|Author's Martini Henry MkIV|
A bit of history:The Martini Henry is a breech loading rifle built on a falling block action. It is chambered for the .577-450 Martini Henry black powder cartridge. It was the first rifle adopted by the British empire that was built as a breech loader from the ground up. It served the empire for over 30 years and it saw action in both Anglo Boer Wars. For more background information on the history, visit martinihenry.com.
Now for the good stuff:
|L-R: 8x57IS, .303 British, .577-450 MH, MH Bullet, .22 LR|
Many Martini Henry owners tend to load modern smokeless powder in their rifles. This does work and many endorse it. You get a lot of hitting power out of the old rifle which makes it much more efficient. But I beg to differ. The rifle was designed and built in the age of Black Powder which tends to develop lower temperatures and pressures than modern smokeless powders. The steel used for Martini Henry barrels (correctly referred to only as Henry barrels) are very soft if compared to barrels built for smokeless powders. These "modern" barrels are nitro proofed, meaning they are strength tested at the elevated pressures produced by smokeless powders.
If the shooter is not careful, the higher pressures and higher temperatures that the smokeless powder produces can harm the old barrels severely. Unlike with modern firearms, these barrels are irreplaceable unless you find another Martini Henry you can butcher for the barrel, which is mostly frowned upon.
Best choice is to stick with using good quality black powder or a black powder substitute. It burns dirtier and it develops less muzzle velocity, but your rifle will be happier and the barrel will last another 100 years or so, given that you do your part in cleaning out the corrosive black powder residue.
Owning a Martini Henry has always been a dream of mine. Firstly I love historic firearms and secondly the Martini Henry has carved out its own place in the hearts of many a South African. Recently my dream came true when my uncle gave me his 1886 Martini Henry MkIV as a gift. He was one of those people who did not want to go through all the "hassle" of shooting the rifle. This leads me to the next point...
Acquiring a Martini Henry:
After the purchase:
|Henry Rifling - note the old fouling|