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Thread: British officers with the wrong swords

  1. #1
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    British officers with the wrong swords

    Hi,
    As many here will know, I specialise in collecting Victorian non-regulation or special order swords - swords which loosely conform to regimental requirement, but which feature unusual elements, such as patent solid hilts, flat solid blades, extra long or wide blades, rapier blades, old blades, guards made to be more protective etc.
    In looking through Victorian photos I occasionally notice oddities. Here I found one - a VC winner Valentine McMaster, an assistant surgeon in the Seaforth Highlanders, who should have been carrying a broadsword, instead being photographed with a heavy cavalry officer's sword:



    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine_McMaster

    It was apparently not unusual for Highland officers to choose different swords for active service, as photographs from the Crimea also show examples.

    I was wondering, are any of you aware of other photographic examples of Victorian British officers not having the model of sword you'd expect?

  2. #2
    Matt,
    This one isn't wildly off the mark for the Corps of Guides, but Walter Hamilton VC is pictured with a P1821 LC trooper's sword instead of an officer's sword.

    Burke photos source: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlin...u00044000.html

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    Last edited by J.G. Hopkins; 02-11-2016 at 01:50 PM.

  3. #3
    Here is an NCO of 44th Bengal Native Infantry (later 8th Gurkha Rifles), c.1880, holding a P1796 Infantry Officer's Sword.

    Source: Indian Army Uniforms, Infantry by W.Y, Carman

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  4. #4
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    Hamilton's sword is very unusual, though reminds me of Hodson's. I wish we knew the story behind it - so cool to have the sword surviving and the photographs.

    The 1796 spadroon is weird! Nearly 60 years after they went out of service. It's not like there was any shortage of NCO sabres.

    Nice examples Jonathan, thanks.

  5. #5
    Sure thing, Matt. Here are some more examples of out of place swords--but not for officers. The Khyber Rifles (NCOs?) carried basket hilted sabres!

    The first image dates to 1891 and is from http://www.britishbattles.com/north-...n.htm?ezpage=7

    The others are from various books on Google Books and I don't recall the exact sources.

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    Last edited by J.G. Hopkins; 02-11-2016 at 02:37 PM.

  6. #6
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  7. #7
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    Here is a Crimean Highland officer with a baskethilt that has had the inner half removed, to enable it to be held like a sabre:


  8. #8
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    And Sir Colin Campbell during the Mutiny, with his stirrup-hilted sabre (rather than the 1845 pattern he is pictured with elsewhere):


  9. #9
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    That gentleman second from the left, rather than the usual 3-bar 1821 light cavalry officer's sword, has a special form of half-basket more similar to (but not the same as) the heavy cavalry officer's hilt:


  10. #10
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    Couldn't resist...the most famous of officer's carrying the wrong sword.

    Rob

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    Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit

  11. #11
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    Hi Matt,

    Yes there are a lot out there... The more you'd expect a standard regulation to be observed the more you notice differences from RN officers with 'claymore' bladed RN swords to Highland officers with HC pattern swords, to one I have; an artillery officer's blade mounted in a HC pattern hilt, etched with heraldic crest and initials owned by a Coastal Artillery Battery Officer who transferred into the RN mid career.... For me it makes an item all the more interesting esp when associated with an individual. Afterall, if you owned a sword which you had tried and tested in combat, for which your life could depend upon in the future would you be bothered if it did not conform to a regualtion?

    Regards
    Bryan

  12. #12
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    Here is Hodson's sword:



    I used to assume it was a trooper's 1821, but actually it's clearly a custom-made job. Given that he also used pig-sticking lances and owned tulwars, I cannot imagine why he decided to get this basic model of sword. From accounts he seems to have been an exponent of the point, so I would have expected him to go for a straight blade better suited to thrusting, such as a Toledo or Percy type. It also seems odd that he specifically went for something without a chequered backstrap, all things considered.

  13. #13
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    Nicholson famously used a Sikh sword which he'd selected as a gift out of many fine quality swords offered to him. As shown here it had a tulwar-style hilt, but we know that it had a straight blade and was reputed to have a mercury-filled channel in the spine.



    There are quite a lot of photos showing British officers in India carrying Indian swords, usually tulwar.

  14. #14
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    A fascinating thread, this. I was reading about John Nicholson, saw a similar portrait, and was confused by the two knucklebows on that hilt until I found this example: Name:  5ba424caa2da3d52054bfc642a5f697b.jpg
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    There's always something to learn in this field.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    Matt,
    This one isn't wildly off the mark for the Corps of Guides, but Walter Hamilton VC is pictured with a P1821 LC trooper's sword instead of an officer's sword.
    I handled this sword when it was up for auction a few years ago. I seem to remember it was a locally-made blade, the only marking being a SIALKOT stamp. Interesting piece - it would be useful to know how it came to be recovered, as some time elapsed between the murder of Cavagnari's party and the restoration of order, and it seems odd that the sword of one of the few British officers present would just have been left lying around in the ruins of the Residency.

    John

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  16. #16
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    Thanks John, that's really useful info. I have had a sword pass through my collection that conformed to the 1821 pattern and was really good quality, but marked to an Indian maker.

  17. #17
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    I am getting this sword soon, marked A.A. GHOLAM JEELAN, SIALKOT
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  18. #18
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  19. #19
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    "Was Sialkot a sword-making centre?" I can only guess it was by the existing swords we see. Google doesn't bring up much but Sialkot makes most of the worlds footballs now.

  20. #20
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    Just found this in an odd link.
    "The Punjab, [Sialkot was on the route taken by invaders] historically, had to bear a greater share of the brunt of invasions from central and west Asia, and as a result developed an expertise in manufacturing metal-based weapons. The koftgars [blacksmiths] of Sialkot developed a reputation by making swords and daggers for the Mughal emperors."
    http://www.the-soccer.com/sialkot.html

  21. #21
    Here is a sword that was apparently made in Sialkot:


  22. #22
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    I thought this excerpt from a book I've almost finished to be interesting. "Hodson enjoyed himself thoroughly as usual, once having got over the irritation of breaking the blade of a new sword with his first blow and shattering what was left of it-including the hilt-at the second, and thereafter fighting with a weapon borrowed from one of his men."
    "Hodson was already something of an anachronism in that he generally loved fighting within sword. The sight and feel of a well-balanced blade gave him a pleasure he never quite got from anything else, and considerable physical strength plus a naturally good co ordination between hand and eye had made him what was described as 'the best blade in India'. He had the gift and asked nothing more than the opportunity to use it."
    From; Rider on a Grey Horse, by Barry Joynson Cork.
    This book also explains the reason for the India mutiny as being much more than just greased cartridges. Great book to read.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    Here is a sword that was apparently made in Sialkot:
    Thanks Jonathan and Will, it seems that Sialkot was indeed something like an Indian (now Pakistan) Birmingham then!

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Mathieson View Post
    I thought this excerpt from a book I've almost finished to be interesting. "Hodson enjoyed himself thoroughly as usual, once having got over the irritation of breaking the blade of a new sword with his first blow and shattering what was left of it-including the hilt-at the second, and thereafter fighting with a weapon borrowed from one of his men."
    Hi Will, yes I've read that book and that piece of text, but for some reason I've never equated this with the sword now in the National Army Museum. But now I wonder… I've looked at that sword (not handled, but I plan to) and it doesn't seem to have any maker's mark. Perhaps 'one of his men' means a Sikh trooper/NCO/officer and perhaps that sword he borrowed was an Indian (Sialkot?) made 1821 and that's the very sword we now see in the NAM. Seems possible and would explain the nature of that sword rather well.

  25. #25
    I rather suspect that officers "On Active Service" out in the "sticks" were allowed a lot of latitude in what swords they carried and used. As long as they carried the 'regulation" pattern on formal parades and and similar occasions, what they actually USED as deadly weapons was left to personal choice, especially for those serving in 19 C India and Africa. When one's life could actually depend on the weapon, you'd want to have one you could *trust* to do the job - many of the '"regulation" patterns were reputed to be poorly designed , or manufactured, as service weapons.

    So..while many of the pictures show the "wrong" sword for the particular regiment..to the officer concerned, what they're proudly holding is the *right* sword for them.
    On other factor to consider is many photo's were taken in formal studio's. While the officer may have his uniform, studio's often had "prop" swords that were used in photos.
    Last edited by Ralph Grinly; 02-14-2016 at 04:56 AM.

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