Hampshire Museums

An English, breech loading, flintlock rifle employing the Ferguson System

By Ketland and Co. Birmingham. c1785
Calibre .600. The 36” barrel rifled with eight grooves.
Birmingham private Proof Marks

Ferguson rifle

Captain Patrick Ferguson of the 71st Highlanders, who was once described as one of the best shots in England, patented his improved version of the La Chaumette breech loading system in 1776.

By using a quick acting thread on the breech plug (in this rifle there are eleven starts on the thread) it was possible to fully open the breech with just one turn of the trigger guard to which the plug was attached. Thus the rifle could be loaded and fired at a much greater rate than the muzzle loading musket of the day. The other fundamental advantage was that the rifle could be loaded on the move or when lying down.

Among the improvements that Ferguson applied to his rifle was the provision of a smooth recess in the plug where it forms the breech end of the barrel and a number of vertical grooves across the threads. These helped to prevent the jamming of the plug after firing. This rifle, however, does not incorporate these modifications.

Ferguson demonstrated his rifle to the Board of Ordnance & the King, whom he told that he could fire seven shots in a minute but "Would not undertake in that time to knock down above five of His Majesty's enemies" .One hundred rifles were made for Ferguson by Durs Egg of London & a company of riflemen were trained to use them. They fought with great distinction under Ferguson in the American War of Independence at the Battle of Brandywine Creek in 1777.

Ferguson was wounded severely in the elbow during the action and& while he was recovering the rifle project was abandoned. On returning to duty, Ferguson re-formed his company which continued to fight on for a further two years until Ferguson himself was killed at the Battle of Kings Mountain On the 7 October 1780.

This Rifle was in poor condition when purchased and has recently been restored by the Museum Service Conservation Department.

Provenance: The Armoury of Their Serene Highnesses The Prins-Salm -Reifferschiedt - Dyck. Shloss Dyck, North West Germany.

Accession no HMCMS: M1992.5