'Lancaster Bullet'

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'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby johnpreece » 31 Aug 2015 13:23

I have been reading, ' The 95th Derbyshire Regt in Central India' General Sir Julius Raines 1900.

On 21st August 1858 the Regt is camped in front of the fortified village of Powree.

" Lt Fisher and other officers were reconnoitring the enemy from the top of a native house about 400 yds from the walls of the town. There was a low parapet about two feet high behind which they sat resting their field glasses upon it and watching and recording the movements of the enemy. Fisher got up and turning round walked to a doorway in a higher part of the house and a few yards from him; as he reached it he exclaimed " I am shot". A large oval Lancaster bullet had struck him in the shoulder blade and had passed straight through him, making an enormous wound and striking the wall behind......half an hour afterwards he was able to talk and said he " did not feel very bad". He recovered perfectly.

This raises all sorts of questions the most obvious being what is a Lancaster bullet? I presume it is not an Artillery projectile but the only reference I have found is to a carbine issued to Royal Engineers. While I suppose a sepoy could have preferred that to his own musket could he have become sufficiently proficient with it to have carried out such a shot? Would a carbine have that kind of velocity to go straight through at 400yds, and was it capable of being used for sniping at that range ? I am an awful shot, (though I did get a basic marksman badge in the Air Cadets) but I couldn't hit a briefly walking target at 400yds with a .303.

Perhaps we should assume the firing sepoy was hidden somewhat nearer to his target?

I would welcome any comments from those who know more than me about Victorian firearms, ie most people.

John
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby Mark » 31 Aug 2015 14:06

I have heard of a Lancaster shell (bullet), which was oval shaped. They were in use in the Victorian period with the Lancaster carbine, so I can only guess it refers to this.

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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby Mark » 31 Aug 2015 14:11

Lancaster carbine in the Museum Victoria Collections, Australia: http://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/382694

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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby johnpreece » 31 Aug 2015 14:24

Mark,

that's intriguing, especially the fact that the carbine was popular for competition shooting. Perhaps there was a sniper on the walls after all, but who was he?

I dismissed the idea of it being some kind of artillery round since it is only in 'Strikeback' that he might suffer such a wound then sit up and say 'goodness me, that stung a bit'.

I should just add that the author of the book commanded the Derbyshire regt during the Indian Mutiny, so if not actually an eye witness was very aware of what actually happened.

John
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby Mark » 31 Aug 2015 14:35

I used to have an Indian Mutiny Medal to a soldier in the 95th Foot and came across Raines' book during my research into the regiment's activities; I believe it is still in print. However, I collect to the 38th and 80th, so moved it on to acquire one that better fitted my collecting theme.

Perhaps there are other Derbyshire Regiment histories available that might shed a little more light on this incident?

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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby rd72 » 31 Aug 2015 15:37

HI all,

If this is in fact a reference to a Lancaster Carbine... Which is a carbine in name only as it is the same length as an Army Short Rifle. That said, I would hesitate on taking the description at face value:

1. The Lancaster was only used by the RE and therefore, extremely rare as opposed to, say the P53.
2. The Lancaster used the exact same ammunition as any other "Enfield" type weapon. The service cartridge with a Metford-Prtichett bullet in a paper cartridge......
3. Considering that the bullet struck a shoulder blade, traveled through a man, and then struck a wall, it would conceivably have been quite damaged. The only way to have actually identified the bullet as a Lancaster-fired round would be for it to be in sufficient condition after traveling through bone and flesh and then hitting the brick/mud/stone/wood of the wall, to discern that did not have any evidence of rifling, the Lancaster being oval bored.
4. Was the bullet even recovered? Was it dug out of the wall?
5. The claim reads to me to be somewhat arbitrary. To say "struck by a rifle bullet..." or "by a pistol ball" would be understandable, but "struck by a Lancaster bullet" seems a bit presumptive.
6. This, of course, predicated on the fact that a sepoy actually had an extremely rare weapon in British service, let alone one that had been captured from an Engineer.
7. Has the author simply labeled it a "Lancaster" because it looked oval (after it's multiple impacts).
8. It is perhaps with a tongue in cheek, that making the point about a sepoy using an Enfield cartridge might be somewhat ironic to some....
Cheers,
Rob
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby colsjt65 » 31 Aug 2015 21:24

The actual oval shape of the bore of the Lancaster carbine is almost imperceptible to the eye.

Lancaster - Enfield.png
Lancaster - Enfield.png (6.56 KiB) Viewed 1117 times

Left - Lancaster 0.593" x 0.577" oval bore,
Right - Enfield 0.577" 3-groove rifling.

As rd72 points out, the Lancaster fired the same bullet as the Enfield. The only difference when fired, would be the grooves in the bullet if it had been fired from an Enfield.

The Enfield bullet, having a hollow back end can be easily squashed and appear to be oval. I have seen enough dropped ones that have been dug up and look a bit oval.
Also, even firing at a clay bank can result in a horribly mangled bullet, so I can't see how you could work out the type of rifle that fired bullet that has traveled through a man, and then struck a wall.
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby terrylee » 01 Sep 2015 10:13

Photo taken through a Lancaster bore. (Lancaster Snider)
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby A.Roads » 01 Sep 2015 10:56

I agree fully with the comments above. A fired bullet from a Royal Sapper & Miners (Lancaster) Carbine, also called Royal Engineers Carbine, would require careful scrutiny to determine what type of rifle it was fired from if it was in pristine condition, but having impacted on a target attributing it specifically to a Lancaster, having only the bullet to go by, would be impossible. Also as noted the difference between the major & minor axis of the Lancaster oval bore is so trifling that it is not apparent to the naked eye.
Certainly the penetration at 400 yards was capable of going through a shoulder. I sold my Lancaster last year but from memory it was sighted to 1100 yards.
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby johnpreece » 01 Sep 2015 22:24

I am most grateful for all the information which leaves me much wiser as to what a Lancaster is and the bullet it fired. However why it is identified as such seems a mystery.

A very little background mainly from Kaye and Malleson Vol V p233. On 2nd August 1858 the fortress of Pauri had been occupied by a native chief in rebellion against his feudal ruler. Although not connected to the mutineers the British were unwilling to countenance any challenge to their supremacy at that point. Although it had a strong garrison of 4,000 (presumably mainly native levees, though Raines says it was known to contain some of the 'most guilty and formidable mutineers' ) it was put under siege by a force of 1100 men and three field guns under Brig. Smith.

Napier joined Smith with an additional 600 men together with guns and mortars on 19th Aug. On the 20th he commenced a mortar bombardment and on 21st opened fire with his breaching battery. An assault was planned for 23rd but on the night of the 21/22nd the garrison evacuated the fort. (The 'Lancaster' incident took place on 21/8)

Gen Sir Julius Raines 1827-1909. was an experienced officer having served throughout the whole Crimean War. He was with the 95th throughout his career and was Colonel Nov 1857 - 68. He wrote his book at age 73.

What was it about the incident that made it lodge it in his mind for 42 years and then recount it in his book?, I have no idea.

There is quite a lot one could speculate about but so little substance I cannot see much profit to be gained. On the whole I like the idea that it was a veterans 'in joke' about the greased cartridges.

I hope I am not the only one who found it fascinating, but once again my most sincere thanks to those who explained why it has to be not taken at face value.

John
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby Hampshireman » 11 Dec 2015 14:41

Just to add to the conversation I may be able to add some information. Recently when collecting information for my book on British small arms ammunition I came across references to a double barrelled Lancaster carbine which may answer how they could discern that it was from this specific arm.

The Calibre of the gun was .753 inches with a load of 2¾ drams powder with a 717 grain bullet of 0.731 inches in diameter and 1.034 inches in length which is just a bit smaller than the rifled pattern 1842 rifle.
Reference: List of small arms ammunition, Appendix IV, C H Roads and attached picture of the ammunition packet issued by the Royal Laboratory.

I have never come across such a double barrel, rifled, carbine myself rifle with the Lancaster, oval bore rifling especially that had been formally issued. The only contender that I know of was the Cape DB rifled carbine of 1853 which is quote in Bailey as 0.733 inches.

This may have been the name associated with this gun originally when issued to distinguish it from other ammunition and the name has subsequently changed over time.

If anybody has any other information on this ammunition I would appreciate it.

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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby A.Roads » 13 Dec 2015 11:57

There were double barrel rifles or carbines referred to as being Lancaster's that I have read of recently in research, they were for the Cape. This is late 1830's/early 1840's. I have not come across a proper description yet, I would be doubtful that the were still making ammunition for these nearly 30 years later, though you never know!
.726 ammunition is probably about right for .733 caliber, would you say?
Regards, Adrian
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby stenoyab » 22 Jan 2016 12:18

Came across this thread and wondered if a recent find/arrival from India may be of interest.

This bullet mold has a much more pronounced oval bullet. I've not cast a ball from it, but the dimension would appear to be approx 16.1mm x 13.8mm

Its more than possible the defenders would have been using looted hunting weapons.

I can't say for certain its Indian mutiny period, but it did come from Rajasthan.
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby mike snook » 22 Jan 2016 19:09

Lancaster produced a new DB rifled carbine for the Cape. It was developed in 1852 but adopted by the CMR in 1854, replacing the DB smoothbore in service up to that point. It fired a conical (aka Minie) bullet. I believe a large consignment of Lancaster DBs were lost when the Birkenhead foundered off the Cape - which I can demonstrate on balance of probability, though I need a cargo manifest to be sure! Not going to get one of those then. These weapons were intended for the 12th Lancers. Ever wondered why not everybody in the 12th had a carbine? Now you know (probably).

It is my understanding that 'Lancaster rifles', which I take to be the same RE 'carbine' described above, were issued, a handful to the company, to 1st Rifle Brigade in 1847. The primary arm of the battalion at that time was the Brunswick. The Lancasters were used in the 7th CFW and against the republican boere at Boomplaats.

Not to be confused....with the part issue of 6 Minie rifles ('P1851 rifled muskets') per coy to the line regiments in SA in 1852.

Does that help? I haven't ploughed through everything above, so forgive me If I've missed anything.

Best wishes

Mike
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Re: 'Lancaster Bullet'

Postby A.Roads » 23 Jan 2016 02:21

This bullet mold has a much more pronounced oval bullet

The Lancaster oval bore system fired a cylindro conoidal bullet, these were not oval shaped bullets, I don't know of any British military arms that used an out of round bullet. Is it possible that the mold you have has been squashed somehow?
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