A treatise on the British military Martini, 1869-C1900 Essay

* Ever since Jim Alley of IDSA Books told me of a new publicationdetailing the history of the British Martini rifle I have been eagerlyawaiting its debut. Written by Australians B. A. Temple (The Boxer Cartridge) and IanSkennerton (The British Service Lee, and others) the book is a blessingto all fanciers of that symbol of the Empire, the Martini-Henry tiltingblock rifle. Originally conceived as the first volume of a Martini trilogy (theother two books will deal with Martini-Enfield and Martini accessories),this large-format, 246-page tome covers the development of theMartini-Henry military rifle and variants, from its early trials in 1869to the gun’s demise around 1900.

Above I call the book a blessing, and that it is, albeit a mixedone. Because of the subject matter and format, Treatise invitescomparison with Skennerton’s earlier work on the Lee, and whilegenerally very complete and detailed, in a couple of minor areas theMartini book does come off second best. First the strengths. The Treatise is unquestionably the besttreatment of the subject to date. In fact, there had been aconsiderable dearth of material on the Martini, and those of us whofancy that arm have had to piece together information from a number ofantique and modern sources to get anything approaching a geneology thepiece.

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It is difficult to imagine a more painstaking piece of work thanTreatise. There is an abundance of period reports, letters, field trialcomments, and tables, all drawn together by a concise, intuitivenarrative which services not only to coalesce the early material, but tointerpret it as well. If you have any questions concerning military Martini-Henrys, theanswer is surely there. A meticulous table of contents, and even moredetailed index, makes finding a major design change or minormodification very simple. The book takes the Martini from its hazy American/Swiss antecedentsthrough to the point where the guns were declared substitute standard,and .303 versions adopted.

Treatise has a glossary, of sorts, but some of the entries (i.e.,”Beeswax–secretation of bees used to construct their cells”),are a bit fatuous. Why not tell us that beeswax was used for bulletlube and cartridge spacing discs? The main area where the book is lacking, however, is in its limitedpictorial material. Unfortunately for a subject like this to becompletely successful it needs considerable graphic backup, as in TheBritish Service Lee. The photos in Treatise are sparse and often badlyoutlined, murky, or just plain out of focus. Also, I would have liked to see more material on markings; British,colonial, and foreign, as well as a section on ammunition. Perhaps thesewill be forthcoming in one of the two later volumes.

I don’t want to give the reader the impression that this isnot a good book–far from it. It has already found a valued position inmy arms library, and I have reserved space for the companion pieces aswell. To reiterate, this is the best book on Martini-Henrys that I haveseen and one which, I am sure, will remain the standard work for sometime to come. A Treatise on the Martini-Henry, 1869-c1900 is availablefrom most book sellers specializing in outdoors material or from theimporter, IDSA Books, Dept.

GA, Box 185, Hamilton, OH 45012 for $32.50plus $1.50 shipping.

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