Longarms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

For all discussions relating to military weapons and tactics of the Victorian period.

Longarms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby MarkA » 18 Aug 2009 13:24

I am researching the development of the Cape Gun ( or as it is known in the UK “ Cape Rifle”).

This is a long arm, double barrelled muzzle loader, for winged conical bullet from c 1850-1880. The other version is the rifle /shotgun combination. These were made from c1850 through to the early 1900’s, when they were normally in 303/12B.

These arms were retailed mostly in the Eastern Cape of South Africa ( especially Grahamstown) where there was much conflict between British Settlers and the Xhosa tribe, up to 1880.

An unusual aspect of the early weapons ( c 1850-1870) was the fact they were made with a broad rib, marked in inches to
about 20”. The broad rib then accepted a detachable sliding sight, very much like a rifle’s volley sight.

At around 1850 I understand there was much interest in the concept of using groups of infantry as massed providers of concerted long range volley fire which would have much the effect of artillery. And I would think that the Cape Gun/Rifle ‘s sliding sight and rib marked in inches, was perhaps the result of this new concept.

Is there any information on this subject by any chance? Any direct information, designs, concepts that relate
directly to the sliding detachable rib sight would be most interesting to me.

For interest two Eastern Cape Gundealers would appear to be ( Joseph Weakley and his son in law John Hayton) instrumental in it’s development, and Birmingham makers such as Greener were the manufacturers of the Cape Gun/Rifle.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any records, history, or opinions in this regard.
Mark A.
Cape Town
New Member
Posts: 2
Joined: 18 Aug 2009 12:45

Re: The Cape Rifle- c 1850 onwards

Postby Isandlwana » 18 Aug 2009 18:46


Is this advert' any use to to you? It appeared in Zululand & Cetewayo by Capt. W.R. Ludlow, published in 1882.


In addition to this I have a photograph, much-reprinted, of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande, King Cetshwayo kaMpande's half-brother, with a 'Cape Gun', the photograph dates from King Cetshwayo's British coronation.

Not theirs to save the day but where they stood, falling, to dye the earth
with brave men's blood for England's sake and duty...
User avatar
Honorary Academic Advisor
Posts: 601
Joined: 20 Oct 2008 19:16

Re: Firearms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby Brett Hendey » 19 Aug 2009 06:33

Hi Mark

I can't help you, but perhaps you can help me! In your description of the Cape Rifle you mentioned a "winged conical bullet" and I wonder if this description applies to a bullet I picked up many years ago near Estcourt in Natal. In the attached pic the lead bullet No. 3 has on opposite sides square bosses, which indicate that it had been fired through a two-grooved barrel. The approximate diameter of the bullet is .51 inches, or .59 across the bosses. Could this be the winged conical bullet of a Cape Rifle?

By way of explanation, the bullets pictured were incidental finds in my childhood hunts for fossils and Stone Age artefacts in the Estcourt district. They range from smoothbore musket balls to modern .303 rifle bullets and are a curious record of the military/hunting history of this part of Natal from the first European settlement (1838) to the 1950's, when I did the collecting.

My apologies for side-tracking your post.

BULLETS 2.jpg (48.37 KiB) Viewed 8283 times
Brett Hendey
Senior Member
Posts: 215
Joined: 04 Jun 2008 06:37

Re: Firearms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby Hank » 19 Aug 2009 16:30

I'm making the observation that the two groove bullet Brett has posted here has a tremendous amount of upset . How accurate were these projectiles? Can anyone post or point to a location detailling chamber and bore specifications? Regards.
New Member
Posts: 83
Joined: 13 Feb 2008 03:02
Location: Florida

Re: Firearms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby MarkA » 21 Aug 2009 14:19

Many thanks Islandwana, the ref. to the Field ( 1877) is great,and a pic of Prince Mpande would
be fantastic ( I'm at mark@awsolutions.co.za ) as well as permission to publish!

The pic No 3. in the next post certainly seems to be a conical winged bullet which came in
about .45 through to .70 calibres. The reason for the conical wings was to get the bullet to
spin- this was before micro grooves - so to attain long distance accuracy. Thus these were
popular at the Cape where many shots would be taken at 100yds-200yds+.I would imagine that
the bullets were used c1850- c1890 in SA, and perhaps even later?

Many thanks.

New Member
Posts: 2
Joined: 18 Aug 2009 12:45

Re: Firearms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby Fred » 14 Sep 2009 20:14

http://www.gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewIt ... =139300062
Mark, here is something that I thought you might be interested in reading. It's a cape gun that I'm thinking of purchasing. The information given by the seller is quite interesting and pertains to some of the points you made concerning such a firearm and the tactics used by their owners.
By the way, my cousins whose last name is Tarr, live in Estcourt and Grahamstown among other places around the former British Empire, having settled in the region in 1820 from Notingham, England. Do you know of anyone by that name? They've many stories relating to the conflicts with the local indiginous population. Does this Cape Gun fall into the area of your subject? Fred Gaarde, Yutan, Nebraska

Re: Firearms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby Light Dragoon » 19 Nov 2009 04:58

Interesting discussion! I actually own a Cape Gun, made probably ca. 1850 or so (I traded an L1A1 for it about 10 years ago...). The fellow I traded it from told me that his brother had picked it up in South Africa some years before hand. It has back-action percussion locks which have a definite Germanic feel to them, and the right hand lock is fitted with a single-set trigger. The locks are also engraved with what look to me at least to be baobab trees, or something equally exotic. Definitely NOT European or North American! The stock looks rather Germanic as well, being made from what looks to be birdseye maple (though it could be something else, but that's what it looks like to me) with a sliding wooden patchbox and fitted with sling swivels. It is of course double barreled, with the right hand barrel being of .62", the left being a 20-bore smoothbore. It is fitted with a single set of rifle sights dovetailed into the rib.

The most interesting part of it is that the rifled barrel is fitted with a post in the center of the chamber, on the model of the French rifle "a tige" (by which the bullet would be swagged out to fill the rifling by smacking it smartly with the rammer). I've only fired it with patched balls at this point, but of note is that the point of aim for the rifled barrel is 100 yards, while the point of aim for the smooth barrel when loaded with a single ball is 50 yards. (Rather the right sort of sighting for shooting at a charging lion, I should expect!)

At any rate, I realize that this is probably of a somewhat earlier vintage than perhaps you are looking for, but I thought it worth making note of anyway.


Light Dragoon
New Member
Posts: 13
Joined: 31 Mar 2009 01:45
Location: Kingston WA

Re: Firearms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby British Kafferia » 24 Dec 2010 07:45

Hi All.
I'm new here to the forum, but prehaps I can be of some help to people on the forum as I actually live in South Africa, in the Old British Kafferia. I will start looking for more info on the Cape gun.
Some very sad news is that the new S.A government has and is still going through huge Anti gun laws. I can remember plenty of these type of guns being sent up to Pretoria and and been destroyed in mass.

If there are any firearm collectors that are looking for guns, I can go to the local farmers and see what I can find.
I know of a good few guys who are still hording Martini Hendry's,Sniders and Enfields.
I saw a "Voorleeier" or muzzle loader at the antique shop yesterday, I will go back after Xmas and take photos to post.

Sorry for the side tracking.
British Kafferia
New Member
Posts: 15
Joined: 23 Dec 2010 14:31

Re: Longarms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby British Kafferia » 01 May 2012 07:25

Long time..... but bad and great news.

I found 2 Cape guns but they are not for sale, they are both in the Ugie / Maclear area in the hands of farmers, not willing to give them up.
In South Africa I notice the farmers refer to them as either "side by sides" or "over and unders". Both the types that I came across where family heirlooms that are still firing perfectly, got to shoot the "over and under".

They are both from the 1800's, there are quite a few around if it is what you are looking for.

On the good news, there's a site in South Africa that often has these cape guns for sale.

www.clasicarms.co.za (keep watching them their stock changes every month or so)

Just a word of warning make sure that you know exactly what you are after as it seems that we, South Africans tend to have either a "comman" name that anything that looks like that will go into that group or it is reffered to in Afrikaans.
You are proberly looking for a muzzle loader side by side Cape Gun. (the ones I saw were muzzleloaders). In that case when you speak to anyone in South Africa that does not understand the term "muzzle loader" refer to it as a Voorleier(Afrikaans term)

Any questions or if you need help, just shout, hope that helped
British Kafferia
New Member
Posts: 15
Joined: 23 Dec 2010 14:31

Re: Longarms: the Cape Rifle c1850 onwards

Postby Burgher » 31 May 2012 09:56

Just finished the diary of Lt. WJ StJohn RA who was stationed in the Eastern Cape and in Bloemfontein in the early 1850s (viewtopic.php?f=6&t=6915).

His live in Bloemfontein basically consisted hunting. In it he mentions the use of both single and double barreled firearms. The double seemed to have been his favourite, but he does not state what calibre it was or whether it was rifled or smooth bored, most probably the latter as he sometimes did wing shooting too. The first time he mentions Minie bullets was after the battle at Berea (20 Dec 1852). It seems these guns impressed him as he shortly after this battle bought a Lancaster carbine from a fellow army officer.
User avatar
Participating Member
Posts: 169
Joined: 27 Jan 2012 11:44
Location: Bloemfontein, South Africa

Return to Weapons & Tactics

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest