The Patched Ball

As used in the Baker Rifle

By Richard Moore

The North York Militia had a reputation of being a ‘crack’ unit and most of their exploits can be traced in the Napoleonic period through The Museum of The Green Howards in Richmond, Yorkshire. The noted memoirist, Captain John Kincaid, transferred with a draft of North York Militia volunteers to the 95th Rifles at Hythe in 1809. The illustration below (dated to 1814) depicts a dapper-looking Rifleman of the Light Company of The North York Militia loading a Baker rifle. Of particular interest to students is the size of the ‘ball-bag’ on the waist-belt and supported by a cross-belt and the associated suggestion by looking at the rifleman in the background is that these particular riflemen did not wear a cartridge-box containing paper cartridges. A ‘powder-flask’ fitted with an English charger-measure is depicted, carried not on a shoulder-slung cord but in a breast pocket of the jacket supported by a cord around the rifleman’s neck. The white cord shown descending from the belt-buckle is taken to be holding the rifleman’s ‘brush and pricker’.

North Yorkshire Militia

A rifleman of The Light Company of the North York Militia (circa 1814) loads his Baker rifle. He is doing so in the 'military fashion' of the time and the advantages of this are stated 'in period' but never load with the lock at 'half-cock' or the palm of your hand over the ramrod as this is very dangerous and will see you thrown off a riflerange and subject to disciplinary action in any simulated skirmish for doing so.

It is possible that The North York Militia, in forming a green-jacketed light company armed with Baker rifles, were influenced by Mark Beaufoy in his book Scloppetaria published in1808. Beaufoy favoured and advocated a far more accurate rifle-system than Ezekiel Baker and promoted the introduction of this into the British Army to complement or even replace the existing rifle system based on the use and deployment of the Baker rifle - with riflemen carrying no paper cartridges and using patched ball in aimed fire only.

 

Though mobilised and disbanded several times, The North York Militia was an active unit, today having an association by heritage with several Regiments. The time spent by them in the Napoleonic period in association with The Percy Tenantry (another famous volunteer corps comprising infantry, cavalry and artillery) at Alnwick Castle led to the discovery during an archaeology project there in 1989 of twelve patched lead bullets from the site of an old artificers’ store. Somewhat unique, they came into my possession with a view of undertaking research as to possible use with the Baker rifles held at the time by both of these corps. As little is known of the ammunition of the 95th Rifles this was deemed worthwhile. Using a university laboratory facility to undertake the examinations, the following facts turned up:

  • The bullets were cast from pure lead and averaged .60 inch calibre, and suit a 20 bore calibre rifle.

  • Most of the leather patches were pigskin (two were from bovine skin and probably cut from a stillborn calf).

  • The remaining lubrication was a mixture of lard and tallow.

  • The patches were different in size but were in a form of cross-shape cut out by scissors rather than a
    knife or a wad-cutter.

 

The patches still fitted the bullets very snugly but due to their great age, all the patches had become dry and stiff - through careful lifting, nothing could be seen of any form of adhesive used so it was taken that the patches were wrapped around the bullets after lubrication and adhered to them due to the lard-tallow mix. The bullets were later reconstructed in facsimile and in an experiment when fired from an original Baker rifle, served very well in terms of both loading and accuracy.

Patched Ball

One of the twelve patched palls discovered during the 1989 archaeology project at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England.

Cloth is far handier and easier to use as patch for rifle-balls than leather. Ezekiel Baker mentions calico and rag in his book and seems to have favoured a wad-punch for the cutting of patches. A development of a wad-punch to facilitate mass-cutting (see illustration below) was later subject to a patent. I used a wad-cutter like that illustrated to cut out patches from folded material placed on a sheet of thick lead (I cut out a hundred in about ten minutes), and greased on both sides they served very well. Prior to purchasing this wad-punch, to ascertain the correct size, I drew various size circles on material using a variety of foreign coins, cut them out by hand with scissors and then experimented for the best fit. If you place a rifle-ball on the patching material on the muzzle of your rifle and push the ball into the rifling, slice off the excess when the ball is flush with the top of the muzzle and extract the ball and patch, this gives an idea of the size of circle you are looking for.

Ezekiel Baker’s Wad Punch

From the book by Ezekiel Baker Remarks on the Rifle the illustration of his patent wad-punch: the edge of the ‘lower circle’ closest to H was sharp and the cut patches removed from the ‘upper circle’. The ‘square end’ to the right was forged to be struck by a hammer.

Along with the rifle-bullet I found in 1980 at the location occupied by the 1/95th Rifles on the battlefield of Waterloo (‘The Knoll and the Sandpit’), these two ‘finds’ became almost the sole surviving references to original bullets used by the 95th Rifles in the Napoleonic period, and as such the bullets formed the provenance to this aspect in my recreated Rifleman Moore of Wellington’s Army 1810-1812 display for English Heritage.

Rifleman Moore

‘Rifleman Moore’ in his own carefully reconstructed interpretation of a campaign uniform of a 95th Rifleman (circa 1813) recreating shooting ‘patched ball’ from his Baker rifle at 120 yards. Note the use of the rifle-sling and left knee in taking an aimed shot at a range above 100 yards.

Mark Beaufoy’s book Scloppetaria is rare but available as a reprint and containing the details and illustrations of his ‘alternative rifleman’ and is well-worth a read in comparison to Ezekeil Bakers’ book Remarks on the Rifle, which is also rare but is available as a reprint.

Created by Adam Paylor 

© 95th Rifles