,000 rounds at the outside. Maxim guns can fire 1,000 rounds through one barrel in a couple of minutes; consequently the whole life of a barrel could be exhausted very quickly.  To meet this defect Mr. Rigby introduced the pattern called “Enfield,” and this has been found to stand from ten to twenty thousand rounds without losing serviceable accuracy. This ” Enfield” rifling for machine guns has been followed by its general adoption for .303 calibre rifles.

Mr. Rigby’s retirement during the time of the conversion of arms for the volunteers to a pattern which he originated is to be greatly regretted. It was due to the age rule, and was against the wish of the heads of his department. Mr. John Rigby is the proprietor of the well-known gunmaking firm of John Rigby and Co., of St. James’s Street, of which his son is manager.

He has closed the establishment in Dublin, and sold the goodwill of the local business to Messrs. Trulock and Harris, retaining the right to deal in London, where the firm not only sell their guns, but also manufacture them, with all his old Irish customers. The works are in Ham Yard. Mr. Ernest John Rigby takes the management in both places. The latter was for five years in the Birmingham Small Arms Factory. He takes a very great interest in the work, and personally does a great deal of the rifle sighting and shooting at the targets, a position for which he has proved his competence by winning the Albert Cup, and by shooting fourth in the Irish Eight at Bisley last year. We were somewhat surprised to hear that he is not so young as he looks, for he is just thirty-one.

The Rigby rifling for game shooting in the small bore .303 is the same as Mr. Rigby introduced in the Enfield rifle for the Government, The peculiarity of this is that the bearing surface (lands) and the grooves are equals in measured surface: each being one-tenth of the circumference of the five-groove bore, in place of the seven bearing surfaces of the Metford – each of which was but 3/100 of an inch, or one-fifth of an inch altogether. This principle retains all the high velocity, flat trajectory, and light ammunition: does not make the rifle heavier, but capable of so much greater wear that, as we have pointed out, it is now satisfactory for Maxim guns.

Mr. Rigby thinks that the new Indian Government bullet may be regarded as the Tweedie bullet over again. He regards it as within the letter of the law of the Geneva Convention, but not within its spirit. That agreement was against the use of explosive bullets and not against expanding projectiles. It is not yet known what the decision of the War Office will be: but the Indian Government are very decided in favour of the new bullet, and it is well to remember that the Indian Government are independent in this matter, if they elect to be so. The principle is that part of the lead bullet is exposed and the envelope is thinned down in front. Mr. Rigby is of opinion that this bullet would not expand at 1,000 feet per second, and therefore men at a distance being hit with it would not suffer from expansion of the bullet. He does not think this principle likely to supersede the split envelopes for sporting purposes. On this subject Mr. Rigby, sen., informs us that he finds it very difficult to get a unanimous opinion from sportsmen, because of the difference of the sorts of game each follows, and the amount of split suitable for a soft-skinned animal would be greatly too much for an elephant or rhinoceros. The late Mr. Allport, the former manager at 72, St. James’s Street, patented the split envelope. Mr. Jeffreys came with a complete patent in April, after the provisional of Mr. Allport’s in January of 1893. Mr. Allport dying, both patents became invalid. The Tweedie 1889 patent was for weakening the front of the envelope, so that the present split pattern should by rights be called the Tweedie-Allport bullet. The latest Government design for these .303 bullets is one which leaves a hole in the nose of the envelope up to which the lead does not quite come.

Mr. Rigby continues to give great attention to the shooting qualities of military rifles, and strongly advocated the change in the rules of the N.R.A. which has been recently made, confining the Bisley long-range competitions to rifles of calibre under .315. He points out that this rule is sure to bring to the front the most accurate rifle and the ammunition most effective with it. He used the Mauser .275 Spanish model (2,400 f.s.) with fair success at Bisley in 1896.

The Mauser Spanish pattern is a repeater which you can load singly. This arm weighs 8 lbs. 5 ozs., whereas the Dutch Mannlicher .256 weighs 9 lbs. We have taken occasion to sound Mr. Rigby on the possibility or probability of automatic rifles to throw out cartridge cases, cock themselves, and reload themselves. He believes there would be an advantage, but at present his opinion is that they are all too complicated for service work. For sporting purposes the firm are, besides their .303, now making singles, .275 and they are likely to make doubles, .256. They make .303 doubles down to 8 lbs. weight. Mr. Rigby thinks that the Gunmakers’ Association has rightly taken up the matter of proof charges of these small bore rifles, because proof as applied does not test the barrel in the right place, and involves the use of more metal than necessary in those parts of the barrels where normally the pressures are very low. The proof bullet now comes in the barrel about eight inches from breech, the space between it and the breech loaded up with coarse grain powder. It is obvious that this renders necessary metal of considerable thickness for the first eight inches, instead of only near the chambers. Mr. Rigby believes a finer grain powder should be used, and a heavier bullet in order not to get less stress from proof, but to get it in the right place.

Mr. Rigby was one of the first to experiment with choke boring and to condemn full chokes for general game shooting. He wrote a letter to the Field soon after their first introduction into England, advocating modified chokes, but the then editor declined to insert it. Nevertheless he remembers a shooter of the highest reputation in Ireland coming to him for choke bores, which, in spite of his reputation, he was never able to use with good effect. Curiosity then prompted Mr. Rigby to try the guns that had served to establish the shooter’s reputation, and these barely averaged 100 in the 30-in. circle at forty yards, using No. 6 shot. From our own knowledge we can say that this was an excellent average before the days of choke boring, and that we knew of not a single gunmaker who could assure us of such good results; although we also know that occasionally better was done by them — more, we believe, by luck than cunning.

The Messrs. Rigby have just now brought out a single-trigger gun. This, like that of a near neighbour, has the principle of three distinct pulls. Mr. Rigby claims, however, that it will have an advantage over anything yet brought out, inasmuch as the release of the trigger will, compared with others, be of shorter play. This, he thinks, will be an important advantage to those newly taking to single triggers. We may remark that a newspaper was inclined to be satirical and to accuse us of “booming” single triggers when they first came out. All we have to say now about that is that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

This new patent single trigger will be known as the Rigby and Atkins. It has been thoroughly tested at game last season and approved.

Possibly no man has made so many experiments with the small bore rifles, .303, as Mr. John Rigby. His practical observations considerably modify theoretical calculations about trajectory and the “jump.” It is only a short time since we were reading some elaborate calculations, comparing the fall of the .303 bullet and that of the express at 100 yards. Mr. Rigby finds that the Lee-Metford or Lee-Enfield rifle does not drop its bullet at 200 yards, and shoots, therefore, higher than the line of the axle of the bore at 100 yards. The jump in this weapon is responsible for ten minutes of elevation, whereas the Martini jumped downwards, and the Martini-Enfield has the same tendency also. It follows, as a matter of course, that the mounting of the barrel makes all the difference, and that a table, worked out from velocities and weights, giving variations of height of trajectory between the different borings and riflings, is likely to be absolutely worthless, except from a theoretical point of view, unless the value of “jump” in rifles of different mounting is first found. It is clear that every individual rifle of any particular pattern will have its own peculiar and particular trajectory governed at distances up to 200 yards, not so much by the laws of gravity as by the incidence of “jump” In fact, each match or sporting rifle of these small bores that is turned out requires the individual attention of an expert rifle shot, and that is just what it can and does have from the firm in St. James’s Street.

We give an illustration of a single trigger double pistol built by this firm about the year 1848. Single triggers as then made were useless for shot guns, because it was found that one discharge jarred off the second barrel. Some of the inventions of the last few years have quite obviated this difficulty.

Another illustration is that of a gun built in the 18th century, prior to the fame of the celebrated Joe Manton. It is, of course, a flint and steel, but the reason we have chosen to illustrate it is to show that the American bend did not originate in America, but was in all probability merely a survival of things as they were here at the end of the last century. English shooters have been schooled into the use of straight, long stocks, which twenty years ago were at the height of their popularity. There has been since more or less of a reaction. Driven game and not pigeon shooting now set the fashion, and we fully expect that the reaction that has set in will go much further yet.

At any rate, Mr. Rigby tells us that he has noticed a considerable reaction in this matter during the past few years. There was a great deal to be said in favour of straight stocks in the days of black powder and walking up game. The smoke absolutely prevented a fine sight being taken for the second shot, and moreover flushed birds are nearly always on the rise. How much it is quite impossible to see through a cloud of smoke. The elevation that the straight stock made compulsory was, therefore, distinctly good for the results of the second barrel. Now that there are not only so-called smokeless powders, but plenty of absolutely smokeless powders on the market, the case is very different, and accuracy of alignment is as possible with the second barrel as it is with the first.

Mr. Rigby has given much attention to the qualities of the metal used for gun barrels. He has devised a method by which the strength and elasticity of the steel or iron may be tested with certainty before the forgings are made into barrels. This is described fully in the chapter dealing with Mr. Webley. This is very desirable, as hitherto very little certainty has existed on this subject. He points out that a much stiffer steel is required for .303 rifles and others, subject to pressures of over twenty tons to the square inch, than for shot gun barrels. In the latter toughness is of as much consequence as ultimate strength.

There is a great deal of difference of opinion about which is the best gauge and rifling of the various small bores. Messrs. Gibbs, of Bristol, have adopted as their own the Mannlicher, and, as we have already explained, they issue a beautiful little sporting rifle with Mannlicher barrels. In gauge the Mauser comes next in size, its gauge is .275, and Messrs. Rigby have become step-fathers to this foreigner on the assumption that it has some advantages over the .303.

The Mauser Sporting Single Rifle.

Nobody could be better able to take care of the interests of a shooting invention than the two crack rifle shots who are usually to be found in St. James’s Street. They cut down the ordinary Mauser barrel to 25 ins. in order to get a good balance for a sportsman’s hand, and to reduce the weight to 7 lbs. The makers describe the weapon as follows :

The construction is simple, very strong, and easily cleaned. Its parts are few in number, and can be dismounted and assembled without any implement. They are interchangeable. The stock, which has a pistol hand, is of English model, strong and well proportioned. The barrel is 25 ins. in length, and carries neat sporting sights for 100,200, and 300 yds., and, when ordered, an additional sight graduated to 1,000 yds. It is also, when desired, fitted with a peep-sight of Messrs. Rigby’s design, which can be set for 100, 200, or 300 yds., or pushed below the line of aim at will. “Penetration of covered bullet into seasoned elm board, 1 in. thick, twenty-five boards; distance, 50 yds. Penetration of soft-nose bullets, five boards, holes much larger than the bullet, and fibres torn.”

The Martin-Smith Winning Diagram Made By Mr. E. Rigby, With A Ball And Shot Gun. Exact Size.

We have had a few .shots with the weapon, and the pleasantness of the absence of recoil is undoubted. Our first shot was a bull, but the sun was too awkward on that occasion for anybody to do anything like a record diagram. We are, all the same, perfectly aware that some wonderful shooting has been done at 100 yards by Mr. E. Rigby. A weapon of this sort has to be judged now for its handiness and the definition of its sighting, as all these small bores shoot well enough when held straight. But Mr. Rigby has extended the principle of high velocities to .450 bores, and we believe that he is the first to have done so.

The New High Velocity .450 Rifle.

We have also shot this weapon, the accuracy of which is as good as one could wish, and we were astonished that the recoil did not in any way disturb our peace of mind. We expected the recoil to be proportionately increased by the excess of load beyond that of the ordinary .450 express. But the weight of this rifle with its 28-in. barrel is 11 lbs., and there is no doubt its recoil is less than the bigger bores of heavier weight and having the same energy of projectile. Thus an 8-bore of 16 lbs. weight, with a spherical ball and 10 drachms of black powder, has more recoil and about a similar striking energy.

It has three projectiles, any of which can be used as occasion requires, viz., 1st, solid nickel-covered, of 480 grains weight; 2nd, softnosed, nickel-covered, of same weight; 3rd, hollow-pointed express, partly nickel-covered, 350 grains weight. The same charge of cordite is used with all, and the accuracy and convergence of the right and left barrels are good enough for sporting shots without change of sighting.

The great advantage of a weapon of this kind over the big bores is, of course, besides its lightness, its adaptability to two or three different bullets with their different effects. Thus the solid bullet has a greater penetration than the 8-bore, whereas the soft-nosed bullet or the hollow-pointed will make a bigger wound.

The following velocities, taken by an independent witness, may be relied upon :—

Special cartridge cases, taper Express pattern, cordite charge, and bullets as under. Velocities taken by Mr. Knight (manager) at Messrs. Curtis and Harvey’s mills, March 18, 1899:—

Series 1.— Solid nickel-covered bullet, 4S0 grains weight, cordite powder.

Round 1 1970

Round 2 1964

Round 3 1961

Round 4 1982

Round 5 1985

Mean o.v., l972 f.s.; muzzle velocity, 2059 f.s.; mean variation of o.v., 85 f.s.; muzzle energy, 4512.3 ft. lb., or more than 2 ft. tons.

Series 2.— Same cartridges, but bullets partly nickel-covered (nose uncovered), weight 350 grains, cordite powder.

Round 1 2052

Round 2 2060

Round 3 2060

Round 4 2075

Round 5 2100

Mean o.v., 2069 f.s.: muzzle velocity, 2205 f.s.; mean variation of o.v., 14.4 f.s.; muzzle energy, 3781 ft. lb.

The makers advertise the following; results as obtained for penetration, and they are of course always ready to guarantee practically similar results.

Fired at 50 yds. into seasoned elm boards, 1 in. thick, the solid bullet penetrated twenty-three boards.

(a) At 10 yds. this was reduced to nineteen boards, as the head of the bullet was somewhat flattened and thickened by the increased velocity of impact.

(b) A bullet of same weight, but soft nose, penetrated (at 50 yds.) nine boards. The soft lead had been forced back over the cased part of the bullet, and some of it rubbed off. The holes in the boards were enlarged and ragged.

(c) An express bullet, hollow point, penetrated five boards only, but these were split and splintered in a very violent manner.

The ball and shot gun made by Mr. Rigby holds the record at a public competition, as Mr. E. Rigby won the Martin-Smith prize at Bisley with the extraordinary diagram illustrated, which we have had photographed the same size from the official target. This is a performance on which we may well compliment the enthusiastic shooters who conduct the business in St. James’s Street.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s