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Remington Lee Magazine Rifle in NZ Print E-mail

BY JOHN OSBORNE NCGM, FSG

In the mid-1880’s the threat of a Russian invasion prompted the New Zealand Government to review it’s defence system and arms.

In conjunction with a further order for 577.450 Martini Henry Rifles the New Zealand Minister for Defence the Hon J.B. Balance placed an order with E. Remington Lee magazine rifles at 69s 8p each, 100 bayonets (without scabbards) at 4s 10d each and 200,000 ball cartridges at 7s 3d per 100 rounds, all to be delivered by 25 November 1887.

Note: The P1853 brass mounted black leather scabbards in New Zealand Government stores at that time fitted and were used with the Remington bayonets.

On arrival in New Zealand the rifles were stamped N­ Z over 87, (87 being the year of acceptance). 100 rifles and bayonets went to the Honorary Reserve Corps (who were responsible for recruiting and training of Defence Force Volunteers) 350 rifles were lent on approval and trial for one year to the New Zealand Rifle Association and 50 rifles retained by the Government.

An order for 100,000 .43" ball cartridges was placed with Whitney and Sons Auckland (later became CAC, Colonial Ammunition Company). The writer has not been able to confirm that these cartridges were ever produced.

By April 1888 reports indicated problems with extraction of some fired cartridge cases and some cartridge cases rupturing. (Make not confirmed). A New Zealand government inquiry eventually led to the withdrawal of the New Zealand Remington Lee’s from service.

The matter was referred to the rifle manufacture, a refund was negotiated and most of the rifles returned, a few remaining in New Zealand, now in museums and private collections.

The writer has, over several years, conducted extensive testing and target shooting using two of these New Zealand rifles in his collection. Serial No’s 42058 and 43787 and using fully charged modern made SPANZ cartridge cases extraction problems or cases rupturing.

The writer can only conclude that the faults encounted in 1888 lay with the cartridge cases and not with the rifle.

 

Top: 577.450 Martini Henry made by London Small Arms Co. 1885 marked with a broadarrow over N.Z. over 95, over 4385, with bayonet and scabbard. One of 5000 accepted by the New Zealand government in 1895.

Lower: 43" Remington Lee magazine rifle No. 42058 marked as per text above with Remington Bayonet and 1853 pattern Enfield Scabbard.

On 9th December 1861 Brigadier-General James W. Ripley, Chief of the US Ordnance, after testing the Spencer reported he had considerable doubts as to its safety and satisfactory functioning in the field. He pointed out that Spencer carbines carried with loaded magazines on horseback were subjected to jolting, heavy rimfire cartridges knocked against each other causing damage, and worse, the fuminate explosive primer in the cartridge rim occasionally detonated, causing the cartridge to explode in the magazine.

Furthermore, the magazine feed mechanism gave considerable trouble if contaminated with dirt or rust.

The author can vouch that Spencer carbines are troublesome. As Armourer for the Film "Utu" filmed under adverse winter mountain weather conditions in Hawkes Bay including rain, frost, snow, dirt and high humidity, the Spencer carbine used in the film gave nothing but trouble compared to the Sniders, Tuparas and muzzle loaders. Nevertheless, following an evaluation test on three types of Carbines a US military Report, dated 5 April 1864 summarised that:

  1. Colt’s .56 calibre revolving muzzle loading percussion carbine is both too expensive and dangerous weapon to the user (because of frequent multiple cylinder discharges caused by flashovers).
  2. Henry’s .44" rimfire repeating breech loading carbine (forerunner of Winchester is too expensive and too delicate for service in its present form).
  3. Spencer’s .56 rimfire repeating breech loading carbine is the cheapest, most durable and most efficient of the three.

94,194 Spencer carbines at $35 each were purchased by the US Government for use in the Civil War. Afterwards they were surplus and sold off for a little at $7, ruining Spencer’s chances of selling new guns, forcing his bankruptcy.

The original .56 – 56 Spencer cartridge was manufactured in quantity from 1862 and first appeared at the battle of Antietam in September 1862. The Spencer is credited as having provided the Union armies with an advantage in fire power that gave them critical edge in turning back Confederate forces at Gettysburg. Many authorities insist that could the Spencer rifle have been adopted at the onset of the war and issued early and in quantity, it would have shortened the Civil War by a year or more and greatly reduced the ultimate number of casualties.

The .56 – 56 cartridge was loaded by ammunition manufactures up to 1920. Bullet diameter varies from 540" to .555" and weights 350 to 360 grams. The blackpowder propellent varies from 42 to 45 grains. The straight rimed cartridge case dimensions: neck and base diameter .560", rim diameter .645", case length .875" and overall cartridge length 1.545".

In 1868 the Winchester Repeating Arms Company acquired the Spencer Patents.

Limited quantities of the Spencer carbines were issued to both the New South Wales and Victorian Police Forces in the late 1860’s.

 

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