Update for Dealer Members & Private Advertisers!
Advanced Search

    More Ads from this seller     Printer-friendly version  
 Share to Facebook

​​MAHARAJAH’S RIFLES.,Written by Peter Cameron.

Dealer Ad
Date Added:


The Sub-continent of India was, in the period of the British Raj in India from the 19th Century until 1947, when India gained it’s independence, the catalyst of a great impetus to the Gun Trade in Great Britain. From the time the East India Company entered into commerce in India and following the subduing of the Indian Princes by the British Army, there was a great demand for weapons, both Sporting and Military for use there.

​British Army Officers stationed in India often, in addition to their military equipment ,took sporting rifles and guns with them to hunt the various forms of large and small game available on the plains, jungles and in the hill country. Members of the large Indian Civil Service also participated in hunting and other sports in their leisure time. The various Indian Maharajahs and other Princes on seeing the variety of Sporting rifles and guns carried by the Englishmen, began to place orders from England for similar arms to use in their pursuit of Tigers, Bison, Elephants and other forms of large and small game.

The Gunmaking Trade was quick to capitalise on the new and lucrative market offering all forms of sporting weapons, some Gunmakers like Manton, Rodda and others opening Agencies in Calcutta and other centres. One often comes across fine English sporting rifles engraved with the names, crests and titles of Indian nobility. Otherwise they can also be contained in their original cases emblazoned with the Princely owner’s particulars. People like the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharajahs of Johdphur, Mysore and Patiala come to mind.

One such man was Sir Digbijai Singh Bahadur, K.C.S.I., Maharajah of Bulrampore, Oudh, now referred to as Balrampur, United Provinces. This area is in the Northern half of the Sub-Continent near Lucknow which was a hotbed of intrigue and in the thick of the fighting in the Indian Mutiny in 1857. Digbijai Singh succeeded to the title in 1836 at the age of eighteen on the death of his brother and rendered conspicuous service to the Government during the Mutiny. Not only was he unswervingly loyal to the British, when the whole district of Gonda was ablaze with rebellion, he rescued and gave shelter to a party of thirty Europeans some of whom were persons of some importance.

At the close of the Mutiny he joined the British force in person and provided valuable assistance in procuring supplies and accurate intelligence.

For his eminent services and fervent loyalty in these trying times Raja Digibijai Singh received much appreciation and favour from the British Government. In addition to pecuniary benfits in the form of remitted taxes he received the personal title of Maharaja Bahadur. The latter title means ”the Warrior” or “the Brave”. In 1866 at Agra, he was invested with the insignia of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India, (KCSI). On New Year’s Day, 1877, Her Majesty Queen Victoria, as Empress of India granted him the honour of a salute of nine guns.

He was regarded as as a progressive ruler and did much to advance the the welfare of his tenantry and subjects. He was a prolific hunter during his life and owned many firearms from percussion to early breech loading rifles. His love of hunting and outdoor pusuits is evidenced by the fact that a fall from and elephant during a tiger hunt hastened his death, which occurred in May 1882 at the age of 64 years.

Many of these found their way to Australia including a group of around 12-14 from the Maharajah’s Bulrampore Armoury. There were a number of high grade English makers represented in the group. They included Samuel & Charles Smith, Purdey and Mortimer in the early period, John Rigby & Co., Charles and Alfred Lancaster in the breech loading period. Some were inlaid with Sir Digbijai’s name and title in English and Urdhu. Most were in the larger calibres, .577 Snider and above. One Alfred Lancaster had the stock work, forend and butt made of rhinoceros horn. This Rifle left Australia at some later time and recently fetched a small fortune in an auction sale in the United States

He owned quite a large number of firearms, as they were given an armoury number, some being impressed on the stock with an armoury number. Others had paper numbers stuck on them which corresponded with similar numbers on the appropriate case and accessories. The arsenal number of the Rigby DB Rifle mentioned later was 45.

Without exception all of these rifles showed evidence of use but not abuse, they had all been kept cleaned and the bores were in perfect condition. So cleaned were they most of the original finish had disappeared due to over zealous maintenance. Some of the gun cases had suffered severe damage due to borers and insects during their stay in the Armoury.

The three rifles subject of this article are of the highest London quality available at the time of their manufacture, and include the latest refinements as one would expect from the makers.They are , a Single Barrel percussion rifle and a Double Barrel percussion rifle by Samuel & Charles Smith, Princes Street, London circa 1840’s. Both are contained in their original cases, numbered to each rifle, with accessories for loading and shooting . The third is a 12 Bore Double Barrel underlever hammer rifle by John Rigby & Co., 72 St. James’s Street, London, completed in 1868. This rifle is also cased with a full complement of accessories.

Both percussion rifles are fitted with and flat faced hammer noses and Smith’s Patent nipples. These were a wide nipple with a short channel, designed to operate with Smith’s Patent Imperial Cap. The intention of the patent was to get the flash to the powder in the quickest possible time. The hammers have a removable nose and were supplied with extra conventional hammer noses and nipples should a supply of the patent caps be unavailable. This patent is dealt with in Lewis Winant’s “Early Percussion Firearms”, Chapter 6. This was early in the percussion era when Gunmakers were striving to attract customers with the latest innovations to the new ignition system. According to Winant the patent met with the approval of the sportsmen of the time.

The single barrel Smith rifle has a heavy octagonal Damascus barrel, 29 inches in length. It is rifled with 5 broad grooves, with one fixed back sight and two leaves to 150 and 200 yards. The London Proof marks indicate that it is 15 Bore. The bolted bar lock is engraved with an Asian Rhinoceros and a prowling Tiger indicating the nature of the game for which this piece was intended. The Serial No of this rifle is 6098 and it bears the Armoury No. 28 stamped into the butt. The stock also has a circular patchbox set into the butt inlet into the heel plate.

The brass bound mahogany case contains a plethora of accessories necessary for shooting and cleaning of the rifle. Bullet moulds for casting the correct ball and projectile and the correct nipple wrenches for removal of the patent nipples. A spare hammer nose and normal percussion nipple are also included in a leather pouch. A powder flask and loading rods together with cleaning jags, brushes etc. completes the outfit.

The double barrelled rifle is Serial No. 5942 and is Armoury No. 9. The 27 inch Double barrels also carry London Proof marks, of 18 bore. They are filed in a polygonal profile, with 16 flats on each. This is a feature which I believe is exclusive to the Smith brothers. They are rifled with 7 broad grooves and are sighted on three leaves to 200 yards. The breech is engraved SMITHS PATENT in a gold rectangular poincon. The iron furniture is nicely engraved with scrolls.

The brass bound mahogany case, numbered on the inside rear edge to the rifle, contains numerous accessories including powder flask, ball mould, short starter, loading rods and 1 ½ inch patch cutter. There are also nipple wrenches for both patent and standard nipples.

Both of these rifles have the Maharajah’s titles inlaid in gold on the barrel or top rib. This has been done in Urdhu, the local language and, in the case of the single in English also.

​The Rigby 12 bore double rifle has rebounding bar locks of the highest quality. This mechanism was invented in the mid 1860’s and this is one of the earliest rifles I have seen to utilise them. This enabled the hunter to open the rifle without bringing the hammers to half cock, facilitating quick reloading for a second shot when hunting dangerous game. It also features Rigby’s acid etched finish on the 26 inch Damascus barrels.

The chambers are two and a quarter inches, which although short so far as modern guns are concerned but still large enough for the cartridges to contain 90 grains of Curtiss’s and Harvey’s No 6 Black powder behind either round ball or 700 grain solid bullet. The 26 inch barrels carry London Black Powder Proof marks and are sighted to 400 yards. The action is of the Jones Patent Screw Underlever type, regarded by many to be the strongest action for double rifles and guns.

The old Rigby shows much evidence of use in the field and I cannot help wondering if this rifle was with him in the Howdah on that fatal last tiger hunt. I had the pleasure of owning all three rifles at one time but both percussion rifles have now moved on to the collection of two good friends. I’m glad to know they are still ‘in the family” and I can visit them now and then. I still have the Rigby which I shoot occasionally and it is equally happy on the target range or in the field.

An interesting quirk of fate arose in relation to the cases for the two percussion Smith Rifles. I acquired the Double barrel rifle from a friend and although it came with many accessories the case can only be described as a shambles. A few years later the same collector came into possession of two more single barrel Smith rifles from Burampore, both of with were cased. After closely examining them he called me and enquired as to the number of the double. When I told him he said “I have your case” He realised by the number stamped on the inner edge that one of the singles had been put into the wrong case and been in it for quite a while. A trade was done and the correct rifle retuned to it’s home. If those two singles had gone to someone else, the two would most likely have remained separated. I may add that a piece of the inner lip of the Rigby case, missing when I obtained it, was found amongst some excess parts when a Purdey case from Bulramore had been restored.

I am always pleased when the ownership particulars can be discovered in relation to rifles in my collection. In some cases the information is very scant and often no information is available. When I obtained the Rigby many years back I contacted Piers Crump of J. Roberts & Son who at that time held the Rigby manufacturing rights and records. He was able to confirm the old 12 bore double rifle No.13374 was completed and delivered to the Maharaja on 27 August, 1869. Unfortunately there were no load details recorded.

​The Maharaja had a variety of fine weapons at his disposal. Plate 6, page 21 of Antique Weapons by Richard Akehurst shows a pair of Purdey percussion target pistols completed in 1864, owned by Sir Digbijai. His name has appeared in a number of publications over the years associated with a variety of quality British firearms.

When I found the photo of Sir Digbejai on an English website I left a comment regarding him and his rifles on the site. About 1 months later I was contacted by the Great, great grandson of the Maharaja and he asked me to forward any pictures of the rifles I had. He and his father wh o had been the last owner of them at their residence were very pleased to see thatthey had been kept in top condition and still being cared for. It was very gratifying and pleasing to hear from them. I also sent a copy of the article.

References : Who’s Who of India 1907,

Early Percussion Firearms, Lewis Winant,

Game Guns and Rifles, Richard Akehurst.
  • 0411342826
    D/L#: Licensed Dealer

    Contact This Dealer

    Please Solve: Add the 2 numbers + 2 =

    Ozgunsales assumes all responsibility for this listing. You must contact Ozgunsales to resolve any questions or concerns. Firearms may only be shipped to a Licenced Dealer. Some listed items may not be legal in every State.
    It is advisable that if you plan on purchasing from a Dealer who has listed an ad on this website to retain the information of the ad and the Dealers details for future reference, as we cannot guarantee that it will still be available if removed