Baker rifle

Baker rifle

Infobox Weapon
caption=Pattern 1805 Infantry Rifle
name=Pattern 1800 Infantry Rifle
a.k.a. Baker infantry rifle
origin=flagcountry|United Kingdom
era=Napoleonic Wars
production_date= 1800-1838 (all variants)
service=British Army 1801-1837
used_by=UK and allies
wars=Napoleonic Wars, Indian Wars, Texas Revolution
caliber= 0.625 in (15.9 mm)
part_length=30.375 in. (762 mm)
cartridge=0.615 in. lead ball
feed=Muzzle loaded
rate=User dependent, Usually 3+ rounds a minute
weight=9 lb, 4.08 kg
length=45 3/4 in, 1162 mm
variants=Cavalry carbine
number= 22,000+

The Baker rifle (officially known as the "Infantry Rifle") was a flintlock rifle used by the Rifle regiments of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. It was the first standard-issue, British-made rifle accepted by the British armed forces.

The Baker Rifle was first produced in 1800 by Ezekiel Baker, a master gunsmith from Whitechapel. The British Army was still issuing the Infantry Rifle in the 1830s.

History and design

Previously, rifles had been issued on a limited basis and consisted of parts made to no precise pattern, often brought in from Germany. The war against Revolutionary France had resulted in the employment of new tactics, and the British Army responded, albeit with some delay. Prior to the formation of an Experimental Rifle Corps in 1800, a trial was held at Woolwich by the British Board of Ordnance on 22 February 1800 in order to select a standard rifle pattern; the rifle designed by Ezekiel Baker was chosen. This is remarkable because he is not known to have produced military rifles before, being involved only in the repair and production of muskets. Indeed, it is not known how much of the rifle now commonly named after him was actually the result of his own work. Numerous parts used in the pattern existed before the rifle was submitted for trial.

Colonel Coote Manningham, responsible for establishing the Rifle Corps influenced the initial designs of the Baker. 800 rifles were to be produced. The first model resembled the British Infantry Musket, and was rejected for being too heavy. Baker was provided with a German Jager rifle to pattern his rifle after. The second model he made was a .75 calibre barrel, the same calibre as the Infantry Musket, it had a 32 inch barrel with 8 rectangular rifling grooves; this model ended up being accepted to be the Infantry Rifle pattern, but more design changes were made until it was finally placed into production. The third and final model had the barrel shortened from 32 to 30 inches and the calibre reduced to .653, which allowed the rifle to fire a .625 calibre carbine bullet with a greased patch to grip the reduced 7 rectangular grooves in the barrel. The rifle had a simple folding backsight with the standard large lock mechanism (marked 'Tower' and 'G.R.' under a Crown, although later ones had 'Enfield' but these only saw service after Waterloo) having a swan-neck cock as fitted to the 'Brown Bess'. Like the German Jager rifles, it had a scrolled brass trigger guard to help ensure a firm grip and a raised cheek piece on the left-hand side of the butt. Like many rifles, it had a 'butt-trap' or patchbox where greased linen patches and tools could be stored. The lid of the patchbox was brass and hinged at the rear so it could be flipped up. The stocks were made of walnut and held the barrel with three flat, captive wedges. The rifle also had a metal locking bar to accommodate a 24inch sword bayonet, similar to that of the Jager rifle. The Baker was 45-inches from muzzle to butt, 12 inches shorter than the Infantry Musket, and weighed almost nine pounds. Gunpowder fouling in the grooves made the weapon much slower to load and affected its accuracy, so a cleaning kit was stored in the patch box of the Baker; the Infantry Muskets were not issued with cleaning kits.

After the Baker entered the war, more modifications were made to the rifle and several different variations were produced. A lighter and shorter carbine version for the cavalry was introduced, and a number of volunteer associations procured their own models, including the Duke of Cumberland's Corps of Sharpshooters who ordered models with a 33in barrel in August 1803. A second pattern of Baker Rifle was fitted with a 'Newland' lock that had a flat-faced ring neck cock. In 1806, a third pattern was produced that included a 'pistol grip' style trigger guard and a smaller patchbox with a plain, rounded front. The lock plate was smaller, flat and had a steeped-down tail, raised semi-waterproof pan, a flat ring neck cock and even had a sliding safety bolt. With the introduction of a new pattern Short Land Pattern Flintlock Musket ('Brown Bess') in 1810 with a flat lock and ring necked cock, the Baker's lock followed suit with what became the fourth pattern. It also featured a 'slit stock' - the stock had a slot cut in the underpart of the stock just over a quarter of an inch wide. This was done after Ezekiel Baker had seen reports of the ramrod jamming in the stock after the build-up of residue in the ramrod channel or when the wood warped after getting wet.

The rifle is referred to almost exclusively as the "Baker Rifle", but it was produced by a variety of manufacturers and sub-contractors from 1800 to 1837. Most of the rifles produced between 1800 and 1815 were not made by Ezekiel Baker, but under the Tower of London system, and he sub-contracted the manufacture of parts of the rifle to over twenty British gunsmiths. It was reported that many rifles that sent to the British Army inspectors were not complete, to the extent of even having no barrel, since the rifle was sent on to another contractor for finishing. Baker's production during the period 1805-1815 was a mere 712 rifles, not even enough to be in the "top ten".

The Board of Ordnance, both of its own volition and at the behest of Infantry Staff Officers, ordered production modifications during the rifle's service life. Variations included a carbine with a safety catch and swivel-mounted ramrod, the 1801 pattern West India Rifle (a simplified version lacking a patchbox), the 1809 pattern, which was .75 (musket) calibre, and the 1800/15, which was modified from existing stocks to use a socket bayonet. The most common field modification was the bent stock. Riflemen in the field found that the stock was not bent sufficiently at the wrist to accommodate accurate shooting, so stocks were bent by steaming. As this technique produces temporary results (lasting approximately five years), no examples found today exhibit this bend.


During the Napoleonic Wars the Baker was reported to be effective at long range due to its accuracy and dependability under battlefield conditions. In spite of its advantages, the rifle did not replace the standard British musket of the day, the Brown Bess, but was instead issued officially only to rifle regiments. In practice, however, many regiments, such as the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers), and others, acquired rifles for use by some in their light companies during the time of the Peninsular War. These units were employed as an addition to the common practice of fielding skirmishers in advance of the main column, who were used to weaken and disrupt the waiting enemy lines (the British also had a light company in each battalion that was trained and employed as skirmishers but these were only issued with muskets). With the advantage of the greater range and accuracy provided by the Baker rifle, British skirmishers were able to defeat their French counterparts routinely and in turn disrupt the main French force by sniping at non-commissioned and commissioned officers.

The rifle was used by what were considered elite units, such as the 5th battalion, and rifle companies of the 6th and 7th Battalions, of the 60th Regiment of Foot, that were deployed around the world, the three battalions of the 95th Regiment of Foot that served under the Duke of Wellington between 1808 and 1814 in the Peninsular War, the War of 1812 (3rd Batt./95th (Rifles), at Battle of New Orleans), and again in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, and the light infantry of the King's German Legion. The rifle was also supplied or privately purchased by numerous volunteer and militia units; these examples often differ from the regular issue pattern. Some variants were even used by cavalry, including the 10th Hussars. It is recorded that the British Army still issued Baker rifles in 1841, three years after its production had ceased.

The rifle was used in a variety of countries during the first half of the nineteenth century; indeed, Mexican forces at the Battle of the Alamo are known to have been carrying Baker rifles, as well as Brown Bess muskets. They were also supplied to the government of Nepal; some of these rifles were released from the stores of the Royal Nepalese Army in 2004. Unfortunately many had deteriorated beyond recoveryFact|date=July 2007.


The musket was fairly accurate at medium distances, but not at long range. To increase the odds of a hit, massed ranks of 60-80 muskets were fired in a volley which increased the chances of some musket balls hitting the intended targets, whereas the accurate Baker rifle was used by skirmishers facing their opponents in pairs, sniping at the enemy from positions either in front of the main lines, or from hidden positions in heights overlooking battlefields.

The accuracy of the rifle in capable hands is most famously demonstrated by the action of Rifleman Thomas Plunkett (or "Plunket") of the 1st Battalion, 95th Rifles, who shot French General Colbert at an unknown but long range (as much as 800 yards according to some sources) during the retreat to Corunna during the Peninsular War. He then shot one of the General's aides, proving that the success of the first shot was not due to luck.

The rifle as originally manufactured was not expected to be accurate much beyond 200 yards; that Rifleman Plunkett and others were able to regularly hit targets at ranges considered to be beyond the rifle's effective range speaks for both their marksmanship and the capabilities of the rifle.

The Baker rifle could not usually be reloaded as fast as a musket, as the slightly undersized lead balls had to be wrapped in patches of greased leather, or more commonly greased linen, so that they would more closely fit the lands of the rifling. The average time to reload is dependent on the level of training and experience of the user; twenty to thirty seconds is often given as normal for a proficient rifleman. Using a hand-measured powder charge for accurate long range shots could increase the load time to as much as a minute. In the course of the Napoleonic Wars, riflemen used paper patched and even bare rifle balls when shooting in a hurry in battle, with an increase in speed of loading, but with diminishing accuracy. (see Bailey, below)


*Military Heritage did a feature on the Baker Rifle (Kenneth Cline, Military Heritage, December 2005, Volume 7, No. 3, p. 10, p. 12, and p. 13); ISSN 1524-8666.
*Bailey, D. W. "British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840". Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 2002. ISBN 1-931464-03-0.
*Blackmore, Howard L. "British Military Firearms, 1650-1850". Greenhill Books, 1994. ISBN 1-85367-172-X.
*Antill, P (3 February 2006) Baker Rifle,

External links

* [ How to Load and Fire a Baker Rifle]
* [ The Baker Rifle]
* [ Development & Description of the Baker Rifle]
* [ Rifleman Thomas Plunkett: 'A Pattern for the Battalion.']
* [ British army during the Napoleonic Wars]

ee also

*British military rifles
* Richard Sharpe (fictional character)

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