Object Title

1805 'Baker' Rifle

Development

The 1805 'Baker' Rifle was one of a series of rifles designed and developed by the London gunmaker Ezekiel Baker, used by the British Army between 1800 and 1830.

Trials of English and foreign rifles took place at Woolwich in February 1800. Baker's rifle had seven grooves with a quarter turn (most had a three quarter turn) which Baker argued made it easier to load and simpler to use out in the field. In March 1800, Ezekiel Baker was given an order for pattern rifles and barrels. Initially two types of rifles were purchased, one with musket bore and the other with carbine bore. However some objected to the musket bore as it required too much exertion when loading, and also because of its excessive weight. Therefore the smaller carbine-bore .625in-calibre version was adopted, with seven square grooves making one complete turn in 10 ft (a quarter of a turn in a 30 in barrel). In March 1800 the wheels were set in motion for the manufacture of the first 800 rifles to Baker's pattern. The first order was shared between the gun makers Egg, Nock, Baker, Pritchett, Brander, Wilkes, Wright, Barnett, and Harrison & Thompson, and the cost of each rifle was 36 shillings. 

The 'Baker' Rifle was the first rifle to be commonly adopted by the British Army (notwithstanding the 'Ferguson' Rifle, that was developed and put into limited use during the American War of Independence, and the limited issue Model 1776 rifle, which was also only used in the American War of Independence).

The original model was designated the 1800 Infantry Rifle and was first used by the rifle brigade, who were formed and trained by General Sir John Moore (1761-1809), the father of British light infantry and rifle regiments. Famous examples of rifle regiments were the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles), the 60th Regiment of Foot and the King's German Legion Rifles. In addition there were numerous other light infantry battalions and companies, not necessarily armed with the rifle but who did use light infantry tactics. By the time of Waterloo it was the 1805 Rifle that was being deployed and the rifle played a critical part in the defence of the farmhouse at La Haye Sainte, by both the 95th and King's German Legion.

The rifle was used throughout the Napoleonic wars, first seeing action in August 1800 at Ferrol. Over the next 15 years the Baker Rifle was used in every major British campaign from South America to Waterloo. The 'Baker' Rifle was used at almost every battle of the Peninsular War, from the retreat to La Corunna to the Battle of Toulouse, as well as the 1807 Baltic Campaign, the doomed Walcheren Campaign in the Dutch Rhine estuary, and finally during the Waterloo Campaign.

The 'Baker' Rifle was a highly effective rifle for its time, especially when coupled with the tactics pioneered by the Rifle Corps. This particular model of rifle was characterized by a single folding leaf backsight and a split stock ramrod pipe. A shorter carbine version was later developed, although this was not widely adopted.

Over 30,000 'Baker' Rifles were manufactured during the Napoleonic wars, compared with 3.5 million muskets. The cartridge charge was 4 drams and balls weighed 22 to the pound, although some units preferred 20 to the pound to ensure a tighter fitting.

The last manufacture of 'Baker' Rifles took place in 1838, when London gun makers set up 2,000.

Use and Effect

The 'Baker' Rifle is so special because of its advantage over the smooth-bore weapons of the period. It was significantly more accurate, shorter, and lighter than the standard India Pattern muskets issued to British line battalions. While it could only manage two rounds a minute, compared to the three or four of a musket, it outshot and outdistanced any weapon the French army could field, and was accurate out to 200 yards.

The experience of Rifleman Plunket of the 95th Rifles demonstrates the rifle's accuracy and range. During the retreat to Corunna on 3rd January 1809, Plunket shot and killed the French General Auguste-Marie-Francois Colbert, who was riding near his troops. To prove that this was not a fluke he then proceeded to shoot the General's aide-de-camp Latour-Mauburg as well, and the distance is recorded as being 200-600 m. He is described as accomplishing this feat by laying on his back with the rifle-sling looped around his right foot, one of the positions recommended for rife shooting.

The 'Baker' Rifle remained in service for over 30 years as a flintlock and was the basis for the percussion-lock 'Brunswick' Rifle that saw another 20 years of service.

Videos

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Edited sequence of the slow motion footage of Lisa Traynor firing a reproduction 'Baker' Rifle.

Statistics

Barrel length 74.7 cm (29 in)
Calibre 16 mm (0.625 in)
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1805
Loading Muzzle-loading
Overall length 116.7 cm (46 in)
Weight 3.78 kg (8 lb 3 oz)

Author

Mark Murray-Flutter