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19thC Riflemen

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Source: The Times, Tuesday 5 January 1897

We record with a regret which will be shared in many circles, and particularly amongst those who have taken an interest in the development of rifle-shooting in this country, the death at Wistow Hall, Leicester, yesterday, after a long illness, arising from a heart affection, of Sir Henry St. John Halford, of Wistow and of Newton Harcourt Manor-house in Leicestershire. He was the third baronet to bear the name of Sir Henry Halford. The original recipient of the title, who was the famous physician to George III., George IV., William and the Queen, on his creation as baronet, assumed the name of Halford, instead of that of Vaughan, in pursuance of the will of his maternal great-grandfather, Sir Richard Halford. The Vaughans were a family marked by ability which any man might have been proud to inherit. Besides the one who rose to eminence as a physician, one became a Baron of the Exchequer and a Judge of Common Pleas; another was Dean of Chester and Warden of Merton College; yet another ended his career as a diplomatist as Ambassador to Constantinople. The late Sir Henry Halford’s ability, great as it was of its kind, took a different direction to that of the Vaughans who went before him, and services which he rendered to his countryman were of another character than those which they had performed. Certainly, as a man who discharged a rifle as often, probably, as any one living, he cannot be said to have followed the family motto, Mutas inglorius artes.

Henry St. John Halford was born on August 9, 1828, and was educated at Eton and at Merton College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1849. Long before he succeeded his father in 1868 he took a keen interest in the Volunteer movement, was well known for his delight in rifle-shooting and for scientific and practical knowledge of the weapon which he loved so well. An excellent all-round sportsman, he could handle a gun with as good effect as a rifle, and was known as a bold rider to hounds, a keen fisherman, and a yachtsman as well. His interests in this direction did not, however, prevent him from devoting a large part of his energies to public affairs, and the services he had rendered to his country were recognized last autumn, when a number of those who had worked with him presented him with his portrait, painted by the Hon. John Collier, and with a valuable watch. For a great part of his long life he was a justice of the peace and deputy-lieutenant of the counties of Leicester and Northampton. He served as high sheriff of the latter county in 1872. He was elected chairman of the county council on its formation in 1889, but resigned in 1893 owing to ill-health. He was chairman of quarter sessions for the county of Leicester up to the, time of his death, and also honorary colonel of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, in which he was long a zealous officer. The corps was over 1,100 strong when he left its active command in 1891, and on his 60th birthday the officers presented him with a Maxim gun which he afterwards gave to the corps. He was appointed a C.B. (Civil) in 1885. He married, in 1853, Elizabeth Ursula, daughter of the late Mr. W.J. Bagshawe, of the Oaks and Wormhill-hall, Derbyshire. He leaves no son to bear the title, which descends to his younger brother, the Rev. John Frederick Halford, vicar of Brixworth.

Sir Henry Halford possessed a world-wide reputation as a rifleman and as an expert in all matters belonging to the production of rifles. He exercised a strong influence upon the development of the rifle as an arm of real precision, and he will live in the memory of the younger generation of riflemen, some of whom are fast approaching middle age, as the veteran who was ever ready to encourage and to advise rising shots. The right title for Henry Halford is that of “the father of rifle-shooting.” Whether he was present at the first meeting of National Rifle Association on Wimbledon-common in 1860 Mr. MacDonnell’s pleasant volume does not record; but it is strange if he was not, for his name very soon became prominent in the annals of the meeting. So early as 1862 he won the “Albert,” thereby achieving the highest honour: that can come to a match rifleman, and so recently as 1893 he repeated this feat. In 1864, when Mr. Wyatt, then a private in the London Rifle Brigade, and still a dangerous and successful shot, won the Queen’s Prize, Colonel Halford, as he then was, took the second place. This was the only occasion upon which this skilful shot competed in the final stage of the Queen’s Prize; and in later years, after the Martini had been introduced, he all but ceased to shoot as a Volunteer by reason of his strong objection to what he has been known to call “that beastly weapon.” Amongst other triumphs of his were the winning of the Any Rifle Association Cup in 1871, of the Duke of Cambridge’s Prize in 1871 and in 1875; and his tie with Captain Gibbs, the best shot of this generation, and with Captain Foulkes, a masterly young rifleman whose premature death was recorded a few weeks since, for the Dudley in 1893, in which year he also won the Bass. In 1877 and again in 1882 he captained the British Teams which fired matches with American riflemen at Creedmoor. Sir Henry, as he was always called, was perhaps never absolutely the best shot of his generation; a title which could have been claimed, for all-round shooting, by the famous Ross, by Mr. Humphry, and by Captain Gibbs in succession. But, not excepting Mr. Baker and Mr. Wyatt, both of whom have breaks in their shooting history, no man could claim so long and steadily successful a career as Sir Henry Halford. From the first meeting at which he appeared at Wimbledon until 1896, when he was missed and deeply regretted, he was never absent from the annual celebration, although it is true that in 1895 the once vigorous frame was enfeebled and the aid of a pony had to be called in to convey the veteran to the firing point. How often Sir Henry shot for England in the Elcho international match of which he was the life and soul the annual report of the National Rifle Association does not record; but he shot very often, and for the most part with great success. He was, in short, one of the most vigorous and devoted supporters of the National Rifle Association, his name was a household word, if the phrase be legitimate in relation to a camp, at Wimbledon and at Bisley; he had a kind greeting for all he met, and any one who wanted advice about the mechanism of a rifle or the allowances to be made for atmospheric conditions had but to seek Sir Henry, in the little bungalow which he shared with Mr. Metford, and subsequently with Mr. Whitehead, to have his difficulties smoothed at once.

In every movement connected with the development of the National Rifle Association, with the discussion of the conditions of matches, or the critical examination of weapons, Sir Henry Halford took a leading part, from the day when, with his life-long friend and coadjutor Mr. Metford, and Captain Pixley of the Victorias, he was appointed a member of the Rifle Conference of 1863, to the end of his life. Whenever a question arose concerning the selection of a national or Imperial team common consent pointed to him, by reason of his skill, his experience, and his intimate knowledge of the weapon of which he wrote, “If the youth of England could use the rifle, the strength and power of the United Kingdom would be invincible.” The dedication of a little book he wrote “to my friend Major-General Philip Smith, C.B., President of the Small Arms Committee, with whom I have worked for eight years,” serves to recall the long and devoted and valuable services rendered by Sir Henry Halford in that matter. The country owes to him the debt which is due to a man who made the science of rifles, as well as the practice of rifle-shooting the main pursuit of his life, who, without thought of pecuniary advantage, laboured without ceasing to discover all that could be discovered about the infantry weapon and to bring that weapon to a state of perfection.

A word-or two must be added concerning the range at Wistow, where so many riflemen received the hospitality of Sir Henry Halford and upon which so many experiments were made. From that range, in November, 1886 Sir Henry forwarded to The Times the record of the marvellous score, 248 out of a possible 250, or 48 bull’s-eyes out of 50 shots, made by Captain Gibbs at 1,000 yards with a Metford rifle. From Wistow his disciple, the Hon. T.F. Fremantle, obtained those marvellous diagrams made by Major Young, and at Wistow himself made those equally good diagrams which are recorded in his book. Wistow range was, in fact, the experiment ground of an expert with a rifle, and the owner of Wistow knew as much of the mechanism and the properties of the rifle which he could use so well in sport and at the firing point as any man living. In him rifle-shooting has lost one of its best friends.


Postscript

Source: The Times, London, Monday, 1 February 1897

Lady Halford, widow of Sir Henry Halford, died at Wistow-hall, near Leicester, on Saturday afternoon. It was found necessary for her to undergo an operation on Wednesday, and from ths she did not rally. Lady Halford has survived her husband less than a month, he having died on January 4. She was Elizabeth, daughter of the late Mr. W.J. Bagshawe, of the Oaks and of Wormhill-hall, Derbyshire, and was married in 1853.