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DateOriginal Topic
23rd May 2003Martini Henry Jamming.
By neil aspinshaw
You hear alot about the jamming of Martini Henrys, particulally in hot breeches and dusty environments.
I read recently the memoirs of a soldier who retired in 1911, he had been a gunnery instructor seconded to the Egyptian regiments in the 1890's. In it he mentioned the use of both foil and rolled brass cartridges.
Alot has been made of the lull in firepower and the time taken to clear fouled breeches. The writer had commented that all men equiped themself with something resembling of a common corkscrew, to clear rapidly jammed cartridges. he noted this could be carried out with a simple flick of the wrist.
Soldiers were possibly no different in 1879, their weapon was thier dearest possesion and would know his rifles own little "vices".
Do any of the contributors who still shoot M-H's suffer jamming, and exactly how easy is it to remove a round from the breech.
I have a M-H myself, but at £700 it will remain securely on the wall, not going bang!.

23rd May 2003Joseph
My MH Mk I was just a bit more than that I'm afraid, but I shoot it frequently. If kept in good working order these rifles are magnificently strong and have survived the years well. I had an extraction problem that I just got sorted out... whilst having the problem I would knock the spent casing from the breech with the cleaning rod and this only took an instant. Course thats an instant too long if the Zulus were charging!
24th May 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
I am lucky enough to own a number of Martini Henrys and shoot them all when ever funds and time permit. I have never ever had one jam on me. However I must add that I have only shot them on rifle ranges and never under duress. I have never fired more then a dozen rounds rapid or two dozen without cleaning. I use modern black powder and I am told that strange as it may sound it is not up to the same quality as would have been used when Martinis were issued.
For the modern shooter the Martini Henry cost a lot to fire. Had I the money I would like to see how many rounds I could fire before I started to experience any problem. I donít think firing just a dozen rounds rapid in ideal shooting conditions is a fair test of any military firearm.
I will vouch for the Martini Henry getting hot quickly. Three rounds rapid and you will not want to touch the barrel. Like Victoriaís soldiers I have learnt the value of a leather hand guard.
27th May 2003Bill Power
The jamming of cases in the breech was not the rifle's flawed design,rather that of the ammo! Not even the fact it was rolled foil,as per the original design of Col. Boxer,intended for the Snider Enfield[a straight wall case]with only a single claw[the MH had two]extracter with no mechanical leverage,a srraight pull,like the Ross of WWI,much "Praised"by are Boys,as they put the Boots to it!! No,the problem was Eley's "innovation" the Short Chamber Boxer Henry,that crimped the .577 foil case to fit the{nominal].450 bullet! This produced a folding over of excess material in the neck,an irregular surface that did not give a gas tight seal,unlike the body of the case that would"Fireform"! Thus,the products of the BlackPowder burn,would blow back into the interstices of the imperfect neck seal. A veritable witch's brew of NoGood[ Potassium Chlorides.Sulphides/Sulphates,incomplete Carbon oxidation,et al.! This residue would,subsequently,cook[burning 85 grs. of FFG/round]into hard fouling,the beeswax lube wad to keep it soft,being useless here! This reached a crisis during the Sudan,finally, drawn brass cases were issued mid'85,that solved the sealing issue! The last production of Mk III's used strenghtened extractors[SX on the Knoxform]&MkIV's with the longlever for the "armstrong"! All this would do Sweet Fanny Adams with the rounds used @RD,would rip the soldered on iron head from the brass coiled body!! PS;Neil,which Mk?! Regards! Bill
27th May 2003neil aspinshaw
Thanks chaps.
Bill certainly knows his extraction!.
My M-H is A 1887 mkIV, short lever. I think the extra dosh I would need for A mk2 would finally push the missus over the edge!.
Its bad enough being an authority in victorian bottles and artefacts, now to blow half of my wages on anything more spectacular would render me..well.. khakhad!!!. mind you when people are paying £700 for a 1920's pop bottle... anything goes!. If I see one I'll probably buy it and worry about the wife later.


27th May 2003Adrian Whiting

As Bill has said, the jamming was more an issue with the ammunition than the rifle design. I have shot quite a few rounds over the years and never suffered a jam because the cases usually in use today are drawn or turned rather than rolled, i.e. the entire case is formed from one piece of brass. The rolled cases had a brass cartridge body riveted to an iron cartridge head. The primer sat in the hollow centre of the rivet hole.

When the breech was hot the brass cartridge expanded rapidly before firing. The act of firing expanded the case even further but it did not then contract far eneough to allow easy removal. Brass is used for cartridge case manufacture because of its ability to expand and contract relatively quickly.

When the extractor was operated via the lever the iron head could be torn from the brass body. The cleaning rod was of little use here since there was no cartridge head for it to push against. Soldiers often used their issue clasp knife and forced the point between the cartridge and the breech to buckle the cartridge inwards so it could then be removed.

I hope I have explained this reasonably ! A corkscrew point would serve well too, so I imagine any locally available item that did the job would be pressed into service.
28th May 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
Neil. I take it that your Martini Henry is a MKI and not a MKIV? Typo error? The MKIV was the only Martini Henry issued with a long lever and to my limited knowledge none had a short lever. Value wise they are at opposite ends of the scale with the MKI being by far the most sought after. I still canít get over the value of your Martini in the U.K. I recently bought a complete shoot able MKIII if fair condition for NZ$450 (3 NZ$ to the pound) and a couple of years ago a near mint MKIII for NZ$800. MKIs donít come up often here but the last I saw went for NZ$1200 at auction. Just over half of what yours is worth in the U.K.

28th May 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
Adrian. You mention the issue clasp knife. I have been trying to get a picture of clasp knife as issued to the military of this period. Are you able to help?

28th May 2003neil aspinshaw
Thanks for your info, my MH is a MK4, short lever, I have had some feedback from Jason Atkin on this. jasons superb site (click on the link on the rd homepage), does list this model. Jason has researched the evolotion of the marks' on his site, A short lever was available albeit for a very limited time, They are known as MK1's, MK2's have long levers (variants).
Jason e-mailed me, dealers in Canada do not export back to the U.K because of the rediculous red tape!.
You are right about prices, MH's in the former colonial parts of the world do fetch consistently lower prices. I do not shoot mine however to get around the U.k's stringent gun laws, shooters can fire obsolete calibres. Collectors may own also these works of art without a licence, providing they do not shoot them.
I think the words supply and demand is the key. Anything like a MK2 or 3 fly out faster than a M-H slug over the oscarberg!.MK 1 & 2's are rarer than hens teeth over here, I bought mine as a example, with a mind to aqquiring an erlier model later. But all the time the values are sky rocketing. check out some of the prices on the web!!
cheers and happy shooting
28th May 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
Well you live and you learn. That is why I come here. A short lever MKIV is a new one on me. I'll contact Jason for details. Thanks for the gen Neil.

29th May 2003Bill Power
Neil's "Short Lever" started out as a 1st Pattern Enfield Martini chambered in the new .402 calibre,that was scheduled to replace the .450 round! At this time,the Lee Metford,.using .303,was in the works, The logistic of ammo supply,would drive the QM "round the twist!! So the Enfield Martini's barrel & chamber were rebored for the .577/.450 of the MH! Hope this clarifies!! Ps;How fares thy Butt?!! Regards! Bill
29th May 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
Hi Bill. I am aware that the MKIVs started life in .402 (I have one) but I thought that the MKI Enfield Martini and when rebored to MKIV Martini Henry all had LONG levers. I donít doubt Neil for a second but it is variant that has escaped me until now.
Re my butt. My MKIII M.H. restoration project is almost complete. A nice chap from Florida sent me the rear sight I needed. She will be 100% original if I can only get an original cocking indicator locking screw. The joys of collecting.
30th May 2003Bill Power
Barry,it was the' MkII' EM that had the long lever,to "improve"extraction in light of the Sudan experience! This was the basis for the MkIV 'A' pattern,parts bin engineering! Ps;If you find a cache of locking screws,put me down for a dozen[the hunt for budgies teeth continues]!! Best Regards! Bill
30th May 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
I did a bit of digging only to confirm that Neil, Jason and Bill are right. Turns out that Neilís Martini is as rare as rocking horse poo. I am now a wiser man and thank you all.
Exit stage left, mumbling that I must buy more reference books and less rifles.
30th May 2003neil aspinshaw
Thanks Barry for your e-mail, and Bill for your tremendous info .
For Sale M-H mark 4 rare variant, will swop for 1874 mark 11. .. only joking lads.
1st June 2003Bill Power
An'1874'MkII?! Well,that should spark the Lads up!! If you have a Unicorn to trade,let's make a deal!! Only kidding!! Regards! Bill
1st June 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
Hate to be a fly in the ointment but one thing about Neilís Martini is still nagging me and I lack the reference work to get the answer.
My MKIV has the same date and basic markings as Neilís. Were I to put a MKII lever and butt on it they would be the same? I am assured that the two are interchangeable. The question is. If Neil were to put a MKIV butt and lever on his rifle would it become a standard MKIV?
Could it be that a budget conscious armourer in a far flung corner of the Empire repaired a MKIV with some earlier parts in store? Or some unscrupulous dealer decided to build a ďrareĒ transitional Martini? Just how would one tell the difference between those and the real thing?
Iím not sure that this is the right forum to discuss this matter. Would you object Neil if I were to raise the question of your rifle on a Martini forum?
2nd June 2003neil aspinshaw
No problem, fill yer boots!. I would like to know myself. your idea about the armourer would be close, but then if that was carried out during its serviceable life does that make it any more or less "original".
The other thing that springs to mind is, if Enfield were starting to feel the pinch, their .402 was a bit of a non starter, and it was likely that the .303 was going to rule the roost. Would they use up all available spares rather than order new?.
oh the joys of collecting.
3rd June 2003Barry Iacoppi NZ
Thanks Neil

I think that the armourers of the time especially those in the colonies far from Enfield used what ever serviceable parts they had on hand. My MKIV has a MKI-III butt with the old lever catch hole plugged and a new one made for the long lever. My latest MKIII had a MKI cleaning rod and a MKI butt swivel both more sought after then MKIII rods and trigger swivels. My point being that a ďdealerĒ would be unlikely to use rare parts to complete a less rare Martini for sale but an armourer would use them. It also had a Martini Enfield (narrow) front sling swivel.
I had a Martini Enfield that had a butt made from two butts. Expertly done. Waste not want not.

In your case I am not sure what a MKI-III lever and butt on a MKIV would do to its value. If we can prove by some markings or other part details that they are an official design step then it should increase its value to above that of a MKIII or a MKIV. If we canít prove it then I would say that in that configuration its value would be less then any other M.H. Do not loose heart. Let me pose the question to the real experts (that does not include me) first.