By Tony Pagels
Before the development of the centrefire cartridge in 1866, the Native Mounted Police (NMP) were issued with a variety of muzzle and breech loading percussion weapons. This assortment of weapons caused confusion regarding ammunition, so the solution was to arm all personnel with the same weapon (QSA846918 In letter 73/2320). The decision as to what would be the best longarm and handgun for the NMP appears to have been left with the Commissioner of Police, David Thompson Seymour, and was intimately interwoven with advances in small arms technology.
The re-arming of the NMP took four years to achieve. Here I present a brief overview of the connections and transactions between the small arms manufacturers, P. Webley & Son of Birmingham and Trulock & Harriss of Dublin (aka Truelock & Harris), Qld authorities, Commissioner Seymour and the Agent-General in London. Together this relationship resulted in the NMP being issued with a reliable supply of robust, trouble-free Webley Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) revolvers and Snider MkIII artillery carbines.
At the time of Seymour’s appointment as Commissioner of Police in 1864, the NMP were armed with muzzle-loading percussion weapons that, once discharged, left mounted troopers unarmed and were impractical to reload on horseback. Seymour initially introduced the multi-shot ‘Transitional Birmingham revolver’ in 1864 (Robinson 1997:28–30). It was replaced with limited numbers of percussion revolvers manufactured by Deane and Adams, Tranter and Colt in 1868. Samuel Colt had introduced the mechanised production of revolvers to London in 1851, and when his London factory closed in 1857 revolver manufacture was primarily left to the companies Adams, Tranter and Webley (Prescott 2014:28).
The centrefire Boxer cartridge and the Snider rifle were adopted by the British War Department in 1866, paving a new era of centrefire breech-loading weapons (Temple 1977:104). In 1867 the Snider artillery carbine MkII** was approved (Skennerton 2003:156) and gunmaker Philip Webley & Son of Birmingham introduced a centrefire revolver that was adopted by the RIC— this became known as the Webley RIC model. This revolver was made of a solid frame, was double action, and fired six .442 centrefire Boxer cartridges. The barrel was produced in different lengths with clockwise rifling and remained in production until at least 1885 (Prescott 2014:94).
As we have seen, gun design is not static, but continuously refined to perfect the features of a particular model. Improvements to the Snider MkII** resulted in the Snider artillery carbine MkIII, introduced in 1869 (Skennerton 2003:157). The Webley RIC revolver was no different and was produced with subtle variations between models. The No.1 had first and second patterns, as did the No.3 which was in production until 1881; the No.2 variation was produced from 1870–1914, and additional models are described by Prescott (2014:94–104). Examination of historical documents and the inspection of identifying stamps, marks and numbers by manufacturers and local authorities on various guns, helps to clarify the specific model of Webley RIC revolver issued to the NMP.
The first purchase of Snider artillery carbines and Webley RIC revolvers for the NMP occurred in 1870. Robert Kellet — stock and station and general commission agent, wool broker and auctioneer — supplied the Qld Government with 50 Snider artillery carbines and 50 Webley RIC .442 calibre revolvers marked QáG, as well as ammunition (Robinson 1997:42–43). This denoted the beginning of a series of transactions between the Qld Government, Trulock & Harriss, and P. Webley & Son for the supply of Snider artillery carbines and Webley RIC revolvers. In October 1871 a requisition was forwarded to the Crown Agents to the Colonies in London to acquire uniform caps, pistols and carbines for the police department (QSA846904 In letter 72/2224). In May 1872 the Crown Agent, William Sargeaunt, informed the Colonial Secretary that the revolvers were in production, but also advised that they would differ from a sample revolver. Sargeaunt described the sample revolvers as having a ‘… handle [with] a projection or horn whilst the handle of those about to be shipped has none and is made in one solid instead of two pieces …’ (QSA846905 In letter 72/2272).
The description of the revolvers identifies the distinction between the Webley RIC No.1 second pattern — with a raised horn on the butt, two-piece grip and raised projections at the rear of the cylinder — and the Webley RIC No.1 first pattern and No.3 first pattern. Both of these latter models have no projection on the butt, a one-piece grip and bolt slots at the front of the cylinder (Prescott 2014:94–96). The differences in the grip and cylinders can be seen in Figures 1, 2, 4 and 5.
The distinction between the No.1 and No.3 first patterns was primarily the method for ejecting spent cases. The No.1 model had a case-ejection rod fixed under the barrel inside the hollow arbor (the rod securing the cylinder to the frame), while the No.3 lacked this feature and was considered a cheaper model, ideal for police use (Prescott, 2014:94–96). Webley RIC revolvers marked QáG held in various collections that do not have the case-ejection rod below the barrel are therefore the No.3 model.
The only known document relating to the October 1871 requisition is a consignment note from Sargeaunt listing the shipping of five cases of carbines, two cases of revolvers and two cases of cartridges aboard the Winifredin July 1872 and supplied by Messrs Blakemore of London (Figure 3) (QSA846905 In letter 72/2299). Robinson (1997:44) has calculated, based on the similar cost for the arms purchased from Kellet in 1870, that the July 1872 shipment comprised 50 Snider carbines and 50 Webley revolvers.
The Qld Police Museum has a Webley revolver stamped QáG, No.6793 and marked J.R. Blakemore, London, on the top strap (Robinson 1997:44), though was not able to be inspected for my study. However, the Qld Museum also has a Webley RIC stamped No.6787 and marked V & R. Blakemore, London, on the top strap (Figures 4 and 5) (Qld Museum H1829). The numerical sequence and a slight variation of the V to read as a J suggest that both arms are from the 1872 Blakemore shipment. The Webley revolver No.6787 is a No.3 model, without the case-ejector rod as described by Sargeaunt in a letter to the Colonial Secretary on 2 May 1872. The handle is one piece and without a projection (QSA846905 In letter 72/2272).
In 1872 Commissioner Seymour was on leave in Ireland when he received correspondence requesting he arrange another shipment of Snider carbines and ‘Trulock’ revolvers (QSA846904 In letter 72/2009). What better way to cement business relations than through face-to-face negotiations devoid of the restraints imposed through the tyranny of distance?
On 23 September 1872 Seymour replied to the Colonial Secretary informing him that 200 revolvers had been arranged with Trulock & Harris. These were the same model as supplied to the Dublin Police and were to be stamped QáG and numbered 1–200. Seymour stated that he was also continuing negotiations for the supply of 200 Snider carbines for the NMP (QSA846903 In letter 72/2009). The fiasco over the purchase of the Wesley Richards pinfire carbines [Link to The Unwanted Arm] must have been in the back of everyone’s minds as the Agent-General to Qld, Richard Daintree, left the final decision to Seymour (Robinson 1997:45).
On 24 January 1873, Daintree acknowledged receiving 29 cases of revolvers that had arrived aboard the ‘Glenisla’. Importantly, the invoice identified the serial numbers of the revolvers: 7590, 7593, 7594, 7596–7600 to 7659 and 7670–7801. Each was marked with QáG and numbered 1–200. Figure 6 below depicts examples of these revolvers.
Hayes and Skennerton (2007:14–15, 520–521) provided details and images of Webley RIC revolvers, including a selection marked QáG. A revolver referred to as A-7 is described as a Webley No.3 marked QáG, 129 and serial number 7728 (Hayes and Skennerton 2007:14). These details identify the arm as part of the 1873 consignment.
Seymour’s vision to re-arm the police was recorded in the 1873 Police Commissioner’s Annual Report:
The police have hitherto been armed with a variety of weapons of different bores which caused confusion in the ammunition issued. This is being remedied by the issue of the same class of carbine to all and breech loading revolvers of one description and bore only.
Acting Commissioner T.H.B. Barron submitted the report on behalf of Seymour as the latter was still in Ireland. The strength of the NMP at this time was reported as 145 and the total number of police 485 (QSA846918 In letter 73/2320).
When Seymour returned in 1873 he notified Daintree that Webley & Son had not marked and numbered the Snider carbines (Figure 7). Based on correspondence between the Agent-General, the Colonial Secretary and Webley & Son, however, Robinson (1997:46) argued that Seymour had only requested the revolvers be stamped and numbered, not the carbines.
The next police order in 1874 was for 300 Snider artillery carbines, 100 to be supplied with swords and to be marked QáP (not QáG), plus 2000 ball cartridges (Robinson 1997:46). No documentation confirming the shipment is known (Robinson 1997:46); however, MkIII Snider artillery carbines marked on the lockplate with ‘P. WEBLEY & SON’, ‘LONDON & BIRMM’, and ‘1874’ and stamped QáP on the lockplate behind the hammer, are accessioned in the Qld Police Museum and the Qld Museum collections (Figure 8).
In 1874 Seymour reiterated his position to issue a single pattern carbine and revolver in correspondence with Webley & Son, who had forwarded two sample revolvers of different quality for assessment (QSA846932 In letter 74/2663). Seymour was critical of their quality, stating that they were, ‘… not as strong, not as well finished and liable to get out of order’. Seymour also suggested it was better not to have two patterns in use at the same time and recommended that any future purchases should be the same pattern as that supplied in 1873 and should be inspected by Mr Harris of Trulock & Harris before being dispatched. Seymour was clearly pleased with the Snider artillery carbines issued to the NMP, stating that ‘… many of the carbines those supplied to Native Police have had some rough treatment but none have been reported as unserviceable’ (QSA846937 In letter 75/702).
The file also contained a requisition dated 26 February 1875 and an accompanying order for Webley & Son dated 1 March 1875 for 150 Trulock revolvers to be marked QáG, numbered from 201–350 (QSA846937 In letter 74/2663). Although no documents have been identified confirming this delivery, but it seems unlikely that they were not received (Robinson 1997:47). The purchase of Snider artillery carbines and Webley RIC revolvers did not stop there, with further purchases identified in 1877 and 1883. The 1883 revolvers are described as No.3 pattern, .442 calibre and marked QáG as previously supplied (Robinson 1997:47).
During the period 1870–1883 the identified orders placed with Webley & Son culminated in the supply of 1000 Snider artillery carbines and 750 Webley RIC revolvers, plus 82,000 rounds and 20,000 cases of .577 Boxer cartridges and 51,000 rounds of .442 cartridges. Clearly, the NMP were not issued with all of these weapons or ammunition. The quantities of arms and ammunition received enabled Commissioner Seymour to re-arm the NMP and guarantee a reliable supply and store of trouble-free, Webley RIC No. 3 pattern .442 calibre revolvers, Snider MkIII artillery carbines and ammunition, all of which ensured the NMP were adequately armed to ‘disperse’ Aboriginal people.
Hayes, R.D and I.D. Skennerton 2007 The Hayes Handgun Omnibus: A Catalogued Encyclopedia of Collective Pistols and Revolvers. Fortitude Valley: Ronald D. Hayes.
Prescott, G. 2014 The English Revolver: A Collectors Guide to the Gun, Their History and their Values. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing.
Robinson, J.S. 1997 Arms in the Service of Queensland. Kedron: J.S. Robinson.
Skennerton, I.D. 2003 .577 Snider-Enfield Rifles and Carbines: British Service Longarms 1866 – c.1880. Labrador: Ian D. Skennerton.
Temple, B.A. 1977 The Boxer Cartridge in the British Service Wynnum Central: B.A. Temple.