The British Land Pattern Musket, more commonly referred to as the Brown Bess, was a flintlock musket commissioned by King George I of Great Britain for the British Army in 1722 and remained in service until 1838. The Brown Bess became a symbol of the British Empire as it expanded, and would be used in many campaigns, from the Seven Years' War and on past the Napoleonic Wars, where the Brown Bess would be pitted against the French Modèle 1777, considered the most advanced military firearm of its day.
The Brown Bess was among the first firearms to become the standard weapon for an army. As a 'pattern' rifle (which meant that a single copy of the weapon, stored in a 'pattern room' within the barracks, was used by gunsmiths as a template to make sure that their muskets had the same dimensions as the original) the Brown Bess was among the first to be produced on a large scale. Most components were made from iron, particularly the barrel , lockwork and sling-swivels, however the mainly aesthetic components such as the trigger guard, ramrod pipe and butt plate were made from brass, although early Brown Bess' had these components made in iron.
The bayonet was made from iron was a triangular cross section in shape and fitted to the underside of the barrel. It measured 17in (430mm) in length. The ramrod (used to push the shot down the barrel) was originally manufactured from wood, keeping cost of maunfacture down, however the Brown Bess would be quickly issued with iron ramrods instead.
The smoothbore barrel meant that the Brown Bess' accuracy, like most muskets, was reasonable. As the gunpowder used during the Brown Bess service usually caused the barrel to become clogged enough to prevent another shot being reloaded in a few shots, the Brown Bess usually shot a .71in (18mm) musket ball, depsite the barrel being bored to .75in.
The Brown Bess was issued with .71in musket balls, despite the .75in bore of the barrel. This was done for two purposes: to reduce powder fouling the barrel and to improve the rate of fire (as a result of the reduced fouling through smaller calibre).
The Brown Bess' rate of fire was based on the user, however a serviceman was expected to fire 3 to 4 shots a minute. As the musket was muzzle loaded, using a paper envelope to hold the powder and ball, the capacity of the Brown Bess was limited to a single shot, which was compacted in the chamber by the ramrod.
Percussion caps were first designed for the Brown Bess in 1839, replacing the flintlock mechanism (which was prone to misfire, particularly in wet conditions) and signalled the beginning of the end for the musket as the main rifle of combat.
The Brown Bess was developed and specialised for different roles and units, with special/unique versions developed for use by the cavalry and the navy.
Long Land PatternEdit
The original issue of the Brown Bess, used from 1722 until the release of the Short Land Pattern in 1768 and the standard for all infantry. It was 62.5in (1.58m) in length with a 46in (1.17m) barrel and weighed 10.4lb (4.7kg).
Short Land Pattern EditUsed from 1740 by various units (mainly Dragoons), becoming standard issue from 1768 until 1797. Shorter than the Long Land Pattern at 58.5in (1.49m) due to the 42in (1.1m) barrel (4in shorter than the Long Land Pattern), but due to the use of brass in place of iron for many components (a practice which began in 1738), weighed 10.5lb (4.8kg). The shorter barrel was used to make the Brown Bess more manoeuvrable without affecting the accuracy.
The Militia Pattern, issued to Militia units from 1756, used the same shorter barrel as the Short Land Pattern, but was exclusively used by Militia units.
Sea Service PatternEditIssued from 1778 exclusivly to the Royal Navy. The Sea Service Pattern would be used for combat while at sea, whilst the India Pattern (which was issued from 1797) was deployed whilst on land. The Sea Service Pattern weighed 9lb (4.08kg), was 53.5in (1.36m) in length and utilised a 37in (0.94m) barrel.
Cavalry CarbineEditIssued to cavalry units from 1796, with a significantly shorter barrel of 26 inches (0.66m) and an overall length of 42.5in (1.08m). It weighed 7.37lb (3.34kg).
India PatternEditThe Short Land Pattern was subsequently replaced by the India Pattern in 1797, remaining the infantry standard until 1854. Using a shorter 39in (0.99m) barrel the India Pattern weighed 9.68lb (4.4kg) and had an overall length of 55.25in (1.4m). The first India Pattern Brown Bess' were purchased from their manufacturer, the British East India Company, prior to 1797, for the Egyptian Campaign.
New Land PatternEdit
Issued from 1802 until 1854 to the Foot Guards (and 4th Regiment of Foot). Marginally longer than the India Pattern at 55.5in (1.41m) and heavier at 10.06lb (4.56kg) but used the same 39in (0.99m) barrel.
New Light Infantry Land PatternEdit
Indentical to the New Land Pattern in length and weight, but with more ornate features such as a scrolled trigger guard. It also featured a notch back sight which, although a basic sight, made the New Light Infantry Land Pattern marginally more accurate, with other models requiring the bayonet to be use as a sight.
Origins of the name 'Brown Bess' Edit
It is currently unknown how or why the British Land Pattern Musket acquired the nickname Brown Bess although several theories currently exist. The most popular theory at present is that the name Brown Bess is derived from the German term 'brawn buss'/'braun buss' which translates as 'strong gun'/'brown gun' due to King George I of Great Britain, who commissioned the Brown Bess, was originally from Hannover, Germany and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hannover).
Other explanations suggest that the Brown Bess was named for Queen Elizabeth I of England (upon the 150th anniversary of her death in 1753), whilst other explanations suggest that the name is a reference the Brown Bill which was a halberd (spear). There are also potential links to the older Blunderbuss.
The Brown Bess, as mentioned previously, was famed for its use by the British Empire as it expanded, and is generally considered to be the first firearm to be officially 'patterned' or commissioned as a standard for an army. Nations that used the Brown Bess were:
- Great Britain
- British Empire
- Native American Tribes
- Zulu Warriors
The campaigns that the Brown Bess' were used in included:
- Seven Years War - Great Britain
- American Revolutionary War - Great Britain / America (Captured examples)
- Australian Frontier Wars - Great Britain
- American Indian Wars - American government issued, captured from the British during the American Revolutionary War
- Napoleonic Wars - Great Britain and the 'Great Coalitions' (Sold to other members of the coalitions, such as Prussia, Austria and Russia)
- Texas Revolution - Mexico
- Anglo-Zulu War
The Brown Bess was gradually replaced over its later service life. Several were replaced by the Baker Rifle and later Brunswick Rifle. The Pattern 1853 Enfield would virtually fully replace the Brown Bess in the 1850's as the Minie Ball came to prominance. Nonetheless the Brown Bess would remain in use until the widescale use of breechloading rifles in the later 1800's.
All images under Variants posted from Flickr