You know you want one…after you get your tetanus shot
The Kingdom of Nepal was isolated and in some very real struggles with its neighbors in the 19th Century. Bumping against the East India Company led to the Anglo-Nepali War during which the plucky Nepalese Gorkhali soldiers smacked the Brits around a good bit until some 17,000 redcoat regulars and Indian mercenaries could be mustered to roll over the locals. Still, the peace of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816 led to an uneasy alliance with Nepal that saw the British Army induct 5,000 Gurkhas right off the bat and keep coming back steady for the past 200 years for more.
Then came the Rana dynasty and ever-increasing British influence who provided some arms for the local Nepal forces, capped at 16,000-men, who proved useful in the Sepoy Mutiny. These arms included stocks of Brown Bess flintlocks, P.1853 Enfield muskets, Brunswick Fusils and other guns which by the 1880s were well past being obsolete.
Gurkhas in the 1870s, note the 1867 pattern Snider-Enfield breechloader conversions and giant Kukris!
Never to fear though, as the Gorkhali were resilient.
Local engineers found a few examples of 1878 Martini-Henry Francotte Pattern Short Lever Infantry Rifles which used a simplified detachable action fitted without the classic Martini cocking Indicator and decided to clone them Khyber Pass style for local use.
Some argue Francotte’s “improved system rifle” tweaks to the Martini-Henry made a better gun and while the British didn’t use Mr. Francotte’s changes for their standard issue rifles, the Francotte patent was used in tens of thousands of miniature Cadet rifles made by BSA and Greener, most of which went to Australia and New Zealand chambered in .310 Greener/ Cadet. Westley Richards also made many large bore commercial hunting rifles using the Francotte patent.
The thing was, the Nepalese didn’t actually have a firearms factory to make the gun. This in turn led to a cottage industry where these rifles were largely made by hand using sourced parts in a purpose-built site at Naku.
The worst thing about these guns is the suspect metallurgy as the steel was locally sourced and scrounged from whatever they could use including remelted plows. The screws and springs– cast by hand. The barrels were formed with bar steel wrapped in a coil and forged into the barrel, which was common for the era, just not in industrialized countries. The wood was originally coated in asphaltum, a mixture of tarmac and mineral spirits used to seal the grain. In short, they were hand-built guns with damascus wrapped barrels made by unskilled labor in a Third World country long before there was a concept such as QC, CNC or ISO.
Likely less than 16,000 were ever produced and the country, limited to a very small supply of powder for their indig ammo works, were only occasionally fired in musketry drills, so none saw exceptionally high round counts.
The breechloaders worked to a degree and were better than muskets, and the Nepalese took the lessons learned in the making the Francotte and used them to build the Gahendra Martini, which they based off a loaned Martini-Henry trials rifle given to them by the British that had a Peabody type action with a flat mainspring, instead of the improved coil spring used by the Martini, and Henry rifling. That is why Gahendras only “look” like Martinis.
As soon as the Gahendras were available around the 1890s, the Francottes moved to reserve use.
British Gurkhas from Navy And Army Illustrated, 1896, note the Martini-Henrys
Then around 1894, with the British Army moving to the Lee-Metford rifle, no less than 8,000 “real” Mk II Martini-Henry rifles were surplussed to Nepal. By 1906 and after another shipment of more modern Mark IV Martini-Henrys appeared, both the Francottes and Gahendras were placed in arsenal storage alongside the old Brown Besses, Enfields and Brunswicks– just in case– while the newer British-made guns were the primary arm.
Nepalese troops in 1901, note the difference between these soldiers and the ones shown above in British service at the same time. These men still used Francottes and Gahendras to a degree and saw a good bit of campaigning on occasion in border disputes with the even less well-equipped Tibetans and bandits.
In 1912, King George V visited the country and saw the various Martinis were still in very active use after the rest of the Empire had moved on, and whistled up some Boer War surplus Lee-Metfords for the country while Short Magazine Lee Enfields appeared after World War I and remained in use up to the Civil War in the 1990s and are still seen in imagery from the region.
By 1919 and enduring for a half century or more, the Nepalese have used the SMLE, though the example shown is a very well equipped Gurkha in HMs service in WWII
However, instead of throwing out the Brown Besses, Brunswicks, Francottes, Gahendras and Martinis, the Nepalese just kept stacking them deep, never throwing them out. After all, an old rifle can still be used in a pinch.
Then in 2003, Atlanta Cutlery and International Military Arms made the score of a lifetime when they gained access to the crumbling, open-air 16th Century Lagan Silekhana Palace in Katmandu where all of these guns were stored.
In the end, they bought and moved out of the country more than 52,000 rifles, 25,300 bayonets, 13,100 Kukris, 600 swords, 20 hand-built Bira double-barreled machine guns (all with non-interchangeable parts), 1.3-million Revolutionary War-era flints and 170 antique black powder cannon.
The two have been selling the cache for the past decade and just a couple months ago Atlanta Cutlery tapped out and sold their remaining inventory from Silekhana to IMA, who has been making some deals of their own lately.
Which led me to pick up this original Nepalese Francotte in “untouched condition” for $169 on sale with a 24-inch socket bayonet for $29, free shipping.
Isn’t she a beaut!
I’m not trying to restore it or refinish it, I’m just looking to clean the gross accumulation of junk off while preserving as much of the original finish and patina as possible, then lube it up and set it aside for display.
I understand the Nepalese used yak grease (not kidding) as sort of a Himalaya cosmoline to coat these guns before they were stored long term.
Nice shiny bore!
The screws haven’t been turned in 100~ years. Like most of these guns, the brass buttplate was salvaged by scavengers years ago and likely sold for scrap while the buttstock itself is cracked and loose. But on the bright side, the action works like a charm and the springs still seem tight.
Still, the end result should be interesting.