144. Whitworth Patent Percussion Volunteer Match Prize Rifle

Presented to: ‘F. Hoare, 9th Gloucester Volunteers, The First Prize, For Most Points from 400 to 900 yds., 96 Competitors. Volunteer Officers Course Hythe Decr. 1860.’
By Whitworth Rifle Company, Manchester, No. 1394, Dated 1860
Barrel size: 81.3 cm

The papers which accompany the rifle – copies of newspaper reports, letters between gun collectors and historians, biographical details, etc. – make it clear that Francis Hoare’s feat of marksmanship at Hythe that December day in 1860 remained a legendary event. He achieved it with a .577 Long Enfield rifle. It also emerges that the Whitworth patent on this presentation rifle was specifically for the twisted octagonal bore of the barrel, that was originally invented by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The latter ordered a prototype from Westley Richards in 1852 that proved extraordinarily accurate in trials at Woolwich. Robert Whitworth visited Richards’ shop in 1854 where he saw and examined Brunel’s gun. He then patented the twisted bore of the barrel. Brunel was notoriously negligent about protecting his ideas, and when told about the Whitworth patent, he retorted: ‘What is it exactly he does patent? It cannot be merely the polygon.’ But it was, and from that small beginning there grew a great armaments business. While Brunel died in straightened circumstances in 1859.

Provenance: E.J. & R. Burton Collection