Object Title

1805 'Baker' Rifle

Development

By 1800 the British Army had once again recognised the need to field an infantry rifle, the earlier lessons of the use of the Pattern 1776 and Ferguson rifles during the American War of Independence having clearly been forgotten. 

The subsequent Model 1800 Baker rifle and its more widely seen successor the Model 1805, was designed and developed by Ezekiel Baker to meet the need for a rifle, and was the result of a series of trials. After its successful adoption it would be used by the British Army between 1800 and 1837.  The original model, the first of six, was designated the Model 1800 Infantry Rifle and was first used by the recently created Rifle Brigade, formed and trained by General Sir John Moore (1761 – 1809), the father of the British Light Infantry and Rifle regiments. Included in which were the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles), the 60th Regiment of Foot and the Kings German Legion as well there numerous other light infantry battalions and companies. It was used throughout the Napoleonic wars, first seeing action in August 1800 in Spain. The rifle was then used at almost every battle of the Peninsular War from the retreat to La Coruna to the Battle of Toulouse, as well as the 1807 Baltic Campaign, the doomed Walcheren Campaign in the Dutch Rhine estuary. By the time of Waterloo in June 1815 it was the updated Model 1805 Rifle that was being used. In the hands of element of 95th and the Kings German Legion it would play a crucial part the defence of the farmhouse at La Haye Sainte.

The Model 1805 Baker Rifle is a flintlock rifled weapon with a small lock, a raised cheek rest on the left butt, a bayonet bar at the right of the muzzle that takes a sword bayonet and a brass scroll-type trigger-guard, ramrod pipes and butt trap cover. The 7-groove twist form barrel is secured by three flat keys and is fitted with a simple post and leaf back sight.

By the end of the Napoleonic wars over 14,000 Baker rifles had been produced by contract gun makers in both London and Birmingham. Over the following 23 years the Baker Rifle would be used in every major British campaign from India to South America.  The Baker Rifle was a highly effective rifle for its time, especially when coupled with the tactics pioneered by the Rifle Corps. It remained in service for over 35 years and was the basis for the subsequent percussion lock Model 1837 Brunswick Rifle that would see another 20 years of service.

 

Use and Effect

The Baker Rifle had a clear advantage over the smooth bore weapons of the period. It was significantly more accurate, shot further and was shorter and lighter than the standard issue India Pattern muskets issued to British line battalions. While it could only manage around 2 rounds a minute compared to the 3 or 4 of a musket, it was significantly more accurate and could out distanced any weapon the French army could field, being accurate out to at least 200 yards, if not further.  Baker in his book on the rifle ‘Three Years Practice and Observations with Rifled Guns’, written in 1804, reckoned that 500 yards was not out of the question for accurate use.  

To illustrate this accuracy there is the story of rifleman Plunkett of the 95th Rifles who, on the 3 January 1809 near Cacabellos in Spain during the retreat to Corunna, shot and killed the French General, Auguste-Marie-Francois Colbert, who was riding near his troops. He subsequently then shot the General’s aide-de-camp, Latour-Mauburg to further prove his skill. The distance is said to have been anywhere between 200 and 600 yards (300 is plausible) and that he accomplished this feat by laying on his back with the rifle sling looped around his right foot for stability, one of Baker’s recommended shooting positions.

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