A royal gift

The Field - - Under The Hammer - By mark mur­ray-flut­ter

THE idea of pre­sent­ing a firearm to com­mem­o­rate a spe­cial oc­ca­sion is not new but to find one pre­sented in the 20th cen­tury is some­what more un­usual, as the idea of pre­sent­ing firearms as com­mem­o­ra­tive ob­jects had long gone out of fash­ion. This Amer­i­can ‘Ken­tucky’ ri­fle is such a pre­sen­ta­tion arm. It was es­pe­cially cho­sen and pre­sented by the So­ci­ety of Mas­sachusetts Arms Col­lec­tors to HM The Queen on the oc­ca­sion of her corona­tion on 2 June 1953. Her Majesty sub­se­quently de­posited it in the Ar­mouries of the Tower of Lon­don.

These ri­fles, de­spite the name by which they are pop­u­larly known, were largely made in Penn­syl­va­nia. They rep­re­sent a firearm that evolved to meet par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances. To the North Amer­i­can set­tler of the 18th cen­tury, a firearm was not sim­ply a sport­ing weapon to be used for re­cre­ation but an arm on the ac­cu­racy of which the set­tler and his fam­ily de­pended for their meat sup­ply and for pro­tec­tion against the ever-present threat of death on the wild fron­tier. Ri­fles like this were first made fa­mous by as­so­ci­a­tion with such pre-rev­o­lu­tion­ary Amer­i­can ad­ven­tur­ers as Daniel Boone, who ex­plored the ‘Dark and Bloody Ground’ to the west of the Ap­palachian Moun­tains in the cur­rent state of Ken­tucky. Sub­se­quently, they be­came known as ‘Ken­tucky’ ri­fles.

This type of ri­fle was de­vel­oped in the mid-18th cen­tury by gun­mak­ers, many of whom were of Ger­man ori­gin, who served the fron­tier com­mu­ni­ties. It is char­ac­terised by a long bar­rel, which was a sim­ple means of ob­tain­ing ac­cu­racy, with a small bore, by con­tem­po­rary stan­dards, that re­duced the weight of am­mu­ni­tion that the user had to carry. The cal­i­bre was usu­ally around .5in; this ri­fle’s cal­i­bre be­ing .52in. These ri­fles, in the hands of a good marks­man, were ac­cu­rate at ranges up to 200 me­tres. Con­tem­po­rary ac­counts claimed that at that range a man-sized tar­get could be hit 10 times out of 10.

This ex­am­ple was prob­a­bly made be­tween 1775 and 1800, has a 42in bar­rel, a maple-wood stock and an English­sup­plied flint­lock lock. Some of the other char­ac­ter­is­tics as­so­ci­ated with a per­fected ‘Ken­tucky’ ri­fle such as this are a nar­row, curved butt-stock, a more curved brass butt plate and a dec­o­rated brass hinged patch-box. These char­ac­ter­is­tics con­tin­ued to de­fine the ‘Ken­tucky’ ri­fle well into the per­cus­sion age.

In the Amer­i­can War of In­de­pen­dence (1775-83) the ir­reg­u­lar forces at­tached to the Con­ti­nen­tal Forces in­flicted a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of ca­su­al­ties with these ri­fles on Bri­tish troops, who were armed only with the smooth­bore Short Land Pat­tern mus­ket. Cap­tain Patrick Fer­gu­son, a Scot­tish in­fantry of­fi­cer, in­vented a breech-load­ing ri­fle in re­tal­i­a­tion, but that is an­other story [see Dawn of the sniper, page 154]. Within the col­lec­tion is an ear­lier ri­fle of the Ger­man type from which the ‘Ken­tucky’ was evolved and also a late ex­am­ple fit­ted with per­cus­sion ig­ni­tion. All three taken to­gether tell the Amer­i­can long ri­fle story, ex­am­ples of which are rarely found in this coun­try. The Royal Ar­mouries is grate­ful to have such a ri­fle, one that is not only rare but com­mem­o­rates a corona­tion. The Ken­tucky ri­fle can be viewed by ap­point­ment at the Royal Ar­mouries Mu­seum, Leeds, the na­tional mu­seum of arms and ar­mour. The mu­seum is open daily, 10am to 5pm. En­try is free. Tel:

0113 220 1999; www.roy­alar­mouries.org

This 'Ken­tucky' ri­fle was pre­sented to HM The Queenon her corona­tion in 1953

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