Review of Volumes I and II
from Man At Arms magazine, Vol.21 No.1 (February 1999), pp.43-44.

Review by Herbert H. Houze.

It is likely that all historians harbor the hope that someday they will write a book of true significance and lasting importance. Unfortunately, for a multitude of reasons, few ever realize that dream. One who recently has achieved this goal is David F. Harding. His four-volume analysis of the arms used or distributed between 1600 and 1856 by the East India Company is not only a remarkable accomplishment, but also one without parallel.

Over the past twenty years, Harding has meticulously examined one of the last great untapped sources concerning the British arms industry - the records of the East India Company. During the course of this research, a treasure trove of information concerning the EIC's contracts with London and provincial gunmakers, shipping and issuance records, as well a wealth of ancillary information has been brought to light. Against this rich mosaic, Harding has carefully reconstructed the history of the EIC's operations. More importantly he has placed their involvement with the British arms trade into the broader context of the company's influence both at home and abroad.

Given the sheer volume of the documents involved, the creation of this four-volume study is no mean feat. In all likelihood, lesser historians would have abandoned the project due to its complexity. However, to Mr. Harding's credit and our benefit, he not only persevered but also conquered the subject. In light of this, it is fitting that in 1997, Volumes I and II of his work were awarded The Templer Medal by the Society for Army Historical Research in London, and also the Research Medal by the Arms & Amour Society. Among arm historians, though, perhaps the greatest accolade that the study could receive is Howard L. Blackmore's understated endorsement that the two volumes represented "...the most important contribution to the history of firearms for many years."

Volume I (Procurement and Design) examines the East India Company's records on the purchase of weapons, their markings, the, determination of patterns, relationships with makers and the role played by various Inspectors of Ordnance. In addition it provides detailed listings of arms shipments, as well as their distribution. The importance of the East India Company's involvement in the British arms trade is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that between 1709 and 1855 it purchased 5,008,316 pounds sterling, 19 shillings and 9 pence worth of firearms (p.361). In pure numeric terms, Harding has been able to estimate that a minimum of 2,091,860 arms were purchased by the East India Company just between 1753 and 1856. Given the fact that arms had begun being procured over a century and a half earlier the company's influence was truly immense.

Harding's presentation of selected arms shipments (pp.339-360) provides the reader with an excellent overview of the volume of munitions being sent abroad between 1600 and 1750. For example, in 1600 the company shipped the following on board the ship Hector (p.339):

22 barrells of powder
18 Muskets
3 Callivers
42 bandoleers [for] muskets & callivers
10 Swords
A sturbowe and bender
44 Musket arrowes
2 steele targetts [i.e. shields]
10 longe pikes
11 shorte pikes
A smale barrell of smale short
Certen rowles of Match

In contrast to the above entry, the shipment made aboard the Lord Anson which was received in Bombay in August of 1750 (p.360) contained the following material from John Bumford & Company:

250 New Pattern Musquets with Bayonts. & new Pattern Scabbards @ 26/10d
500 Rammers @ 11/- per 100
50 Fuzees wth. Bayonetts & new Pattern Scabbards @ 32/4d
10 Iron blunderbusses @ 24/3d

It is important to note that Harding presents documents that cast light on the company's general procurement practices quite apart from the arms themselves. In doing so, he has been able to reconstruct the company's relationships with its contractors. For example, in Chapter 4 he produces testimony taken in 1854 before a Parliamentary Select Committee on Small Arms. While some might consider this irrelevant, it clearly demonstrates how contractors viewed the East India Company's procurement officers and inspectors. For example, E.P. Bond of London made the following comments when queried about the company's inspection criteria (pp.110-111):

[Question] Have you found the view of the East India Company similar to the view under the Ordnance? - I have found the view of the East India Company similar in all respects, except in the spirit in which it was carried out. It has been equally effective as regards providing the Company with a sound serviceable weapon and good workmanship, but it has certainly been less vexatious than the view of the Board of Ordnance.

[Question] As a practical man do you think that the East India Company's musket is in every respect equal to that which is turned out by the Ordnance? - I think it is equal in every respect, and as to the last musket, in one or two respects decidedly superior.

Harding also demonstrates that, unlike the British Army, the forces of the East India Company actively experimented with new firearm designs. Indeed, during 1822 and 1823, the 11th Dragoons stationed in the Bengal Presidency conducted troop trials with percussion rifles (pp.220-223) and these arms saw action in 1826 (the first use of percussion arms by British troops anywhere in the world).

For collectors, one of this volume's most important components is the detailed description, as well as thorough explanation, of the marking systems used by the East India Company (Appendix A, pp.268-287). The various forms of the company's trading marks and crests are illustrated and dated. Furthermore, the location of dates and, later, the letter codes stamped onto company properly are fully explained.

The wealth of information provided by Harding extends beyond the simple synopsis provided above. In Appendix B (pp.292-304) he presents brief biographies of the gunsmiths who worked for the East India Company. Among the various entries found there, the following is typical:

BAKER, Elizabeth Sophia Appointed Mar. 1841; `E.S. Baker & Son' (son was Ezekiel Alexander Baker, aged 25 in 1848) from Mar. 1848; still a contractor in 1853. Widow of Ezekiel John Baker (see preceding entry). Ezekiel Alexander Baker had worked with his father from c1837 and actually managed the business for his widowed mother. Share of general orders 6%; share of rifle orders 1841 40%; 1842 33%; from 1843 (after admission of J.E. Barnett & Son to a share in rifle orders) 25%. Address 1841 and 1848, `24 Whitechapel Road'. Total 67,564 18s 2d for smallarms, plus 470 11s 8d for sundries etc. [see Blackmore p. 451].

Volume II of this series, like its predecessor, contains an absolute wealth of information. In this instance, though, Harding presents a complete catalogue of the various firearms purchased or used by the East India Company between 1600 and 1856. To facilitate the book's use, it is divided into chapters dealing with specific classes of firearms purchased or used by the East India Company between 1600 and 1856. To facilitate the book's use, it is divided into chapters dealing with specific classes of firearms (i.e., muskets, fusils, rifles, carbines, etc.). These in turn contain systematic studies of both the "Company's Pattern" pieces as well as earlier nonstandardized purchases. Apart from presenting detailed histories of each pattern's adoption, production and use, Harding has included quick reference charts to aid in their identification. These charts note the specific characteristics of a pattern's physical construction (barrel, lock, trigger, furniture, sling swivels, stock, rammer, bayonet and catch, overall length and weight). Whenever possible the charts are accompanied on a facing page by illustrations of the arm described. In all, a total of 24 "Company's Pattern" Muskets (pp.29-134); 7 fusils (pp.135-166); 7 rifles (pp.167-196); 16 standard carbines (pp.197-268); 13 pistols (pp.269-322); 8 blunderbusses or musketoons (pp.323-352), and 5 wall pieces (pp.353-374) are discussed in this manner. In addition, Harding devotes separate chapters to altered and reconstructed small arms (Chapter 16); experimental arms (Chapter 17); the small arms used by the irregular cavalry (Chapter 18); and other arms purchased or used by the East India Company (Chapter 19).

Though the primary emphasis of this volume is directed toward the identification and description of the East India Company's armament, in common with Volume I it contains a great deal of ancillary information. For example, in Chapter 17, Harding details the company's experiments with and later adoption of two improved arms not generally associated with the E.I.C. the Ferguson breech loading flintlock rifle (pp.429-444), and Jover & Belton's repeating flintlock musket (pp.442-454). Interestingly, both were adopted rather quickly after their development (1777 for the Ferguson and 1786 for the Jover & Belton system). Their trials in India, though, proved to be less successful than anticipated, and both designs were abandoned for service use.

Chapter 19, titled "Other Smallarms" contains some of the more interesting ephemera concerning the East India Company's operations as well as the contemporary terms used to describe certain weapons. Delving into the seamier side of the firm's business, Harding reproduces several documents concerning the relative value of arms in the slave trade (pp.547-552). As a result, one learns that in 1752 it required "1 Buccaneer Gun 1 Half Buccaneer Gun 20 Shott 20 Flints and 6 lb. powder" to purchase either a male or female slave in Madagascar (p. 552). On an entirely different note, Harding also provides information in this chapter concerning presentation arms distributed by the company (pp.553-558). Typical of the entries found in this section is one from 1800 which records a gift made to Daulat Rao Sindia (p. 557). At his request, the company sent:

...the following articles made by the most skillful Artists of this Country; vizt. a double barreled Gun, a pair of Pistols for the Waist, and the curious instrument called an Air Gun.

For lovers of the English language, Harding's identification of the terms "pockettoon," "pocket musketoon" and "pistol musketoon" (pp.558-559) will prove interesting. Finally, it should be mentioned that Harding also discusses East India ship,s pistols and the disposition of captured arms in this chapter.

In conclusion, though the above outline provides some measure of the content of Harding's first two volumes of Smallarms of the East India Company, it is hardly representative of the works' true breadth. They are encyclopedic in nature and pure delights to read. When combined with Volumes III and IV (both scheduled for shipment in February 1999) which will discuss the ammunition used by the E.I.C., the ballistic performance of the weapons and the actual distribution of arms to military units, Harding will have completed what can only be described as the most comprehensive study of British military arms ever to have been attempted. In consideration of this, one can only agree with Howard L. Blackmore's assessment that the series represents "...the most important contribution to the history of firearms for many years."