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My Last Gahendra

The last Gahendra rifle that I will restore has arrived.  I’ve restored five, and have kept one – this will provide me a second.  This time I purchased one of IMA’s last grade 2 untouched rifles – and I think I’ll only have to build one screw to complete the restoration.

Twenty years ago, the Gahendra was considered to be the rarest of the Martini rifles . . . which makes sense because it isn’t really a Martini.  Actually, it’s a modification of the Peabody rifle (patented in the US in 1862) The Peabody Military Rifle – Shooting Times 

“ The name Henry O. Peabody ought to be well known by all fans of military firearms–but it isn’t. As has been the case with so many inventive geniuses over the ages, Peabody’s name and work have been overshadowed by others who took what he designed, changed it, and attached their own monikers to it. As with writers/artists, the lot of the inventor/designer is not always an easy one.

In 1862 Peabody patented a breech-loading rifle but was unable to perfect it in time to play a major role in the American Civil War (1860-1865). His basic design was based upon a pivoting breechblock, the front of which pivoted down on a transverse pin fixed through both the upper rear of the breechblock and the upper rear of the box-like receiver. As the breechblock was lowered, it exposed the barrel chamber and permitted the insertion of a cartridge. The rifle was fired by means of a musket-style outside hammer whose lockwork was inletted into the buttstock behind the receiver.”

The next step was the Wesley-Richards alteration – by 1869, this established British gunmaker had taken the Peabody design, adapted it to an internal hammer, then wound up with a second-place finish to the Martini-Henry design.  If you want to see the Martrini in action, get online and check out the movie Zulu.  Somehow it has made it into the public domain, and I think the real lead belongs to the Martini rifle.

Gahendra  was the brother of Nepal’s Prime Minister, and a bit of a scientist and mechanical engineer.  When the Brits wouldn’t supply the modern Martini to the Gurkhas, he went on tour to find designs that could be built with the technology available in Katmandu.  He succeeded – with what became the Gahendra rifle, and with the Biri gun – a mechanical machine gun – a great improvement on the Gatling – designed by American William Gardner in 1874.  I still wake up after dreams of building a bolt-together aluminum receiver that would accept an extended 10-22 magazine and let folks build a single-barrel version of the Gardner at home.

Part – probably a large part – of my enjoying restoring the Gahendra rifles is due to the Nepali graduate students I worked among.  I heard of the evils of the Rani dynasty, and had folks who could translate the numbers and words stamped on the actions.  This last Gahendra was photographed on the IMA page, and now the words “Out of Stock” grace the photograph.  The damage seems less than the photograph suggested.

Some knock the Gahendra because the parts don’t interchange – the arsenal where they were produced had skilled craftsmen at work, and the lack of interchangeable parts doesn’t translate to poor quality.  The thing is, each was made individually, and the arsenal produced only 4 rifles per day over a dozen years.  Even now, they are rare – at the most, ten or twelve thousand were made, while there were over a half-million Martini rifles made.  Some have knocked the barrel as being basically Damascus . . . but I’ll be using it with a Colt 45 cartridge inside a stainless steel adapter.  While it does cut down the pressure when I fire it, it is also a lot more affordable than buying the 577/450 cartridges.

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