Military History with Pete and Gary


In October, we described the ‘Brown Bess’, the staple musket of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. But lovers of the Richard Sharpe adventures written by Bernard Cornwell will be more aware of the Baker Rifle carried by Sharpe and his ‘Chosen Men’ in the Peninsula campaign and at Waterloo.

Formally known as the Pattern 1800 Infantry Rifle, the rifle was designed by a London gunsmith, Ezekiel Baker, and would have a long service life stretching into the 1830s. It was a foot shorter than the Brown Bess and considerably lighter at 9lbs, and its 30in barrel had within it seven rifling grooves.

This provided the rifle with its raison d’etre. Rifling, an invention typically attributed to either Vienna’s Gaspard Kollner or to Nuremberg’s Augustus Kotter, increased the accuracy and stability of the round. In short, spinning bullets fly straighter. The bullet was wrapped in a greased patch of linen or leather that enabled it to grip the rifling, which imparted the ‘spin’ as the bullet shot down the barrel.

To assist aiming, the rifle had a folding rear sight. If all else failed, an intimidating 24in sword bayonet could be fitted. The Baker Rifle needed regular cleaning or it lost accuracy as powder residue built up in the rifling and fouled it. The cleaning kit was housed in the butt. Production of the rifle was contracted out to various manufacturers and as usual it went through a variety of modifications during its service life.

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