Alexander Henry


Alexander Henry's Patent for barrels is number 2802, dated 15 November 1860. In brief the patent abridgement reads: "The rifled bore is of polygonal cross-section, and is provided, in addition, with curved, square, or angular spiral projections or grooves, so as to increase the bearing points of the projectile."

The Ironmonger and Metal Trades Advertiser, a monthly trade circular published in London, included a favourable report on Henry's rifle in 1861 suggesting it surpassed the "famous Whitworth in precision." The article, which refers to Henry having "hit upon an entirely new principle in rifling fire-arms" was reprinted by Scientific American.

W. H. Blanch (1st Lancashire R.V.) in his 'Volunteer’s Book of Facts' included a favourable overview of the Henry rifle when discussing the Rifles of 1861.

Henry’s Patent Rifle. A new rifle, the peculiar grooving of which has been patterned and patented by Mr. Alexander Henry, gunmaker, 8, St. Andrew street, Edinburgh, has been tried at ranges from 200 yards to a mile, and the results have been certainly equal, if not superior, to those of any rifle we have heard of. The practice was only in the course of arranging the sights of the piece, and, therefore, the first two or three shots, necessarily, cannot be taken as fair trials. Still, at 1,100 yards, out of six shots, Mr. Henry hit the target with every ball in the last five, making three centres and two outers. At the mile range he hit the target, which was six feet high by ten wide, three times out of seven shots. The bore of this rifle is somewhat larger than the Whitworth, and the ball is about the same length. The ball fits easily into the barrel, and there is very little recoil. The advantage of the bore seems to lie in the extent, of surface which is made to present a resistance to the shifting of the ball in the slightest degree from the grooves, which give it its rotatory motion and direction in the perfect manner in which the expansion of the ball fills the grooves. The resistance of the air to the ball is so slight, that at the marker’s butt at the mile range, neither the report of the rifle nor the whistle of the ball is heard; and it is only by the ball hitting the ground or the target, that the marker knows when a shot has been fired.

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle
12 February 1862

Alexander Henry
Alexander Henry
Edinburgh Museums & Galleries:
The Museum of Edinburgh
(courtesy Richard Brown)

Transactions of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, for Session 1855-56.

"The following Candidate was balloted for and elected an Ordinary Fellow, viz. :-

Alexander Henry, gunmaker,
10 South St Andrew Street"

Select to enlarge



Alexander Henry (1818-1894)

I regret to notice the death of that well-known Scotchman Mr. Alexander Henry, the inventor of the gun barrel the revolutionised the small-arm for defensive and sporting purposes. I knew him well when he was in the heyday of his fame, in the early '70's, when his name was in every one's mouth, and when his native city, Edinburgh, was immensely proud of him. He always felt hurt at the compromise which the Government effected by conjoining his barrel with the Martini stock, and never failed to uphold the opinion that in setting aside his complete rifle they had greatly impaired the efficiency of the army as an attacking force. He had the satisfaction, however, of seeing his rifle adopted by the Government of New South Wales. Mr. Henry was a man under the medium size, compactly built, bearded like the pard, and with a keen blue eye which bespoke alike humour and intelligence. The Newcastle Weekly Courant, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 3 February 1894

The father of Scottish volunteering has passed away in the person of Mr. Alexander Henry, of Edinburgh, the famous gun inventor. Mr. Henry began his apprenticeship in firearms in his seventeenth year, and by 1859 had invented the barrel of the Martini-Henry rifle, which arm has recently been discarded by the British army in favour of the magazine rifle. Like many successful inventors, he had to wait long before the official mind at the War Office awoke to the utility of his invention, and it was not until 1874 that the rifle was first issued to the British army. The North-Eastern Daily Gazette, Middlesbrough, England, 3 February 1894

Mr Alexander Henry, gunmaker, whose name is known to all who have heard of the Martini-Henry rifle, died in Edinburgh on January 27, aged 76. He is said to have, been the father of the volunteer movement in Scotland, and he himself served as a volunteer for 30 years. He invented the rifle barrel which bears his name in 1859, but it was not till 1871 that it was adopted by the British Government in connection with the Martini breach action. The new rifle was first served out to the British Army in 1874, and gradually replaced the Snider rifle. Mr Henry also invented a complete rifle, which was adopted by the Government of New South Wales. He sat in the Town Council from 1876 to 1885, was a justice of the peace, and an active Freemason. He leaves a family consisting of two sons and three daughters. Otago Daily Times, New Zealand, 24 March 1894

Alexander Henry memorial
Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh
(courtesy Richard Brown)


The Scotch confirmation of the trust deed of settlement, dated October 22, 1890, of the late Mr Alexander Henry, gub and rifle manufacturer, 12 South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh, of Martini-Henry rifle fame, who died on January 27 last, has been sealed at the principal Probate Registry, and administration granted to the executors. The value of the personality in England, Scotland, and Ireland was sworn at £11,964 13s 2d.

Evening Telegraph (Angus, Scotland) - Friday 01 June 1894


Muzzle Loading Rifles

  Alexander Henry Muzzle Loading Rifles Rifle No. 824 - Cased match rifle complete with original accessories
  Percussion target rifle
  Percussion target rifle with scroll engraved lock
  Henry-Fraser Two Position Rifle
  Henry Fraser Two Position Rifle A.Henry & D.Fraser: Improvement in Fire-Arm. United States Patent Office. Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 201,524, dated 19 March 1878.
(nb. the British Patent was applied for on 21 April 1877 and granted on 6 July 1877, under Patent No. 1559). Muzzle and breech loading versions of this rifle are known.
  Rifle No. 3383 - Henry-Fraser Two Grip Percussion Target Rifle

Further reference
to Alexander Henry can be found associated with the development of the Martini-Henry rifle.

  • The Future Weapon of the British Soldier. The Living Age, May 1869
  • Alex Henry by Geoffrey Boothroyd. Guns Review, UK, July 1994
  • The British Falling Block Breechloading Rifle from 1865 by Jonathan G. Kirton. R&R Books, USA, 1997. ISBN 1 884849 21 0
  • British Single Shot Rifles, Volume I: Alexander Hernry by Walter G. Winfer. R&R Books, USA, 1998. ISBN 1 844849 23 7
  • Longrifles of Note: Alexander Henry Rifle by Tom Schiffer. Muzzle Blasts, USA, August 2001
© DB Minshall 2013