Object Title

Baker Cavalry Rifle

Development

Rifles for the cavalry were first mentioned around 1680. In this period, by His Majesty's Command, eight rifle carbines were carried in each troop of the Life Guards, which appears to have been the first introduction of the rifle into the British service.

By 1815, therefore, the idea of a rifled carbine was not entirely revolutionary. There had been references to rifled carbines during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), probably of German Jaeger type. Lieutenant-General Eliott (associated with the Eliott Carbine) and his predecessor Major-General Burgoyne, had in 1773 requested rifled carbines for the light dragoons.

With the interest in rifles growing around the time of the American War of Independence (1775-1783), the Master General of Ordnance, the Duke of Richmond, engaged celebrated gun maker Durs Egg to produce experimental breechloading carbines for trial. 30 carbines were produced, 15 rifled and 15 smoothbore. Known as the Egg Spear Carbine, due to its long spear bayonet, (two of which are held in the Royal Armouries collection) these carbines were trialled by five regiments of light dragoons. The results of the trial showed that four regiments preferred the rifled barrel, and one the smoothbore. Unfortunately the experiment was abandoned, due to the cost and difficulty of maintenance.

It was not until 1800, after a rifle had been adopted for certain branches of the infantry, that a rifled carbine for the cavalry was considered.  What was thought to be the first rifle issued to the cavalry was the Life Guard Rifled Carbine of 1801. Apparently with a barrel length of 36 in, no confirmed examples of this weapon have ever come to light. At 36 inch it wasn't exactly compact, but prior to this the heavy cavalry had been issued with the 1770 Heavy Dragoon Carbine (until the introduction of the 1796 version in 1798) and the 1770 had a 42 inch barrel, so the 36 inch Life Guard Carbine may well have seemed handier to the user! By 1812 the life guards had ordered 320 of the 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine, their first issue of short barrelled carbines.

With the Heavy Cavalry adopting the 26 inch 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine, and the Life Guards potentially rifling out a version of this carbine in 1812, there remains the question of Eziekel Baker's carbine design. This began life in 1803 in a trial between Baker and gunmaker Henry Nock, designer of the various incarnations of the 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine. Baker, who had been an apprentice of Nock, produced a weapon with a 20 inch quarter-turn barrel of 20 bore, intended to be fired with 84 grains of powder. Nock opted for a 20 in barrel, 16 bore, half turn with 105 grains powder. It might be suggested that Nock's carbine would have been the favourite in this experiment, due to its higher rate of turn, and smaller calibre. However, out of 12 shots Baker registered 9 hits: Nock, only 4. By late 1803 Baker's Carbine had been issued to 10 men per troop of the 14th and 15th Light Dragoons.

The 1803 Baker Cavalry Rifle had a 'New Land' style lock. This was flat with a bevel edged stepped lockplate and a flat ring necked cock. A safety bolt was featured on the lock as was a semi-waterproofed pan, with or without roller frizzen. It also included a swivel ramrod, with two ramrod pipes and a brass nosecap. Like the full sized rifle, the distinctive scroll trigger guard and butt trap lid were also included.

Use and Effect

The advantages of a rifled carbine over a smoothbore carbine depend upon the way in which it is to be used. For use during close quarter combat, where distance is not an issue, the rifled carbine would have made little difference. The advantage becomes more apparent over greater distances. As with all rifled weapons the idea was to achieve more stability when the projectile is in flight, which in turn improves the accuracy of the shot. This is achieved by the spiral grooves in the barrel; the rifling. Baker's original tests with the 20 in barrel in 1803 with Henry Nock showed that he had success with a quarter turn. This simply means that within the 20 in of barrel the projectile only turns a quarter of a full rotation before it is released from the barrel. In an experiment with three other gunmakers in 1805, Baker increased his turn to a half. Baker's barrel achieved the worst results, and that day the clear winner was Durs Egg's 20 in barrel with a quarter turn. No pronouncement of this appears in the minute books of the Ordnance.

The 1803 incarnation of the Baker Cavalry Rifle was reportedly not particularly popular with its users. In 1813 a new pattern was proposed, omitting the Baker style trigger guard and with the addition of a pistol grip. The trigger guard was replaced with a Paget style guard which was curved at the rear to account for the curve in the pistol grip. An 'S' shaped sideplate was included like that of the Baker Rifle, under the sling bar.

This modification in 1813 led to Baker being contracted to set up 500 cavalry rifles for the 10th (Prince of Wales' Own) Light Dragoons (Hussars). The 10th were present at the Battle of Waterloo, playing a vital role in the charge which halted the French cavalry, and it is entirely possible that they were equipped with the Baker Cavalry Rifles. The 7th (Queen's Own) Light Dragoons (Hussars), who had been equipped with the Baker Cavalry Rifle throughout the Peninsular campaign, also featured at Waterloo. On the eve of battle the 7th Light Dragoons were given the charge on the enemy in Genappe, who were Polish lancers. Only 19 men out 120 remained in the saddle. At Waterloo, the 7th Light Dragoons were stationed on the extreme right of the allied line, north of Hougoumont, and they charged around 13-14 times.

After Waterloo the quest for a breechloading carbine continued. Around 1817, Urbanus Sartoris designed a remarkable breechloading system which solved the problem of gas leakage between the barrel and the chamber. He provided a tip-up chamber with an interrupted-screw joint between the chamber and the barrel. The barrel had a large folding handle and could be turned and moved forward to unlock the breech. Sartoris improved his design in 1819, however the Ordnance gave him no encouragement and his London business went into liquidation in 1826.

Statistics

Barrel length 504 mm (20 in)
Calibre 16 mm (0.615 in)
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service about 1803
Loading Muzzle-loading
Overall length 905 mm (35 in)
Weight 2.82 kg (6 lb 2 oz)

Author

Lisa Traynor