Weapons of Maiwand

There has always appeared to be a lot of disagreement on exactly what was the “service revolver” that Watson carried in his many adventures. Doyle never really says and every movie has a different one, everything from an R.I.C. to a colt Single Action Army. For this book I have ventured that Watson, being a practical fellow and having grown up with firearms, is equipped with a Webley-Pryse six shot revolver in .476 calibre. Why? Well, the Pryse was patented in 1876 and by 1878 was becoming popular with army officers. It’s one big advantage was the fact that all 6 chambers could be loaded with safety and it had a self-extracting cartridge system. At the time, most 6 shot revolvers had to be carried with only 5 rounds loaded since the firing pin sat on the primer of a cartridge in a loaded chamber. This direct contact meant that there was a possibility of unintended discharge if the hammer was struck say by dropping the gun. The Pryse had a rebounding hammer which meant that when the hammer was at rest it did not make contact with the primer cartridge, thereby giving the user one more round before reloading. The self extraction system meant all the used cartridges were remover from the chamber on breaking the pistol open and new rounds could be reloaded quickly. Other pistols had to have the expended cartridges removed one at a time. Not a good thing when the enemy is pouring over the barricades!

The British Soldiers of the Infantry used the Martini- Henry Rifle. A breech loading, lever action, single shot rifle that fired a .577/450 bottleneck cartridge. It was extremely accurate to 400 yards and had a rapid rate of fire of 20 rounds a minute even though it was a single shot weapon. It was considered quite an improvement from the Snider conversions to the old muzzleloading Enfields that the Indian troops carried. It was always thought a good idea to keep the Indian soldiers one step behind in technology for two reasons: it was a place to send obsolete equipment and should there be another mutiny the Indian army would be outgunned.


 The 66th Foot was armed with the Martini-Henry rifle, the native infantry had the  Snider rifles and the cavalry had the Snider carbine. 

Snider with open breech

The Snider was an Enfield1853 rifled musket that had been converted to breech-loading and could fire 10 to 15 .557-caliber rounds per minute out to an effective range of 400 yards.

The Afghan infantry  were armed with a vast assortment of weapons depending if they were regular units of the Khan or local tribesmen.

1853 Enfield Rifled Musket

The regular infantry had either imported or locally fabricated copies of the 1853 Enfield muzzle-loading rifles that fired two to three shots per minute. Some had locally made Snider rifles, but with quality problems the effective range was reduced to about 300 yards. The tribesmen were armed with an assortment of flintlock muskets with a 50- to 80-yard  effective range and a rate of fire of one shot in two minutes. 


There was also the locally fabricated, flintlock smoothboe musket, The Jezail. The weapon that Dr Watson had long attributed to causing his wounds. But had it?

3in Rifled Armstrong

 The Afghan army had better artillery than the British and more of it! particularly its six very effective breech-loading, 3-inch rifled Armstrong guns. They could fire five rounds per minute. The Afghan artillery also had 23 other smoothbore weapons of varying sizes. Some sources say the number of Afghan cannon was as high as 32. The Afghan artillery’s effectiveness significantly influenced the battle, constantly pushing forward to the line of British infantry.

RML 9-pounder With Gunners

The British artillery had six 9-pounder muzzle-loading rifled guns manned by well trained cannoneers of E-B Royal Horse Artillery under Major Blackwood (who would die with the last stand of the 66th Foot). In addition there were six smoothbore pieces—four 6-pounder field guns and two 12-pounder howitzers manned by men of the 66th Foot and supervised by a dozen gunners of the RHA. It would be the combination of these two batteries under Captain Slade that would keep the retreat from becoming a complete rout (and perhaps save Watson?). The horse artillery’s 9-pounder field guns could fire shrapnel, case shot and high explosive out to 3,500 yards. Artillery played a major role in the battle.

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9 Responses to Weapons of Maiwand


    No, I don’t think so. The Webley-Pryse was certainly an acceptable sidearm, but it would far, far more likely have been either a .450 Adams or a .450 Royal Irish Constabulary Webley [the latter a pistol not at all jinxed by LtCol Custer carrying same at Little Big Horn]. The .450 cartridge was much commoner among officers in H.M. Land Forces at the time of Maiwand.

    • 14thnyla says:

      Well that, as they say, is what makes a horse race! Fully agree that Adams and RIC were more common. Watson however is newly in the service, provided his own weapon and the Webley-Pryse is newly available. More stopping power, one more round and auto eject. All things a shooter would want to take advantage of. When I was a sheriff the popular cartridge became the 9 mm. But I and a few others continued to carry the 45 single stack 1911 Colt because of the stopping power, simplicity of design and the balance. I carried the “uncommon” pistol for the time. (In fact carried one in the Gulf when everbody else had a Berretta 92.) So assuming Watson’s boyhood days in Australia were spent in the outback as well as the city, (and we know he was a fair shot) would he not choose the better, if less common, weapon? Maybe, maybe not.

      • There’s of course that old wheeze from Out West: LADY: Sheriff, why do you carry a .45? SHERIFF: Ma’am, because they don’t make a .46. Still, to assume that degree of handgun sophistication in an Army Doc to pay extra to buy a brand new extra-big revolver, instead of just the old standby, suggests that Watson also [1] had extra money to burn and [2] didn’t care about finding the possibility of trouble finding unusual ammo in Al Bomfoq, Afghanistan. That, and no more than that, is why I thought he’d go for the more common .450 [exactly the same reason I’m allergic to all these wierdo or wildcat cartridges….airline idiots lose your ammo or you burn it all up and you’re screwed; stick with the common stuff and you’re pretty sure to find 9-mike, .308, .30-06, .223, etc almost wherever you are.

  2. 14thnyla says:

    Well, I guess we’ll just agree to disagree. But since there is no “right” answer that’s okay. I really do appreciate your comments. I don’t like wildcate cartridges either and stick pretty much to service ammo. I will contend though that .476 was not really all that uncommon at the time and by 1880 it would become the service standard with the Enfield. Also, you can shoot .450 Adams in a .476, a .455 Colt or a .455 Webley. And who knows, maybe General Sir John Watson VC, GCB of the Indian Army, veteran of the Sepoy Mutiny and the Second Afghan War gave advice to his 2d cousin – the doctor!? (I was surprised, while researching, that there was a REAL John Watson of the 2d Afghan War.)

  3. You are of course 100% correct. There was no ‘service pistol’ — officers bought their own [witness Churchill at Omdurman with a Broomhandle Mauser!]. If you check Lord Baden Powell’s “Pigsticking or Hoghunting” [believe it or not, it’s to be found in toto somewhere on the Web if you search a bit!] he mentions “John Watson” as a noted hoghunter in the Raj. BP just calls him “John Watson” so back in the day I made what I thought [being a big fan of my own blarney] was a fairly neat little Sherlockian paper out of this. “Watson as Hoghunter Sahib,” Baker Street Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, March 1978. I can ramble on at far more length than any 21st C person cares to hear about the difference between the “Bengal” or ‘Jobbing” hog spear, maybe 6 feet long, which I own, and the much longer ‘underarm’ or “Kadir” model. I think we’ve rung all the juice out of Watson’s revolver, in any event.

  4. 14thnyla says:

    Agree, the pist0l is dead. Did some tent pegging years ago with reenactment cavalry competitions. Was horrible at it! How I didn’t kill my poor Arab mare I’ll never know. She was a great horse. We do hunt wild hogs out here in Oklahoma. They’re all over the farms around here. no way I’d try one with a lance.

  5. 14thnyla says:

    Well I can think of about 4 good excuses – They like to stay in the scub oak which is hard to get through, I have trouble killing tent pegs at a run much less a moving target, if cornered they charge and can cripple your horse, and of course I don’t bounce as well as I use to. Dogs and a .44 seem to work well. Found a copy of BSJ for March ’78 on the internet last night and ordered it. I look forward to reading your article.

  6. David says:

    Can anyone comment on British officers’ use during the Sepoy Mutiny — or that timeframe in India — of the Webley Long Spur percussion revolver?

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