Object Title

Sabre, scabbards, belt and case

Sabre, scabbards, belt and case


1807-1808 and later

Object Number



Purchased at auction at Christie's, 30 April 1986, Lot 206 (illus. in cat.).

Physical Description

Sword (A): The silver-gilt hilt is of conventional tulwar form, with an S-shaped knuckle-guard linking the forward quillon with the edge of the pommel.

The hilt is chased overall with foliage and flowerheads in relief against a granular background. The dome-headed tang-button is cast in relief to show radiating acanthus leaves, with a hinged acanthus flourish for the sword-knot, and an acanthus calyx finial. Away from the hand, the slightly dished pommel is decorated with radiating flowerheads, laurel leaves and berries and acanthus foliage, and, towards its outer edge, a border of a reapeating floral pattern. Towards the hand, the pommel is chased with an eight-pointed star with alternating acanthus leaves, within a border of repeating floral pattern. The inner and outer faces of the grip are decorated with a longitudinal spray of laurel leaves and berries, and flowerheads within a fretwork border. The knuckle-guard is decorated en suite, terminating in a tiger's head. The quillons are chased with acanthus foliage. The langets decorated in one with the grip and terminate in an acanthus flourish.

The very curved, single-edged blade is mostly line-etched (see Notes) and partly gilt on a blued ground which ends in a flourish. On the outside, the decoration includes: a panel containing foliage; a trophy of arms (both the latter elements under the langet); the arms of the recipient - 2 mullets in chief and a stringed bugle in base - and above, a crest - an arm holding a wreath - supported by two demi-figures; the achievement of the arms of the Hon. East India Company with the motto 'ISPICO REGIS ET SENATUS ANGLIAE'; a figure with a feathered head-dress and holding a bow within a laurel wreath; a camel or dromedary lead by a turbanned man; a trophy of arms; a running elephant; a spray of laurel leaves.

On the inside, the decoration includes: foliage; a panel containing a funerary monument comprising an urn on a base which is inscribed MEMO[RIA] / MOO[RE] (evidently for Sir John Moore - the missing letters obscured beneath a draped cloth) above (on a separate scroll) the word 'CORUN[NA]' (the missing letters either lost through surcace erosion or hidden by the same cloth which drapes the base of the monument) (both the latter elements are under the langet); a dragon; scrolls containing his battle honours - Vimiera, Roleia, Buenos Ayres, Suburbs of Buenos Ayres, Pondicherry; a winged child holding the Union flag; more battle honours - Seringapatam, Eadgau Redoubt, Nundidroog, Bangilore Fort, Bangalore Pettah, Shaoor; a tiger; the battle honour Sattimungulum; the presentation inscription: 'THIS SWORD IS PRESENTED TO COLONEL BURNE / BY THE OFFICERS
a trophy of arms (trumpet, drum and cannon); a winged figure blowing a trumpet and holding a wreath, all within a laurel wreath; a combined spray of a rose, a thistle and oak leaves.

Sword-Knot (B): The knot comprises a flatened, plaited knop of gold wire with a single red or crimson thread with a collar of the same matterials, suported on a red leatrher strap decorated with gold thread en suite with the belt (see below).

Scabbard 1: (C) The wooden scabbard is covered with crimson velvet, stitched down the inside face with silver gilt thread. The top- and mid-lockets each have a fixed suspension loop, surmounted by an acanthus bud. The top-locket is recessed to accommodate the langets, and bordered in relief around the recess with and incised broad arrow decoration on a hatched round; the forward and rear faces are decorated en suite; the inner and outer faces are chased in relief with two sprays of scrolling foliage and flowerheads against a granular background, and bordered longitudinally with fretwork. The lower end of the locket is formed as a raised oval dome, which is chased with a flowerheaed within a fretwork border. The inner face of the locket is engraved, 'R. JOHNSTON / Sword cutler & belt maker / to HIS MAJESTY / 68 St James's Str. / LONDON', within an oval laurel wreath. The mid-locket and chape are decorated en suite, except the 'open' end of the chape has a scalloped edge.

Scabbard 2 (D): The second, blued steel scabbard is sheathed in a silver-gilt mount. The mouth is recessed to accommodate the langets. The inner recess is engraved, 'R.JOHNSTON / - No 68 - / St. James's Str. / LONDON'. There are two fixed suspension loops, en suite with the pommel loop, and an asymmetrical shoe, cast to show groups of leaves, resembling laurels, which terminate at the ends in a scroll. The recess is bordered in relief with an incised broad arrow decoration on a hatched background. The forward and rear faces of the mounts are decorated en suite. The mounts are pierced and chased overall to show scrolling foliage, flowerheads, acanthus tips, a pair of figures riding an elephant, another figure riding a camel, a trophy of arms consisting of an octagonal shield over an axe and sword crossed in saltire, and a larger trophy of arms consisting of an octagonal shield over a bugle, trumpet, drum, sword, and two banners crossed in saltire.

belt (E) The red leather sword belt comprises a waist belt and two slings with silver-gilt mounts. The buckle for the waist belt is formed from a pair of elephants' heads in profile with interlocking trunks. The rear and forward slings are secured to the belt by two bosses each formed of a lion-mask boss within a roped border and with scalloped edges. Each sling is fitted with a buckle, mounted with a pair of smaller lion-mask bosses, and a swivel clip, chased with laurel leaves and berries, and flowerheads. The forward sling buckle has a separate scrolling serpent (providing a hook for carrying the sword when dismounted). The belt is embroidered overall with silver-gilt thread to show a central pattern of scrolling foliage and flowerheads, and edged with a plain border.

Case (F): The polished mahogany case has brass mounts and is lined with green velvet.

For details of technical examination of the gilding by XRF see typed note in inventory binder (behind IBE - copy in inv. file).


Dimensions: Sword: Overall length: 825 mm (32.5 in.), Blade length: 711 mm. (28 in.), Blade width, by hilt: mm ( in.), Scabbard 1: Overall length: 724 mm (28.5 in.), Scabbard 2: Overall length: 787 mm (31 in.) Weight: Sword with Knot: 895 g (2 lb 0 oz), Scabbard 1: 625 g (1 lb 6 oz), Scabbard 2: 1185 g (2 lb 10 oz), Belt: 680 g (1 lb 9 oz)

Inscriptions and Marks

5On the hilt, on outer langet, stamped: lion passant (sterling standard mark); leopard's head (London town mark); date letter M (for 1807-8); the sovereign's head (duty mark); RJ in a rectangle (maker's mark of R.Johnston).5On scabbard no. 1, on each of the outer face of the mid-locket and inner faces of the top-locket and chape: maker's, duty and stirling standard marks.5On scabbard no. 2 (on the silver-gilt decorative mount, made in four sections), on the inner face, on the top section of the mount (below the elephant): maker's, duty and stirling standard marks; on the second section of the mount (below the camel): the same three marks; on the chape section of the mount, by the back edge, near the top: the same three marks. (no marks have yet been detected on the third section of the mount.)5On the belt, on the inner faces of the three buckles: duty and sterling standard marks, date letter N for 1808-09 and the maker's mark; on the inner face of the two swivel clips: st


Bibliographic References

G M Wilson et al., 'Recent Acquisitions for the Royal Armouries', Burlington Magazine 130, no. 1027, Oct. 1988, pp. 799-803, at p. 800 (illus.) (entry by S C B[evan]).

L Southwick, London silver-hilted swords, their makers, suppliers and allied traders, with directory, Leeds, Royal Armouries, 2001[a]: col. pl. 23 (general view of all parts).

L Southwick, 'Some silver-hilted swords by London makers in the Royal Armouries', Royal Armouries Yearbook, 6, 2001[b], pp. 32-54, at pp. 53-4, figs 32 (det. of hilt and top of blade), 33 (gen. view of all parts) NOT YET EXTRACTED.

L Southwick, 'The royal sword-cutlers of 68 St James's Street', Arms and Armour, 1.2, 2004, p. 127, col. pl. 2 (gen view of all components) - none of components discussed in article).


The hilt is hallmarked for 1807-8 and the belt buckles for 1808-9. The marks on the scabbards have do not include a date letter. It had prevously been suggested that the sword had been fitted with a new blade (of Solingen manufacture) in or after January 1809 (the date of the battle of Corunna - the latest battle honour on the blade - where Sir John Moore was killed, on 16th January), and that the blued steel scabbard (no. 2) may be of the same date. (Southwick 2001b says the sword was 'altered' but does not specify the extent of that alteration.) However, it seems equally possible that either the sword hilt may already have been among Johnston's stock (perhaps from a cancelled order) and mounted up with the blade for presentation to Burne, with one or both scabbards being made at that time; or that the whole sword and both scabbards had already been made but the blade left undecorated until it was decorated for Burne and the belt made for it at the same time.
Examination of the blade by David Starley and Jack Truscott in September/October 2005 suggested that the blade decoration was mostly etched but that the presentation inscription itself was engraved (see analysis report on inv. file, Job Code: AM 1958). The lettering of the battle honours appeared to be etched, possibly with some tidying up by engraving. (PJL, 07/10/05).
A. Grimwade, 'London Goldsmiths 1697-1837...' (1st edn?), London, Faber and Faber, 1976, no. 2350 lists the mark RJ as for R. Johnston, 'No record of apprenticeship or freedom. Only mark encountered as smallworker, 24 March 1800. Address: 68 St James Street. The mark was noted by the late A.V.B. Norman on a sword of 1809 signed 'R. Johnston, 68 St James Str., London'. It would seem clear that he was a sword cutler, perhaps even a general outfitter.'. Wilson and Bevan 1988 give Johnston's dates at the St James Street address as 1798-1840 and add that the firm was the sucessor to Bland and Foster in their royal appointment. INF. ON Richard Johnston FROM SOUTHWICK 2001 A & B, and SOUTHWICK 2004 (pp. 127-32) STILL TO BE ENTERED.
For a silver parcel-gilt presentation sabre and scabbard presented to Lieutenant Col. James Stirling of the 42nd Royal Highlanders with R. Johnston's marks and the date letter for 1809/10, in the Scottish United Services Museum (acc. no. not given) see A.V.B. Norman, 'British Presentation Swords in the Scottish United Services Museum', 'Connoisseur', Dec. 1967, pp. 323-6, at p. 235 (illus. 5) - copy on inv. file. Norman refers to another, presented to Sir Robert Dick, apparently of the same design and also by Johnston, in the Black Watch Museum, Perth.
Wilson and Bevan 1988 say that the decoration of the blade of the present sword includes the figures of Fame and India; these have yet to be certainly identified among the decoration described above.
See the 'Dictionary of National Biography', III, pp. 383-4 for biographical details of Robert Burne (1755?-1825). He entered the army as ensign in the 36th Regiment in 1773 and remained with that regiment until 1811. In 1783 he went to India and commanded grenadiers against Tipoo Sultan 1784-86. In 1793 he was conspicuous at the seige of Pondicherry, and returned to England in 1799. He partipated in the attack on Buenos Ayres on 5 July 1807 and so impressed his fellow officers that he was presented with a sword of honour and £120 guineas. In 1808 he accompanied Sir Arthur Wellesley to Portugal, and remained there after Wellesley returned to England, serving under Sir John Moore. In 1811 Burne went back to England and in 1812 he retired because of ill-health. On 21 July he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and he died in 1825.
Other swords marked by Richard Johnston in the Royal Armouries: IX.2130 - fragmentary scabbard with top and mid-locket, the former marked 'R. Johnston ...'.