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Queen Victorias Rifle Volunteers and Yeomanry 1859-1908

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Hans Busk

Probably the single most influential author of the period prior to and at the beginning of the 1859 Movement was the barrister, Captain Hans Busk (1815 - 1882) of the Victoria Rifles. His unit was one of the very few surviving Association/Clubs from the Napoleonic period. In its earlier days it achieved a leading place in the history of shooting as The Duke of Cumberland’s Sharp-shooters. For those who might have believed otherwise, Sharpshooter is an expression dating well back into the 18th Century and has nothing to do with the rifles of Christian Sharps.

Hans Busk was born on 11th May 1815, six weeks before the Battle of Waterloo, and as far back as the 1830’s, as an undergraduate at Cambridge, was pressing the government to encourage the formation of Rifle Clubs for the defence of the country against possible invasion. When rebuffed by the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, he established a model Rifle Club in the University and published a series of articles in one of the quarterly journals. This series was revived by him in book form in 1858. In the preface to the Second Edition, dated 18th June (*) 1858, entitled THE RIFLEMAN’S MANUAL OR, RIFLES, AND HOW TO USE THEM (Riling 693), he describes how he has been persuaded to modernise and re-issue his earlier work. This Second Edition is, in fact, an early version of the well known THE RIFLE: AND HOW TO USE IT. A high level of interest in the Second Edition led to a Third dated 18th September 1858 followed by the Fourth on 18th May 1859. The Second is the only edition to appear in Octavo size, as from the Third Edition onwards it became a pocket book when the publisher was changed from Charles Noble to Routledge, Warne and Routledge.

By the end of 1859, following the government’s decision of 12th May, to permit Volunteer Corps to form under the authority of Lords Lieutenant of Counties, enthusiasm for the idea grew rapidly. Busk responded by writing in rapid succession RIFLE VOLUNTEERS: HOW TO ORGANISE AND DRILL THEM IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LATEST OFFICIAL REGULATIONS (not listed by Riling), HANDBOOK FOR HYTHE: COMPRISING A FAMILIAR EXPLANATION OF THE LAWS OF PROJECTILES AND AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SYSTEMS OF MUSKETRY, NOW ADOPTED BY ALL MILITARY POWERS (Riling 733), HANS BUSK’S TABULAR ARRANGEMENT OF COMPANY DRILL (not listed by Riling) and, not content with all that he was writing for the Volunteers, he also produced in 1859, THE NAVIES OF THE WORLD; THEIR PRESENT STATE, AND FUTURE CAPABILITIES (not listed by Riling).

The Rifle

Busk’s best known work is THE RIFLE AND HOW TO USE IT. This ran to at least eight editions. We have looked at the first three already. The Fourth to the Sixth were in the same style as the Third but the Seventh was greatly enlarged and featured Busk’s portrait as the frontispiece. All these editions appeared before the end of 1860. The earliest editions concentrated more on firearms development but, by the Fourth, equal emphasis is being placed upon drill and musketry.

Right: frontispiece from The Rifle and How To Use It

The only other work listed by Riling is HANDBOOK FOR HYTHE of 1860 which reached at least two editions. This is an excellent technical treatise for the training of officers at the School of Musketry at Hythe which had  been established by General Hay in 1854. Much of its material was used subsequently in the official TEXTBOOK FOR HYTHE published by H.M.S.O. in several editions.

Both THE RIFLE AND HOW TO USE IT and HANDBOOK FOR HYTHE were reissued in facsimile by Richmond Publishing Company in 1971 and second-hand copies are readily available. The first is still easily found in one of its original editions but it will be extremely unlikely to be an earlier edition than the Fourth. HANDBOOK is a very scarce in the original.

Handbook for Hythe

RIFLE VOLUNTEERS: HOW TO ORGANISE AND DRILL THEM was also written in 1859 and had reached its Seventh Edition by 5th January 1860. This is once again an indication of the enthusiasm with which the public took to Volunteering. The book is in the same pocket size format of the two just mentioned and is bound in boards with printed paper covers showing two soldiers dressed in the uniforms specified in the text within. The usual binding for the others is embossed red cloth with leather spines.

HANS BUSK’S TABULAR ARRANGEMENT OF COMPANY DRILL is an unusual little item. It is, in fact, a wall chart or poster, mounted on cloth like a map, and is intended to be hung upon the Drill Hall wall to provide an instant reference to all ranks of their respective positions and duties. He also produced a book of Rifle Target Registers.

His book NAVIES OF THE WORLD is not really applicable to the Volunteers other than its references to the risks of sea borne invasion but it is a valuable source for students of the navy and packed with data. Busk himself became Deputy Lieutenant of Middlesex and was also High Sheriff of Radnorshire, the location of the family seat.

(*) Footnote - June 18th was a date filled with meaning throughout the 19th Century in Great Britain. It was the day upon which the Battle of Waterloo had been fought in 1815. In 1855 it was the day chosen for the Assault upon Sevastopol following the Fourth Bombardment and had been given an almost mystical significance which made the failure of that Assault all the more poignant. Lord Raglan, himself a Waterloo veteran, died ten days later, some say of a broken heart.