Rival Rifles

Introduction | Correspondence

By: D.B. Minshall

The National Rifle Association (NRA) held their first rifle meeting in the summer of 1860. Queen Victoria offered encouragement by founding an annual prize that Volunteers competed for in two stages; the first at 300, 500 and 600 yards, and the second at 800, 900 and 1000 yards. The first stage was shot using the long Enfield, this, however, was deemed of insufficient accuracy for the second stage.

Trials were held at Hythe in May 1860 to select a suitable rifle. Mr. Whitworth and a deputation of Birmingham gun makers contested the trials, with the Whitworth rifle being the clear winner. With one exception, the Whitworth rifle continued to be issued to Queen's Prize finalists until 1871, when for the first time the match was shot throughout with breech-loaders. The Snider replaced the Enfield in the first stage, and the War Office made a special issue of Martini-Henry's for the second stage.

The notable exception was in 1865, when the Rigby rifle was issued to Queen's Prize finalists. A report of its selection, which follows, was published in The Times of Monday, 29 May 1865.
MR. RIGBY'S RIFLES - In the competition last year which went on between Mr. Whitworth's and Mr. Rigby's rifles the Council of the National Rifle Association reserved to themselves the right of instituting further trials of both weapons, which as far as the contest went, had shot in an almost equal figure if merit. To these further trials, however, which were ordered by the Association Mr. Whitworth declined to accede, and Mr. Rigby's rifles were accordingly chosen by the Association as the weapons with which the second stage of the Queen's prize should be shot, instead, as here to fore, with the rifle of Mr. Whitworth. To test the weapons thus supplied by Mr. Rigby, of Dublin, a special trial has just been made by the Council of the Association at the 1,000 yards range of the Royal Factory at Enfield. A number of rifles were supplied which were examined by Lieutenant-Colonel Dixon. The bores were gauged for diameter, the lock and other parts tested, the rifle weighed, and a lead pattern of its interior, and the pitch of its rifling ascertained. All proving perfectly correct, 15 were selected for trial at the targets. In the firing no mechanical loading rod was used, nor, it is stated in the official report to the National Rifle Association, was such assistance necessary, as there was no fouling or any difficulty experienced in sending the bullet home from first to last; and the report further adds that the Council "may safely congratulate themselves upon the excellent arm which has been selected by them for the year for the 60 best shots at Wimbledon." In all, 15 rifles were tried and 83 shots, at 1000 yards; all, of course, from a mechanical rest of Mr. Rigby's own make. The mean total deviation of all the shots fired was as low as 1.57. In some cases it was as low as 1.11, and the greatest deviation was only 2.15. Mr. Rigby had made the acceptance of his rifle by the Council depend upon its making an average figure of merit at least equal to the figure of merit made by Mr. Whitworth's rifles at 1,000 yards in the trials of 1862, 1863 and 1864. In 1862 Mr. Whitworth's mean deviation was 2.35, in 1863 it was 1.77, and last year it was as low as 1.83, the mean of the three trials therefore being 1.98. As Mr. Rigby's mean for this year is the lowest ratio of deviation that has ever been attained by any rifle at 1,000 yards, and well within the figure of merit allowed by Mr. Whitworth, it follows that up to the present Mr. Rigby gas gained the best of the contest, and produced a rifle which has as yet shot more truly than any other known in this country, at least.
The Whitworth 'camp' were obviously not pleased with this selection, and Mr. Leece, the Whitworth works manager, wrote to The Times to say so. His letter elicited a response from Mr. Rigby. Both letters follow.

Introduction Correspondence