Rigby: Rifle No. 15651

This rifle was sold by auction October 2010, Hammer price: AU$23,000.
Auctioneer: Australian Antique Arms Auctions
Reproduced with permission

Lot 132
JOHN RIGBY - RIGBY BANKS ACTIONED FALLING BLOCK SINGLE SHOT TARGET RIFLE: set for the back shooting position; 451 Cal; 33" heavy target blued barrel; exc bore; front sight block for windage sight with spirit level; rear tangent sight mount to heel of stock; complete sight compliment in a fitted wooden box containing front & rear sights with various apertures & adjustments; rear tangent numbered to the rifle; JOHN RIGBY & CO DUBLIN & LONDON in gothic style engraved to barrel; the same engraved to rhs of action in a flowing banner surrounded by acanthus scroll; screws & cocking lever engraved in the same style; RIGBY & BANKS PATENT NO.13 to lhs of action surrounded by acanthus scroll engraving; exc chequered walnut stock with capped pistol grip & 1" colonial extension; exc wo & cond. In orig canvas covered case, lid detached; with John Rigby trade label, badly mothed with hand written RECEIVED DECEMBER 30TH 1885 ROBERT ROBERTSON BOOKMARK OVERLAND CORNER AUSTRALIA; green felt lined; accessories include cleaning rod with chamber guide & brushes, another cleaning rod, water funnel with extension, case sizer & reamer, wad seater, capper/decapper, anvil & orig butt plate; together with Japanned box with come rust & containing approx 80 brass cases, head stamped J.RIGBY & CO; full length sizing die; a quantity of paper patched projectiles & a cloth bag labelled BEST THICK WHITE FELT WADDING FOR 10 1/2 BREECH LOADING CARTRIDGES TO BE USED OVER THE POWDER. MANUFACTURED BY KYNOCH WITTON BIRMINGHAM; glass bottle contained on the side of box; remnants of leather strap. An undeniable complete & original outfit; exc wo & cond. #15651

Joseph Whitworth: Guns and Steel (8)

Introduction | Comparative Trials | Hythe Trials | Whitworth & Enfield Trials |
Rifle Fired by the Queen | Ordnance Select Committee | Henry & Metford Rifles | Hexagonal Rifling

Hexagonal Rifling

I have stated that the form of the bore of the Whitworth rifle is polygonal, being a hexagon with rounded edges; it is therefore a combination of a straight line and a circle, and its surfaces are those most easily produced in the workshop.

There is a geometrical simplicity pertaining to the polygonal form which is unattainable by any other form.

The amount of bearing surface for giving rotation, and which also conduces to the centreing of the shot, depends upon the difference between the maximum and minimum diameters of the bore, this difference, in fact, represents the hold which the barrel has upon the projectile. In any grooved system of rifling you pass more rapidly from the maximum to the minimum diameter, and the extent of bearing surface is diminished accordingly, whereas in the hexagonal system, there is a long inclined bearing surface, the section of which is a straight line starting from the minimum diameter and running into a circle at the end of the maximum diameter.

A polygonal rifled projectile is applicable to the largest cannon as well as to small arms, and I have adopted the hexagonal form, because it gives me the best working difference between the maximum and minimum diameters.

It will be observed that the hexagonal form of the projectile is analogous to that of the hexagonal nut universally used.

It may be said that this record of my experiments, showing how the modern rifle has become what it is in range, in penetration, and in accuracy, has ceased to be of interest or importance since the new element of rapid firing has been brought to bear with such important results by the introduction of breech loading. I would state in reply that breech loading and rapid fire give increased importance and value to range, penetration, and accuracy, as the primary and essential qualities of the rifle. However necessary these qualities may have been for the muzzle-loader, they are still more requisite with an arm which must otherwise waste its ammunition. Rapid firing must rest on the very best system of rifling, as its only safe basis.

Joseph Whitworth: Guns and Steel (7)

Introduction | Comparative Trials | Hythe Trials | Whitworth & Enfield Trials |
Rifle Fired by the Queen | Ordnance Select Committee | Henry & Metford Rifles | Hexagonal Rifling

The Henry and Metford Rifles

I here confine myself to pointing out the manner in which my system has been followed in the construction of the Henry and Metford rifles. The drawing shows in section the bore of each gun, as well as the respective bullets.

The Henry rifle has a polygonal bore with seven instead of six sides.

The diameter of a circle touching each flat side of the polygon is .45 of an inch; the maximum diameter of the grooving is .457 of an inch.

The bullet is 2.93 diameters in length.

The twist of the rifling is 1 turn in 22 inches.

When the bullet moulds itself to the form of the rifling, each angular point is cut away by the seven projecting sharp edges which protrude in the barrel at the junction of the sides of the polygon.

This alteration in the rifling of my barrel was no doubt done in order to meet the requirements of a cylindrical hardened lead bullet, which cannot be much upset by the powder. It may be very well for match shooting when in good order. The difference between the maximum and minimum diameters is small, and the amount of upsetting required by the bullet is proportionately less but the use of a steel bullet is rendered impracticable, and the rifling is unsuited for the great wear and tear of a military weapon.

Regarded as a military arm, the additions to my barrel above referred to have nullified its efficiency.

I was the first to use a hardened bullet, but I made it the shape of the barrel, and obtained a mechanical fit, which enabled me to use a steel or any other hardened bullet.

The alteration of the twist from 1 turn in 20 inches to 1 turn in 22 inches, must have been made purely for the sake of alteration. I had found it requisite to go from 1 turn in 78 inches of the Enfield to 1 turn in 20 inches. If the steel bullet is to be considered a matter of importance, I should prefer I turn in 17 inches, because steel requires a higher rotation than lead on account of its less specific gravity.

The Metford rifle has a bore of a cylindrical character. It is made up of a series of cylindrical portions concentric with the axis of the bore, and alternating in size. This provides a series of grooves, five in number, and cylindrical in section, with sharp sloping edges.

The maximum diameter is .47 of an inch, the minimum diameter being .462 of an inch.

The bullet is 3.02 diameters in length.

The barrel is rifled with an increasing twist, commencing at the breech end with 1 turn in 48 inches, and terminating at the muzzle with 1 turn in 16 inches.

It will be remembered that in the Whitworth rifle the bore is hexagonal, the mean diameter is .47 of an inch, the bullet is 3 diameters in length, and the twist of the rifling is 1 turn in 20 inches.

Joseph Whitworth: Guns and Steel (6)

Introduction | Comparative Trials | Hythe Trials | Whitworth & Enfield Trials |
Rifle Fired by the Queen | Ordnance Select Committee | Henry & Metford Rifles | Hexagonal Rifling

Report By The Ordnance Select Committee

On the 26th of November, 1862, the Ordnance Select Committee published the following results of a series of trials made with the Whitworth and Enfield rifles.

The dimensions and constructions of the two rifles are stated below, the mean angle of elevation for a given range is tabulated, and also the mean radial deviation, or figure of merit. The experiments were instituted by the Secretary of State for War in the year 1861.

Diameter of bore 0.577in.
Pitch of rifling, 1 turn in 78ins.
No. of grooves 3 
Diameter across angles, 0.490in.
Diameter across flats, 0.451in.
Pitch of rifling, 1 turn in 20ins.
No. of grooves Hexagon.

Mean Radial
Mean Radial
inches inches
300 12.69 0° 44' 8" 3.86 0° 56' 49"
500 19.8 1° 45' 13" 7.29 1° 23' 37"
800 41.61 2° 46' 6" 15.67 2° 17' 6"
1,000 95.01 4° 3' 33" 23.13 3° 5' 36"
1,200 133.53 5° 9' 48" 46.92 4° 3' 6"

Joseph Whitworth: Guns and Steel (5)

Introduction | Comparative Trials | Hythe Trials | Whitworth & Enfield Trials |
Rifle Fired by the Queen | Ordnance Select Committee | Henry & Metford Rifles | Hexagonal Rifling

A Rifle Fired By The Queen

The first prize meeting of the National Rifle Association was held at Wimbledon on the 2nd July, 1860. Her Majesty, the Queen, graciously signified her intention of inaugurating it in person, and also of firing the first rifle shot.

Accordingly a Whitworth rifle was mounted on the mechanical rest, which is dependent on the use of my true planes for its geometrical exactness. The drawing shows the rest supported on a tripod stand, and weighted to ensure steadiness; the rifle is placed on a light steel slide, having true plane surfaces sliding on other true planes, which construction ensures that the recoil of the piece shall take place in one definite unchangeable line. Nothing can disturb the accuracy of the aim at the instant of firing.

A spring balance fixed on a smaller tripod, also weighted, receives the recoil by means of a projecting arm, and measures, its amount.

The target having been fixed at a distance of 400 yards, a silken cord attached to the trigger was handed to Her Majesty by me, and the rifle was discharged by a slight pull on the cord.

The adjustment was so accurate that the bullet struck the target within 1.25 inches from the centre, or point of intersection of the two cross lines, as shown by the diagram copied from a photograph:-