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Levallois
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Reged: 27/11/03
Posts: 126
Loc: Arizona, USA
Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post)
      #278241 - 21/02/16 03:32 AM








The title above was how Rigby described my carbine in their ledger – Action no. 11583 and serial no. 1388. This commercial “Lee Speed Patents” and “B.S.A. & Co” marked carbine was sold by Rigby in this configuration. It’s not a NRAA cut-down Long Lee target or range-pattern, not a territorial or a constabulary, and it hasn't been bubba-chopped. Rigby was apparently selling these for front line service. Along with Lee Speed and BSA markings it has “John Rigby & Co., 72 St. James St, London” engraved on the top of the barrel, “For Cordite Only,” “Nitro Proved,” and commercial proof marks on the barrel and receiver. According to the ledger, the carbine was sold with the 24-inch barrel, weighing 8 lbs. 14 oz., and was “sighted 1950 yards with bayonet.” There are no military markings. Although finished to a higher level than a standard military weapon, this carbine is by far the most utilitarian Rigby firearm that I’ve ever seen. Is this something that BSA made and Rigby put their name on it? It is somewhat different from other military carbines available at the time like the Lee Enfield Magazine Carbine, Military Patterns Nos. 1-3 that BSA & Co sold. It also doesn't match the RIC or New Zealand patterned carbines that one sees on occasion. While the 24-inch barrel is handier than the 30-inch rifle barrel, it’s still longer than most of the other carbines mentioned. Volley sights, a round bolt handle, and a 10-round magazine are uncommon characteristics, as well. Does the fact that this was specifically called “Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine” rather than just Lee Enfield Carbine suggests that this is a Rigby proprietary firearm? As you will read below, in 1900 Rigby also sold as described Lee Enfield and Lee Metford carbines right along with this model. Unfortunately, no Rigby catalog that I can find includes this model or any Lee Metford or Enfield. Any comments or opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Whether BSA made or Rigby made, I believe this to be a rare example. Why? Well, for one, because in 25 years of collecting I've never seen another one like it (Yes, I spend an unhealthy amount of time looking at guns and gun auctions on the web and I go to at least 10 gun shows a year).

Another reason I think this is a rare bird is because Rigby was not known for building Lee Enfield based rifles. This is interesting because earlier in his career John Rigby was superintendent of the Royal Small Arms factory where the development of the Lee Enfield rifle took place! He obviously thought the Mauser action was the way to go as Rigby was the exclusive distributor in the UK for Mauser (except for the Broomhandle pistol) by 1898 but had been building their own rifles on these actions since at least 1895. There was a discussion on the Lee Speed/Nitro Express forum 12 years ago about just how many Rigby LE .303s were sold. Paul Roberts, former owner of Rigby, was quoted as saying that it was not many. The guy ran the company and had looked at the ledgers so he would know. The only Rigby Enfield-based rifle that I’ve seen over the last 15 years was a Lee-Speed sporting rifle with nicely figured and checkered wood, engraving, barrel rib, express sights, and in a case. One. Yet, I would imagine that the majority of the Lee-Speed Enfield/Metford based rifles sold by Rigby would have been made/regulated during the Boer War. Rigby would have had to make some concessions if they wanted to sell rifles to their upper crust military customers from 1899-1902? Rule .303 rifles were de rigueur for the British and their allies.

So how many of these were made? Without examining all the pages in the old ledger (something on my bucket list), anything would be a WAG. It’s not close to a representative sample but there are four carbines described exactly like my carbine listed on the ledger page that Rigby sent me and all four bought by officers going to the Boer War. There are also two “Lee Metford carbines”, a “Lee Enfield carbine” and a “Spt. Lee Enfield Rifle.” The latter purchased by the only non-military man in the bunch – a doctor. None of these are listed as Lee Speed Patents guns even though at least one was (mine). There are also three Mauser sporting rifles going to Manton & Co., five Webley WG Army Models, a “Service Revolver” and a Webley Mk III. Again, I don’t know what we can really make of these records. The best that can be said is that there were at least four of these Rigby Officer’s models sold. Has anyone else ever seen one like this ?

The seller described this carbine as being purchased by H.F. Low on January 10, 1900 based on a phone conversation he had. Turns out that call was with JC5 who I unknowingly contacted regarding adding my carbine to his Lee Speed database for an upcoming book. He said he knew my Rigby! Jeff was kind enough to confirm that the original ledger had this name, description and date – thanks Jeff!! Since communicating with Jeff, I contacted John Rigby & Co. to arrange to get an “official” copy of the ledger entry that contains my carbine – they were, as always, terrific to deal with.

As a side note, it’s interesting to look at the page of the ledger from a historical perspective because it underlines how exclusive gunmakers like John Rigby & Co. were (and still are). There are three entries for the Churchill family. There were only three Churchill males old enough to be in uniform at this time and Winston was still in South Africa in January 1900 so we can eliminate him as a buyer. The two purchases for “ J. S Churchill” are most assuredly by Winston’s 19 year old little brother “Jack” or John Strange Spencer Churchill. Jack has become my new hero after reading about him in a book titled “The Churchills: A Family Portrait” by Lee and Lee – a fascinating guy and unbelievably loyal son and brother. The third entry is just “Spencer-Churchill” and has to be for “Sunny” or Charles Richard Spencer Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, Winston’s and Jack’s first cousin. In addition to the Duke, the ledger page also includes three future Knights of England, two future Barons, a Baronet, two future members of parliament, a former A.D.C. to a Lord., a Justice of the Peace and a Deputy Lieutenant (which I guess is a big deal in the UK?). The impending military careers of the Rigby clientele on the ledger are impressive to note as well with one future Brigadier General, seven future Lt. Colonels, and six future Majors. There are no fewer than six future DSO recipients in the group. In late 1899-early 1900, these persons were the epitome of British gentleman-soldiers of the day and H. F. Low was one of them. Through my research I’ve located only one officer in the British and Colonial armies for this time period with those first and middle initials and last name.

Henry Frederic Low was born in 1875. His father, Francis Wise Low, was part of the Landed Gentry class in Ireland. The guy had the money to shop at John Rigby & Co. H. F. attended Eton College in 1892, attended Cambridge in 1894, and became a second lieutenant in the 1st Durham Militia Fusiliers in January 1895, a lieutenant in the Militia in February 1896, and then a Captain in May 1898. He was still a Captain when the Militia became the 3rd Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) in late 1899 and then went to war. He shipped out on January 11, 1900 from Southampton on the troop ship R.M.S. Umbria. The timeline fits. Captain Low could have very easily bought the Rigby in London on January 10th and shipped out to fight the Boers the next day.

I’ve found two photos of him fishing, of all things, during the voyage on the ship with fellow officers. Captain Low arrived in South Africa on January 29th. From photos available at the Durham County Record Office, it seems the 3rd Battalion was initially camped on the coast near E. London and then camped near Yellowwood (Forest?) further inland in February to March 1900. After that they were in the area of Springfontein from April to August 1900. Springfontein was a British concentration camp district so the 3rd Battalion may have been on guard in the area. There is a photo of Captain Low mounted in full gear near Mt Pelion that unfortunately does not show the carbine. His abbreviated official record in “War Services of Officers of the Army, Etc., 1916” confirms the above showing him participating in operations in the Orange Free State in Apr. and May 1900; in operations in Orange River Colony (the new name for the Orange Free State after being annexed by Great Britain) in May to Nov. 1900; in operations in Cape Colony, southwest of the Orange River Colony in 1900; and in other operations in Orange River Colony, Nov. 1900 to May 1901. So he pretty much was stationed in the same general area during his entire time in South Africa. I have only gone through a small percentage of the photos catalogued at the Record Office but none appear to show the 3rd Bn. in a battle or engaging the enemy so I’m not sure how much action he and his Rigby saw during his time there – I’m still working on the details. Of course, they did find time to play polo and golf. Captain Low arrived back in England on the Troopship Ulstermore in June of 1901. He received the Queen's medal with 3 clasps. Did he sell the Rigby upon his return or keep it for posterity? I haven't found any information yet. The carbine shows use but the fact that it has not been significantly modified for 116 years suggests long term ownership and/or storage by someone.

After he returned from South Africa, he retired from the DLI and seemed to have initially lived the life of a gentleman politician, being present in the House of Commons in Parliament in 1905 and 1906. He married and had a child then tragically lost his first wife in 1908. The 1911 England census shows him at Frogmore Hall, Hertford – he apparently leased this incredible house (mansion, manor) and it shows he had married again (in 1910) and had his son from the 1st marriage with him. His occupation was “Private Means” and the census lists 32 rooms and nine servants in the house. Nine!! I'd be happy with one……part time. Three more children would follow with his second wife in the coming years. He purchased the Lavant House (another large estate that is now a girl’s school) near Chichester, Sussex sometime after 1911 but before 1914. He was reinstated as a Captain in the DLI at the start of WW1 but he was now with the 4th Battalion (formerly the 3rd Battalion), Special Reserve, Labour Corps, and remained so through the end of the war. The 4th Battalion was a training unit for the DLI and there is no evidence that he saw any combat in WWI. I haven’t found out anything about his activities after the War yet. He died in 1921 at the young age of 46 as a retired Major. His probate announcement shows his belongings were valued at 26,412 pounds Sterling – quite a tidy sum in 1921 when the average annual salary in the UK was around 150 pounds. Unfortunately, there was no probate inventory to determine if the Rigby was still in his possession at the time of his death. All four of his children have passed away but I am trying to locate any grandchildren to see if they remember the Rigby. His youngest son, John, (only 4 when his dad died) was killed in Normandy in 1944 as a Major in the DLI.

In sum, all of the evidence I’ve found thus far points to this rare Rigby LE carbine being used by a known British officer during the Boer War. If that ain’t cool then I don’t know what is! Thanks for taking the time to read this overly long post. Hopefully more to come.

John

--------------------
It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.

Edited by NitroX (20/06/16 10:14 PM)


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Roy
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Reged: 06/09/15
Posts: 219
Loc: New Mexico
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278243 - 21/02/16 04:19 AM

Hi John,

A wonderful write-up and terrific rifle. These history on these pieces really elevate the interest. Thanks for taking the time to share this beauty and also to relate the history - exceptional...!

Cheers, Roy.

--------------------
My Website: www.wilkinsonfscollection.com

http://wilkinsonfscollection.com/wilkinsonfscollection.com/The_Lee-Speed_Rifle.html


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CarlsenHighway
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Roy]
      #278248 - 21/02/16 07:58 AM

Wonderful bit of research and great story.

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If you carry a cat home by the tail you will receive information valuable to you for the rest of your life.
Mark Twain


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Levallois
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Reged: 27/11/03
Posts: 126
Loc: Arizona, USA
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: CarlsenHighway]
      #278258 - 21/02/16 01:24 PM

Thanks guys! I love doing this type of research. It's finding the time that's the hard part.

John

--------------------
It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.


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Gen_Hicks
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278261 - 21/02/16 04:18 PM

Really loved reading your research! Thanks for sharing!

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264
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Reged: 15/02/11
Posts: 388
Loc: NT Australia
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278262 - 21/02/16 04:46 PM

Glad to see your post. Good timing .I purchased a carbine lee speed by Rigby yesterday. Looks to be the same as yours.Marked lee speed with barrel engraved Rigby st Jamess st london. Cant wait to recieve it. Turned the net upside down to find info on this rifle appreciated your post.
Like you I was unsure of rifle being original or built after by Rigby. Decided to go ahead with purchase as the one Ive found appears to be in very good condition. Bore is a unknown though it has been shot with .311 projectiles and didnt group well.
The bore visualy looks very good with no pitting and sharp rifling.
Taking a chance but Lee's dont come up or stay on the market very long over here.
Id appreciate any more info that you find on the Rigby Lee speed.
Congratulations on your find. Heres the sellers pics of the one Ive got on the way.
The obsession with Lee speeds started with a look at a Army navy lee from a forum member here.
Cheers Mick












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264
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Reged: 15/02/11
Posts: 388
Loc: NT Australia
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: 264]
      #278265 - 21/02/16 06:57 PM

Or is the one ive found a Trade Rifle? By Rigby.


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Levallois
.300 member


Reged: 27/11/03
Posts: 126
Loc: Arizona, USA
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: 264]
      #278274 - 22/02/16 02:26 AM

Gunship - thank you for the kind words.

Mick - it is terrific to see another Rigby LE carbine !! I do think you might have a Trade Pattern there - I would strongly suggest contacting John Rigby and getting the record of your sale.

--------------------
It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.


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Roy
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Posts: 219
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278284 - 22/02/16 05:51 AM

Some wonderful rifles coming out of the woodwork chaps.

Well done and really lovely to see.

Cheers, Roy.

--------------------
My Website: www.wilkinsonfscollection.com

http://wilkinsonfscollection.com/wilkinsonfscollection.com/The_Lee-Speed_Rifle.html


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Bidgee
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Roy]
      #278342 - 23/02/16 10:11 AM

John and Mick,

You both have truly wonderful carbines. Thanks so much for sharing and the historical write up.

Cheers


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Levallois
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Reged: 27/11/03
Posts: 126
Loc: Arizona, USA
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Bidgee]
      #278447 - 25/02/16 11:03 AM

Thanks Roy and Bidgee, I'd love to see some more carbines.

--------------------
It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.


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Levallois
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Reged: 27/11/03
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Loc: Arizona, USA
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278673 - 01/03/16 06:03 AM

Here are some that are called Target or cut-down MLE for range work that look pretty darn close to the Rigby which was made this way in January 1900. Are they really cut-down or were they made this way from the get-go?







--------------------
It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.


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Levallois
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Reged: 27/11/03
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Loc: Arizona, USA
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278674 - 01/03/16 06:07 AM

And another one from the Scout Rifle forum and marked BSA&M Co -



Edited by Levallois (02/03/16 01:18 AM)


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Marrakai
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Reged: 09/01/03
Posts: 2697
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278787 - 05/03/16 01:04 AM

In Australia these rifles are formally known as the "New Zealand Range Pattern" or "Shortened Range Pattern" and are described as such in Ian Skennerton's many textbooks on the Lee Enfield Rifle.

To cut a long story short (pun intended...) the military-sponsored civilian rifle club rules at the time specified a barrel length compliant with the current military issue rifle, so when the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) was introduced, civilian rifle club members were obligated to shorten their existing range rifles accordingly.

Hence, these range pattern rifles are Long Lee Enfield (Lee Enfield Mk.1) rifles with their barrels reduced from 30.2 inches to 25.2 inches, and with forward stock cropped to retain the ability to fix a bayonet.

No Lee Enfield collection should be considered complete without one!

--------------------
Marrakai
When the bull drops, the bullshit stops!
--------------------------------
www.marrakai-adventure.com.au


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Levallois
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Marrakai]
      #278807 - 05/03/16 07:04 AM

I appreciate the reply. What's interesting (to me at least) is that mine was made this way and sold by John Rigby in January 1900 for an officer to take to war. I have the ledger entry to prove it. My understanding is that the cut down range pattern guns that you are describing came on the scene quite a bit after this and were for target shooting? I wonder how many assumed range pattern guns are actually go to war carbines or short rifles or whatever you want to call them? One difference is that mine has a 24-inch barrel and range patterns have a 25.2-inch barrel.

--------------------
It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.

Edited by Levallois (05/03/16 07:08 AM)


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264
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Reged: 15/02/11
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Loc: NT Australia
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #278818 - 05/03/16 10:01 AM


Finaly the dies arrived its been a anxious wait not knowing if the bore was shot out or worn.
Loaded 10 rounds with 44gr 2209 and 215 woodleigh RNSP .312 dia. They looked good settled on 75mm 0/l.
magazine was being a pain so settled for single load. Quick trip to the local range before dark.
Forgot the bags so set up a target at 50m. Off hand, and used the 100yrd sight. First was suprisingly pleasant and triger broke clean but a little heavy. A little low and the next 3 were lower. Flipped the 200yrd sight up and the next two were on the spot.
Next was at a can at the 100m mark, got it and was stoked.
Very happy that the .312 dia stabilzed, and no keyholling.
Looking forward to hunting with the Rigby and wont be doing anything to modify it. If it aint Broke!
cheers Mick


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Mike_Bailey
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: 264]
      #278849 - 05/03/16 08:13 PM

What a great story and well researched !, best

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jc5
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Reged: 10/10/07
Posts: 157
Loc: West Coast, USA
Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Mike_Bailey]
      #278927 - 07/03/16 07:10 PM

John---

Your rifle exhibits some puzzling features. First, the barrel length at 24 inches is unusual. It does not match any of the standard officer carbines in the BSA catalogues circa 1900. Of course, they could make them to order, but it’s clear from the ledger that Rigby ordered several in this length. It wasn’t a one-off.

Second, several things make it easy to understand why the seller originally assumed this was a cut-down range rifle. It seems to have a chopped full-length Long Lee fore-end, as evidenced by the rear band, the vestigial clearing rod slot, and of course the volley sights. Those are not normally found on a commercial carbine. It also lacks the flattened bolt handle that one often finds on carbines (though there is some variation on this, but that’s another story). Importantly, this carbine has a government inspector’s mark. Why would someone pay to have this carbine government viewed if they were not going to use it in NRA competition? Even more puzzling, why would a government viewer approve such a rifle with his stamp if the rifle did not conform to a standard service pattern? Do you see where I’m going here?

And yet the evidence from the Rigby ledger, which I too have carefully examined, is very clear that this was sold to Low with a 24 inch barrel, and sighted to 1950 yards (with bayonet). The BSA number and the trigger guard match the ledger. (Can you please look at the sights and confirm the maximum range?) However, I think it unlikely that the rifle was modified since Lowe purchased it—the matching numbers and barrel are very strong evidence of originality (meaning that no one converted this to a “range rifle” length in later years—the barrel was 24 inches when Low bought it in 1900, per the ledger).

So… we are left with some theories. Here’s the one I think makes the most sense, and requires the fewest contortions: In the early days of the Boer War, with large numbers of men volunteering for South Africa, gunmakers found it hard to keep up with the demand for officer’s carbines. Perhaps Rigby took commercial Long Lees and altered them to 24 inches. Or perhaps BSA did this before shipping the arms to Rigby. (After all, BSA was already offering 24-inch semi-military carbines with fore-ends exactly like yours at this time, but with sporting grip buttstocks. Considering that ordinary military buttstocks would have been easier (faster) to procure, making up carbines like yours would have made sense, given how many officers were shipping out in Jan-Feb 1900.) This seems a more reasonable theory than someone applying the government view mark in later years. And it matches the odd features of the rifle.

A hasty scan of my specimen data shows models with the 24-inch barrel start to taper off after 1901, so we could assume that supply caught up with demand---the standard commercial offerings with 19 and 21-inch barrels were sufficient, and no Long Lee conversions were necessary. However, I would need to examine the data more carefully before I would stand behind that last statement.
....

.264----I will send some info on your Rigby carbine just as soon as I have a spare moment. Best Regards

--------------------
Researching Lee Speeds and all commercial Lee Enfields. If you have data to share or questions, please send me a PM.


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Marrakai
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: jc5]
      #278975 - 08/03/16 10:03 PM

...and it should be obvious that my comments about the Shortened Range Pattern rifle were directed at the examples illustrated in Levallois's two preceding posts, not the Rigby rifles.

A little less shiraz, and I would have made that point a little clearer at the time...

I just love these old things, a very nice NZ-marked range pattern and a Westley Richards barrelled civilian Long Tom share the company of my Lee Speeds and Enfield Carbines in the gunroom.

Envious of those Rigbys, though!

--------------------
Marrakai
When the bull drops, the bullshit stops!
--------------------------------
www.marrakai-adventure.com.au


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Old_Glass
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Marrakai]
      #289288 - 22/10/16 02:04 AM

It strikes me as somewhat odd that a carbine for officer's military use would feature a 5 or 6 round magazine, though of course a 10 round mag could easily be substituted "on active service". Perhaps a 10 round mag was thought to be too close a resemblance to the service rifle? Of course the whole idea of an officer carrying a rifle or even a carbine was somewhat questionable even after the Boer War: officers were there to lead, not to actively fight so the thinking went.

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Levallois
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Old_Glass]
      #289679 - 01/11/16 07:41 AM

Old Glass,

Good points but my guy - H.F. Low - was only a Captain. My impression from reading a few junior officer's accounts of the Boer War is that it was all hands on deck when fighting the Boers - everybody firing back with rifles/carbines. Maybe that extended to Captains as well? And 10-round mags would be preferable in those situations.

--------------------
It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.


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Old_Glass
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Re: Rigby Officer’s Lee E. Carbine (long post) [Re: Levallois]
      #290248 - 13/11/16 05:20 PM

I don't doubt that it often was "all hands on deck". Not only that, but not carrying a rifle was a good way to get shot as the Boers would then spot you as an officer. The saying among the soldiers was "stay away from officers and white rocks." The Boers apparently liked to lay out painted rocks beforehand to mark out the ranges on likely battlefields and they were known to be effective snipers at long ranges, even without telescopic sights.

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