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

* Ever since Jim Alley of IDSA Books told me of a new publication
detailing the history of the British Martini rifle I have been eagerly
awaiting its debut.

Written by Australians B. A. Temple (The Boxer Cartridge) and Ian
Skennerton (The British Service Lee, and others) the book is a blessing
to all fanciers of that symbol of the Empire, the Martini-Henry tilting
block rifle.

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Originally conceived as the first volume of a Martini trilogy (the
other two books will deal with Martini-Enfield and Martini accessories),
this large-format, 246-page tome covers the development of the
Martini-Henry military rifle and variants, from its early trials in 1869
to the gun’s demise around 1900.

Above I call the book a blessing, and that it is, albeit a mixed
one. Because of the subject matter and format, Treatise invites
comparison with Skennerton’s earlier work on the Lee, and while
generally very complete and detailed, in a couple of minor areas the
Martini book does come off second best.

First the strengths. The Treatise is unquestionably the best
treatment of the subject to date. In fact, there had been a
considerable dearth of material on the Martini, and those of us who
fancy that arm have had to piece together information from a number of
antique and modern sources to get anything approaching a geneology the

It is difficult to imagine a more painstaking piece of work than
Treatise. There is an abundance of period reports, letters, field trial
comments, and tables, all drawn together by a concise, intuitive
narrative which services not only to coalesce the early material, but to
interpret it as well.

If you have any questions concerning military Martini-Henrys, the
answer is surely there. A meticulous table of contents, and even more
detailed index, makes finding a major design change or minor
modification very simple.

The book takes the Martini from its hazy American/Swiss antecedents
through 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 bullet
lube and cartridge spacing discs?

The main area where the book is lacking, however, is in its limited
pictorial material. Unfortunately for a subject like this to be
completely successful it needs considerable graphic backup, as in The
British Service Lee. The photos in Treatise are sparse and often badly
outlined, 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 these
will be forthcoming in one of the two later volumes.

I don’t want to give the reader the impression that this is
not a good book–far from it. It has already found a valued position in
my arms library, and I have reserved space for the companion pieces as
well. To reiterate, this is the best book on Martini-Henrys that I have
seen and one which, I am sure, will remain the standard work for some
time to come. A Treatise on the Martini-Henry, 1869-c1900 is available
from most book sellers specializing in outdoors material or from the
importer, IDSA Books, Dept. GA, Box 185, Hamilton, OH 45012 for $32.50
plus $1.50 shipping.


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