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ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

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ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby Mark » December 25th, 2011, 7:40 pm

The following article is intended to be a brief introduction to the Baker Rifle that was used by certain British soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. It is not comprehensive but should give the reader, who is new to the subject, a basic understanding of the weapon. However, if you feel anything should be added or corrected please do so by replying to this thread with the information below.

The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

The Infantry Rifle used by the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars is perhaps better known as the Baker Rifle after its inventor Ezekiel Baker. It was the first standard rifle to enter service with the British Army being introduced in 1801 and was not phased out until about 1837 - although it continued in service beyond this date.

The idea of a rifle was not new and the British Army (and other armies) had experimented with them previously. However, they often proved to be hard and expensive to manufacture not to mention fragile in the field. As a result a rifle was never seriously considered as a suitable replacement for the musket at the time. Despite this a small number of Prussian made rifles had been used during the French Revolutionary Wars and their effectiveness, particularly in their far great accuracy compared to the musket, was noted. This improvement was due to the twisted rifling in the barrel which made the ball spin in flight improving its accuracy far in excess of the smooth bored muskets. This allowed for the development of new infantry tactics which were to later prove invaluable during the Peninsular War and the Hundred Days campaign. However, the disadvantages of the rifle was its slower rate of reloading, since the ball had to be forced down the rifled barrel, and the fact that it needed cleaning when the grooves within the barrel became clogged with the burnt gunpowder residue.

Ezekiel Baker was a gunsmith based in the Whitechapel area of London. He initially took the design of the Prussian Jager Rifle as an example of what the British Army wanted and experimented with several designs of his own until he came up with his final version which became known as the Baker Rifle. The barrel had a diameter of .653 which allowed for the firing of a .625 calibre ball that would be wrapped in a greased patch to help the ball grip the grooves in the rifling when fired. This was a smaller calibre than the .75 used by the Brown Bess.

The stock of the rifle was made of walnut while the barrel was of steel. The fittings were of the customary brass commonly used on firearms of the period. Several distinctive features of the Baker Rifle in its appearance were the scrolled trigger guard and brass patch box built into the butt of the stock. This all gave the Baker Rifle a distinctive and more attractive appearance compared with the muskets of the time. There were to be several minor variations of the Baker Rifle during its service in the Napoleonic Wars including a shorter version for use by cavalry, a change to the ‘Newland’ lock and even a pistol grip styled trigger guard. A fourth pattern followed in 1810 when the India Pattern Brown Bess adopted a flatter lock with the ring-neck cock which the Baker Rifle copied. Although a private gun maker Baker’s rifle was to be made with the Tower of London stamp under the same system that produced the Brown Bess with its parts being made by a number of other firms under sub-contracts.

Probably the most enduring image of the Baker Rifle is its use by the three battalions of the 95th Rifles who came to fame during the Peninsular War. The 95th also fought in the War of 1812 and at Waterloo during the Hundred Days campaign and were distinguished from the other regiments of British infantry by their dark green jackets. The fame of the 95th has continued today in the Sharpe novels written by Bernard Cornwell and the subsequent TV drama series of the same name bringing the Baker Rifle to the attention of a modern audience many years after it was discontinued from service. However, the Baker Rifle was also used by the 5th Battalion of the 60th Regiment of Foot (and its rifles companies of the 6th and 7th Battalions) and the cavalry carbine version of it was found in the hands of the 10th Hussars. It was also used on a limited scale by some Militia units in the UK but these were obtained by private purchase usually at the expense of the Colonel of the Regiment.

The procedure for loading the Baker Rifle was similar to that of the Brown Bess musket in that it used a flintlock mechanism and so needed to have powder poured into the pan before the main charge and ball were rammed down the barrel. The main difference was that the ball was wrapped in a greased patch to help it grip to the rifling when discharged to ensure the spin. Another difference compared to its Brown Bess counterpart was its bayonet. The Baker Rifle Bayonet was designed like a short sword and indeed could be used as such as well as in the more conventional bayonet role. The blade of the bayonet was flat rather than triangular and was some 24 inches in length with a brass hilt.

Overall the Baker Rifle was 45.75 inches long with a barrel of 30.375 inches and was effective up to 200 yards. It weighed some 9 pounds and around 22,000 are believed to have been made.

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95th RIFLES | Performing Drill with the Baker Rifle

Postby Mark » December 25th, 2011, 9:15 pm

The 95th (Rifle) Regiment of Foot performing drill and firing demonstrations at the Woolwich Firepower Museum, London.

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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby LesW » December 25th, 2011, 9:32 pm

Mark (sorry, I already posted this wrongly on the 'Brown Bess posting :oops: any way of deleting that?)

Thanks for the info.on the Baker rifle. I wonder if you can give me some more info. on its early history with the 95th. Was it standard issue with the regiment in 1806-07? And what markings would help me identify a genuine 95th Baker of that period? I'm not a weapons expert or collector, but am interested in confirming whether a 'Baker' held by the Military Museum here in Montevideo is a genuine period piece. Two companies of the 95th (serving with them was the later famous Harry Smith, at that time a lieutenant on his first campaign)during the siege, capture and occupation of Montevideo - January-September 1807.

The whole of the 95th contingent left here with the invasion force which attacked Buenos Aires in July. During that action the 95th formed part of the Light Division under Gen. 'Black Bob' Crauford, which was badly mauled and forced to surrender. It's possible that the 'Baker' we have here might have been a weapon captured from the British in Buenos Aires.

Any help or comment greatly received.

Les Waring
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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby Mark » December 25th, 2011, 9:52 pm

Hi Les

Some good questions there and I am afraid I am not sure I can answer them as such. However, the Baker Rifle went into service with the British Army in 1801 following the establishment of the Experimental Rifle Corps in 1800. As such I think it likely the 95th had their Baker Rifles early on although I cannot give you an exact date.

As to whether the Baker Rifle in the museum in Montevideo is original I again do not know. Many regiments did mark their muskets with some sort of regimental markings but as to whether the 95th did again I do not know. Regimental marking of weapons was a bit hit and miss - some did while some didn't. However, I would imagine very few Baker Rifles used by the 95th survive today as many would have been worn out either on campaign in the Peninsular War/Hundred Days or during subsequent service after the defeat of Napoleon. The examples one encounters today (which are few) are often rifles likely not to have been used on campaign or were in the hands of the Militia (private purchase) who served in the UK only. That said there will be some no doubt out there with a rich active history.

You might want to try contacting the following organisations who may be able to offer more of an indepth explanation of the 95th and their Baker Rifles than I can:

Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum - http://www.rgjmuseum.co.uk/

95th Rifles - http://www.95thrifles.com/

1st 95th Rifles - http://www.1st95thrifles.com/

Hope that is of some help and apologies that I cannot throw more light on the subject for you.

Mark
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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby A.Roads » December 26th, 2011, 10:14 pm

Hi Les, yes the 95th were armed with the Baker rifle in 1806/07 - in fact throughout the entire & fairly short history of the 95th (Rifle) Regt of Foot the only standard issue longarm was the Baker rifle. In 1816 they became the Rifle Brigade & eventually their Baker rifles were replaced with percussion Brunswick rifles.

95th marked rifles are extremely rare, marked bayonets are now less so & as far as I am aware no known/confirmed 95th ORs uniforms or accoutrements exist, (except 14 buttons at last count). There is one rifle that was researched & written up some time ago that is marked on the butt plate tang 95 Rt 2 Bn (95th Regt 2nd Battalion) with rack number P 77. Also quite a few 95 Regt (& other rifle armed regts) marked sword bayonets were recently recovered from Nepal by IMA (International Military Antiques) which give some indication as to the markings methods adopted. However many probable 95th items appear to be simply a letter over a number - this is never conclusive as this same system was used by many military & quasi military units. Other than the one example of a rifle mentioned previously I know of no other such surviving examples, though De Witt Bailey (#1 researcher/author of Britsh arms) has told me he has seen others but I have not managed to locate any - there must be some out there.

Les I would be most interested in seeing a good set of images of the rifle you mention in the Monte Video museum with the intent of identifying if it could be a 95th Regt provenance issue rifle.
Regards, Adrian Roads
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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby LesW » December 28th, 2011, 12:57 pm

Hi Adrian

Thanks for the reply and the information. I didn't have a digital camera the last time I saw the 'Baker', so didn't get any photos,and I never got a chance to hold it, but will try to do so and get photos if/when I can get access to it.

Some questions to help my assessment when I do. Would there be any other ways, apart from markings, which would help tell an original Baker from a later reproduction (e.g.weight)? If my surmise that it could have been captured in 1807 were true, it might not have the wear and tear that would be expected of weapons with a longer period of 'active service.' Were the cartridges it used easily available outside a British context, or could other forms of ammunition be used?

I might take some time in getting back to you as we've started our summer break here and my contacts at the museum and elsewhere are likely to be away on holiday. Things get back to normal after Easter (early April in 2012) so don't hold your breath.

Best Wishes

Les W.
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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby A.Roads » December 28th, 2011, 5:20 pm

Hi Les,
Things to photograph (that varied over time) are the lock, patchbox, fore sight, back sight, underside of the stock from lock to muzzle, the butt plate tang, ramrod end, the last 6 inches of the muzzle on the same side as the lock (sword bar or lack thereof), the markings on the barrel breech & any markings at all on the barrel, stock, ramrod or in the ramrod channel. Also please measure barrel length & confirm 7 rifling grooves.
British ammunition fell mainly into 3 sizes, pistol bore, carbine bore & musket bore - the Infantry rifle was carbine bore. It was issued variously two different calibre balls, .60 & .61.

These pictures should tell us anything that can be discovered I think. Of interest & as an example, when I visited the Wellington Museum at Waterloo a few years ago the Baker Rifle they had on display was an original, except it was A.R. marked on the butt tang (ascribed to Ayrshire Rifles) & had therefore no connection with regular army riflemen/Waterloo. It was on loan from the Royal Armouries.

Its difficult to summarise how to tell an original from a repro because the repros vary quite considerably & no one or two things can rule out them all.

Regards
Adrian
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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby terry1956 » October 7th, 2013, 1:33 pm

Hi, a few items do remain today from the 95th rifles.these can be seen at the green jackets museum in winchester.as to if weapons of the 95th held the regt number, well the answer is no.following on from the rise in interest of the 95th due to the tv program and the number of reenactment groups a few bayonets have turned up at auction with regt markings. These is no reason to think that the 95th or the 60th ever marked their weapons, in fact very few regiments did durring the napoleonic wars. A few regiments of horse marked their swords with the regimental number but apart from that it was not a wide spread custom. Open based volunteer units weapons are more likely to be marked, as in many cases these had to be paid for the man himself. The baker was in service until 1828 when it was replaced with the brunswick rifle.in my collection I have a first pattern baker which has the fitting for the sword bayonet removed and as been reworked to take the socket bayonet.this weapon was one of a hundred or so converted in 1824 as a test.michael
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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby A.Roads » October 14th, 2013, 6:39 am

Also quite a few 95 Regt (& other rifle armed regts) marked sword bayonets were recently recovered from Nepal by IMA (International Military Antiques) which give some indication as to the markings methods adopted.
Have just re-read this much earlier post of mine & I have to say that I now firmly believe that these IMA recovered Baker rifle sword bayonets have been spuriously marked in quite recent times.

Hi, a few items do remain today from the 95th rifles.these can be seen at the green jackets museum in winchester.as to if weapons of the 95th
Hi michael, can you please list the OR's uniforms or accoutrements that exist in the RGJ museum, I've spent some hours there on two occasions & have seen none. But displays are always changing & perhaps something is there now after all?

These is no reason to think that the 95th or the 60th ever marked their weapons, in fact very few regiments did durring the napoleonic wars.
I have seen both 95th & 60th regt items that are marked. What is your source stating items were not generally being regimentally marked?
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Re: ARTICLE | The Infantry (Baker) Rifle

Postby Waggoner » October 14th, 2013, 11:40 am

I should mention that the Baker rifle was also in use by the New Brunswick militia starting in the 1830s/1840s. Rifle companies were added to some of the militia battalions and, based on the museum collections, they were armed with Baker rifles, both government issue one and private contractor manufactured ones.

All the best,

Gary
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