Pretty lit­tle Henry

Gun­mak­ing his­to­rian Don­ald Dal­las is taken back to his youth by sim­ply pulling a 20 bore from its slip.

Shooting Gazette - - Great guns -

Very oc­ca­sion­ally, out of all the hun­dreds of guns and ri­fles I come across, I pick up a cer­tain ex­am­ple and im­me­di­ately think, gosh that is nice, that’s a bit spe­cial, what a beauty.

This is ex­actly what hap­pened at The Game Fair this sum­mer when a gen­tle­man ap­peared with a gun in a slip and said, “I won­der what you think of this?” He pulled out what was ob­vi­ously a ham­mer gun but the minute he placed the gun in my arms, I re­alised that this gun was in a league of its own.

It was a 20 bore top lever bar ac­tion ham­mer gun by Alexan­der Henry of Ed­in­burgh no. 4887 com­pleted in 1880. Sev­eral things im­me­di­ately ap­pealed to me about this ham­mer gun. Alexan­der Henry was pri­mar­ily a ri­fle maker at 12 South St. An­drew Street, Ed­in­burgh and dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, he was the world’s most pre-em­i­nent ri­fle maker, re­ceiv­ing or­ders from British and Eu­ro­pean roy­alty, In­dian Ma­hara­jas and Dukes and Baronets the length and breadth of Great Bri­tain. He sold sport­ing guns too, al­beit on a far smaller scale and this gun was one of these, hence im­me­di­ately in­ter­est­ing as Henry shot­guns are not com­mon­place.

Sev­eral things struck me about this lit­tle ham­mer gun that in­stantly gave it the “wow” fac­tor. It was a 20 bore, and 20 bore guns from this pe­riod are quite un­com­mon. Most 20 bores were pro­duced as sec­ond qual­ity guns for boys but this was no such gun. It was a high qual­ity gun with a good length of stock at 14in and my guess is that it was made for the orig­i­nal owner’s wife. Qual­ity 20 bore ham­mer guns are in high de­mand and com­mand high

“Sev­eral things struck me about this lit­tle ham­mer gun that in­stantly gave it the ‘wow’ fac­tor.”

pre­mi­ums as they are so shootable and this one with 28in bar­rels fit­ted the bill per­fectly. It was a very hand­some gun and weighed only 5lbs 8oz. Ev­ery per­son in the crowd who looked at it made the same re­mark, “What a pretty lit­tle gun.”

The main rea­son for its un­doubted pul­chri­tude was that the ac­tion bar was rounded. This is com­mon­place to­day but in the late 19th cen­tury this was quite un­usual. The lock­plates and the un­der­side of the ac­tion were gen­tly rounded and along with the fine scroll en­grav­ing, a very hand­some re­sult was achieved.

Then there was the ba­sic de­sign of the gun. It had a top lever and bar ac­tion locks, by far the best com­bi­na­tion on a ham­mer gun to give the best aes­thet­ics in com­par­i­son to the sturdy un­der­lever and back ac­tion locks fit­ted to many. The stock it­self was finely fig­ured and had drop points that added to the qual­ity of the gun.

I al­ways want to know who the orig­i­nal owner of a gun was and when I re­turned from the fair, I looked up the Henry records. Lit­tle did I know that the in­for­ma­tion they con­tained would give this gun a very per­sonal con­nec­tion to me.

The records state that no. 4887 was com­pleted on Septem­ber 3,

1880, for Col. M. Makgill-crich­ton. I used sev­eral vol­umes of Who’s Who from the 19th cen­tury and Kelly’s Hand­book Of The Ti­tled, Landed

and Of­fi­cial Classes to work out prove­nance; I thought with a name like this it would be sim­ple to trace the fam­ily. Wrong. For the life of me I couldn’t find Makgill-crich­ton. Skim­ming through the pages in frus­tra­tion I came across Mait­landMakgill-crich­ton. The Henry clerk ob­vi­ously couldn’t be both­ered writ­ing out the full triple-bar­relled name and just wrote in M. MakgillCrich­ton, hence my con­fu­sion.

David Mait­land-makgillCrich­ton was born on Au­gust 20, 1841, in the tiny ham­let of Col­lessie in North East Fife. My eyes popped out of my head – Col­lessie, Fife. As a boy I lived in Col­lessie as my mother was the head­mistress of Col­lessie School. The school­house was set in its own grounds sur­rounded by farm­land and here I banged away all day long in my for­ma­tive years with a large va­ri­ety of guns and ri­fles. I hope they never cut the trees down as the chain­saw will blunt with the on­slaught of bul­lets in the trunks. (In a fur­ther amaz­ing co­in­ci­dence, I am writ­ing this on my mother’s birth­day).

Mait­land-makgill-crich­ton joined the Gor­don High­landers in 1854 and by 1882 was a Colonel. His fam­ily lived nearby on the Rankeil­lour Es­tate near Cu­par in Fife and he died in Lon­don on July 2, 1907. At the time of pur­chas­ing this 20 bore he resided at Winch­field House in Hamp­shire and I am pretty cer­tain that he bought it for his wife Lady Mar­garet Pley­dell-bou­verie.

I love his­tory like this – from the sim­ple be­gin­nings of pulling a gun out of a slip, to be­ing awed at its beauty and then dis­cov­er­ing a per­sonal con­nec­tion to it.

Don­ald Dal­las (left) and David Hirst at the school­house, Col­lessie in 1966 with a Man­ton muz­zle-loader.

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