Civilian Weapons of the late 1800s

What sort of civilian weapons would be commonly available to a scientific expedition around 1895? What about hunters?

Anything automatic? Sub-automatic? Pistols? Long-range rifles? Shotguns? Grenades, either explosive or smoke/flash bangs?

What features would the more common guns have, as far as range?

Have Safeties been invented yet? Could an untended gun be set off by a small child? An animal with primate hands? Something like a bear?

The Mauser C96 didn’t come out until 1896 (obviously), but it’s in the ballpark. The Borchardt C-93 was expensive and unwieldy, but it was there. For handguns, I’d say that any of the many models of Webley revolvers would have been popular; especially in Africa or India. Others would be the Colt Peacemaker and various Smith & Wesson revolvers.

Rifles may have included the Winchester Model 1894, Model 1895, Martini-Henry rifles, and perhaps some Mausers.

There were many, many firearms made during that time, so those are just a few famous ones. I won’t try to list shotguns, double rifles, or others.

As for automatics, no. Semi-automatic pistols were just appearing. I suppose you could consider (for your purposes) Gatling guns as ‘automatic’, but they were very heavy and would probably not have been taken on an expedition. Even Custer didn’t take his Gatling guns to the Little Big Horn.

Modern firearms have been set off by dogs, when the owner has been stupid.

After the Civil War, the army had a huge surplus of model 1861 style muskets that were now considered to be obsolete. Breech loading cartridge style weapons had proven to have a much faster rate of fire during the war. A guy at Springfield Armory named Erskine S. Allin figured out a way to take the old fashioned muzzle loading musket and very cheaply convert it into a breech loading cartridge style rifle. This conversion cost about one fourth of the cost of making a new rifle, so it was a very popular idea at the time. These rifles were called “trap door” Springfields because of how the breech mechanism worked.

In the 1870s and 1880s they stopped just converting old rifle-muskets and started making rifles from scratch. They also standardized on smaller calibers, making the old trap door Springfields obsolete. The trap door Springfields were then sold off to civilian gun suppliers, who often chopped off the end and modified the stock to shorten them into hunting rifles. These would have been cheap and easily obtainable in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Trap door Springfields are single shot rifles firing .58 caliber rim fire cartridges.

Rifles like the Krag-Jorgensen repeating rifle had been around since the mid 1880s but I’m not sure how easily obtainable they were for civilians. Variants of this rifle started to be used by the military in the mid 1890s. The U.S. Army adopted a variant of this rifle in 1892, which caused them to dump even more of the trap door Springfields onto the market right around the time of your scientific expedition.

The Winchester model 1894. one of the most popular rifles in history, would have been brand new and probably would have been carried by a lot of hunters. Other lever action Winchester rifles would have been common as well. These are the typical rifles you see in cowboy movies. Remington had started in the typewriter business, but in the late 1880s had gotten into the rifle business as well, just in time for your scientific expedition.

There were a lot of other single shot rifles around. These typically had a range of a few hundred yards, which compares pretty favorably to modern rifles. What they lacked compared to a modern rifle is rate of fire. A single shot rifle typically can fire about 10 to 12 rounds per minute.

Pistols and shotguns were certainly available. Like rifles, shotguns had also progressed from being muzzle loaders to using modern style cartridges. Pistols had also recently moved away from using percussion caps to using integrated cartridges. The Colt Peacemaker was pretty typical of the types of pistols that someone in the 1890s would have been carrying. It’s your basic typical cowboy style revolver. Smith and Wesson pistols were also popular. Pistols then, as now, were only accurate to about 50 yards due to their short barrels.

Grenades in some form or another have been used for over a thousand years, so they wouldn’t exactly have been a modern invention in 1895. I doubt that a scientific expedition would carry them though.

Safeties had been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. Early safeties were “dog locks” which were basically little catches (dogs) that latched onto the lock mechanism and prevented it from moving. Marin le Bourgeoys’ original flintlock rifle design (which became the standard for the next 200 years) had a “half cocked” position from which the flintlock could be loaded but not fired. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “don’t go off half cocked” this is where it came from. Single shot cartridge rifles sometimes had safeties and sometimes not. Any rifle back then, if left loaded and ready, could be fired by a child or an animal or just by being knocked over if the trigger happened to hit something on the way down.

The Maxim gun was first used by British colonial forces in the First Matabele War in 1893-1894, according to Wikipedia, and earlier prototypes were around in the 1880s. I have no idea if a civilian could just plunk down cash for one, although many private expeditions during the era could obtain some degree of government support.

The 7mm Mauser was what I was going to mention, max range of 4000 meters, effective range of 2000 m. Great weapon for the time. 5 round stripper clips, bolt action. Tens of thousands in circulation in Europe, Spain especially, as well as Central and South America.

If the expedition was US based, maybe the Krag-Jorgensen Model 1892 was available. My recollection is that just because the US Army was buying a weapon, didn’t mean civilians couldn’t get them, too.

:smack: I thought of that, but thought it didn’t come out 'til later. So amend my comment on automatic firearms.

Great! Thanks guys!

Couple of questions:

I’m assuming the Maxim would be left at the camp for defense, rather then taken into a forest or jungle? What about boat-mounted Maxims? How big would the boat have to be?

Of these guns, which ones could kill an elephant at point blank range with a head shot?

What sort of guns would the Great White Hunters use? (This isn’t too early, right?)

Finally, other than guns, what else would the common expedition use for defense? I’m especially interested in perimeter defense.

I think a maxim would be a bit of a stretch for a civilian scientific expedition. That’s just not the sort of thing you would go tromping through the jungle with. They would have been extremely rare in 1895 as well. A maxim wouldn’t have been totally impossible, but it would not have been anywhere close to common for this sort of thing.

In the 1890s, an “elephant gun” was still a big-ass muzzle loader. And by big-ass, I mean something like a 4 gauge or a 2 gauge smoothbore. They fired lead round balls or slightly conical shells. These were short but very large (with respect to bore size) and very heavy guns with a heck of a lot of kick to them. They were also used to hunt rhinos and hippos. The 1890s were the tail end for these types of weapons, and your expedition’s elephant gun very well may have been a breech loader. If it is a breech loader, then I can picture all of the guys in the expedition ooh-ing and aah-ing over this marvel of modern technology.

Smokeless powder and jacketed projectiles, which would have done better against the thick skull of an elephant, were just coming into being in the 1890s. Most of your typical 1890 rifles still just fired lead and would have had trouble penetrating the skull of an elephant, though point blank with a bit of luck a lot of them could do it. If you’re not using a dedicated elephant gun, a big shotgun firing a slug would probably be your best bet.

For protection against sudden attack by an animal, some people carried howdah pistols.

By the way, if your expedition doesn’t have big elephant guns, they would probably have “express rifles”, which were designed for big game hunting. These would have been relatively new in the 1890s. They weren’t designed for elephants, but they were very large cartridge firing rifles that could take down just about anything but an elephant.

If not, I’d imagine this is a handy sidearm :wink:

A magnum firing revolver? Ho ho ho…
So the breech loaded elephant gun brings up an interesting point: what sorts of weapons would a very well-funded expedition carry that would impress even the most seasoned hunter?
And if the expedition was expecting lots of trouble from natives, animals, and other such problems, and was expecting long river rides, might they have a boat mounted Maxim?

What he said. If your target year is exactly 1895, then your expedition might have one of the very first newly minted Nitro Express rifles, vastly superior in performance against heavy game such as elephants.

If boat mounted is an option you might consider whaling guns. Some were breech loading monsters that fired explosive harpoons. Anything that can take on a whale should do nasty things to an elephant. Check out this link for ideas

Okay, harpoons work.

What about perimeter defenses? Especially in a high-risk area: Multiple known man-killing lions, lots of hippos, buffalo, rhinos, and maybe some elephants in musth… Plus savage, even cannibalistic natives.

Didn’t want to double post, but I missed my edit window.

How big was the explosion caused by a harpoon? I can’t seem to find any images, videos, or text-based explanations.

I’m going to agree and slightly disagree with Engineer. 8 guage double caplocks like those made by James Bown were more in line than the super-huge 2 guages. Those more “punt guns” were pretty much just for commercial hunters and more around waterfowl than big game. At a certain point smaller (if you want to call 8bore smaller) does a better job than big-assed.

By the time you give, going by photos I’ve seen, the Holland & Holland doubles were pretty much standard issue for expeditions of all types. Maybe Nitros but surely double rifles.

(I think Saur made some in this timeframe as well but I never got a chance to shoot any of those)

I haven’t a clue. However, it must have been pretty big to stop a whale. Bear in mind that at least some of these worked by penetrating deep into the animal and then exploding seconds later. I don’t know what your guys are hunting, but if it could take down a whale it could probably kill just about anything.

One of the bomb lances had a length of 17 1/2" and a diameter of 7/8" so figure you could fill most of that space with gunpowder and do the math.

Most of the guns appear to be in the 20 to 30 lb range so while not exactly a practical weapon for quick reactions a man could carry it.

How about landmines? They were used in the American Civil War (if not before) while not a civilian weapon, they should be easy enough to improvise. The claymore mine was not invented until the fifties, but the idea is simple enough, why not something along those lines?

Historically, various expeditions did just fine without bizarre choices of weaponry. A trained group of armed men, like veterans or mercenaries, armed with typical breechloading rifles of the era will do the job of defending your expedition perfectly well. S&W, Colt, Webley made large bore revolvers that were considered the ne plus ultra for shooting brown people even at the time.
If you really must give them something unusual, one of the smaller “camel” gatlings would be a far more believable choice than a Maxim. I’ll re-emphasize, though, that it’d be more believable for them to be protected by trained men with run-of-the-mill weapons. Satisfy your desire for something exotic by making the mercs unusual in some way, rather than the weapons.