24 July 2023
A Brevis Collection Chronicle
A Holland & Holland 10-bore combined centrefire & pinfire double-barrel ‘shot and ball’ gun, ordered in 1878 by a Doctor Newman for an upcoming trip to Asia.
At Holland & Holland we are lucky enough to have an extensive collection of historic firearms representing key moments in the history of gun development. Known as the Brevis collection, it grew from the personal collection of Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, a famed historian and ballistician.
During this period of rather un-British weather and near tropical heat, I have been seeking sanctuary in the relative cool of our armoury and have again found myself enthralled by a gun from our Brevis Collection.
I came across this rather fascinating Holland & Holland 10-bore ‘shot and ball’ gun, originally ordered in 1878 by a Doctor Newman for his upcoming trips to Asia. It is clear that the Doctor wanted to get the most bang for his buck, opting for a gun that could truly do it all! As well as being able to shoot a variety of loads, the gun also has two methods of ignition combining both centrefire and pinfire. This was done by fitting specialist hammers, along with carving grooves, into the breech end of the barrels and allowing them to accept the pinfire cartridges. This would have been an unusual and expensive design at the time; perhaps Doctor Newman was concerned about finding a good supply of ammo and wanted to hedge his bets.
As well as its unorthodox firing mechanism, the gun also features a pair of remarkably short Damascus barrels, only 16 ¼ inches long and fitted with a set of open fixed sights. This was all done at the request of the client, as the gun’s primary use was to be as a ‘howdah gun’, meaning to shoot from the back of an elephant. These guns commonly have short barrels to be easily manoeuvrable in the low jungle canopy. It also meant that the gun was handy in close encounters with angry tigers, who were known to climb the legs of elephants to snatch 'would be' hunters. Theses tigers would be shot on the rump of the elephant, hence the name howdah.
It was not uncommon for guns to be designed to fire both ‘shot and ball’ as many wanted the versatility of both a shotgun and a rifle in one package: in the days of travel before chauffeured cars to private terminals, less was often more. It was this popularity that led to the design and production of the Holland & Holland ‘Paradox’, which improved on the concept with its rifled choke allowing for much greater accuracy.
As far as styling goes, the gun is quite plain, with a small amount of scrolling to the side plates and action; clearly this was a gun designed to be used, and used it was. The gun undertook many hunting trips around the world, most notably in India.
We know very little of what happened to the gun after this and it would have been lost to the mangroves had it not been for the keen eye of gun trade legend Paul Roberts of Rigby, who discovered it whilst on a trip to India. Upon his return to London, Paul gifted this gun to Holland & Holland’s Brevis Collection, returning it home some 150 years from when it was made.
With this heat set to continue, I doubt it will be long until I unearth another gem in the Brevis Collection.