We recently had the pleasure of filming with Australian historian Mat McLachlan at the National Army Museum in London’s Chelsea. The idea was to talk about five exhibits that encapsulate the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and there is no doubt that one made a big impression: the Brown Bess. .
With variants known as the ‘Land Pattern’ or ‘India Pattern’, this muzzleloading, smoothbore flintlock musket was first introduced to the British Army in the 1740s. With minor tweaks it would remain in service until the 1830s. In its National Army Museum case it looks comparatively harmless, but this simple weapon brought death to thousands. With no rifling, it was spectacularly inaccurate, depending for its killing power on the controlled – but rapid – firing of massed volleys at an advancing formation, killing and smashing bodies open with terrible wounds. It was effective from 80 yards, but it was much better for shooters to wait – if they could – until the enemy were within 50 yards. It was important for soldiers to hold their fire as long as possible so that most shots would strike home. That first volley could be truly devastating, but what a test of nerve!