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Brian Wolfe

The Pattern 1816 Baker Rifleman's Sword

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The Pattern 1816 Baker Rifleman’s Sword

 

One of the more interesting and perhaps least recognized British sword is the Baker Rifleman’s Sword Pattern 1816.

 

Interesting in the sense that this particular sword demonstrates that the British military finally got the idea through their heads that a large bayonet or combination of sword and bayonet attached to the front of a rifle adversely affected the users aim. It should be pointed out that those in power for making such decisions lapsed back into the old ways and issued long bayonets for use on the SMLE rifle of WWI fame, not to mention the Brunswick and several other rifles. The point is that any rifle with a heavy bayonet attached is of limited use. An example of the Baker Rifle Bayonet (c. 1801, second pattern) may be seen below. The overall measurement is 28½ inches (72.5 cm) with a blade length of 23½ inches (approximately 60cm). The most obvious difference between the first pattern (P.1800) and second pattern (P.1801) is that the first pattern has a “D” shaped guard. A later Pattern (P.1806) had a saw back and this may have been the inspiration to include a saw back on the Baker Rifleman’s Sword, though this is pure conjecture on my part.

 

The Pattern 1816 Baker Rifleman’s Sword also qualifies, in this author’s opinion, as one of, if not the least recognized of the British swords. This was due to an error in identification made in earlier books identifying British swords, an error that was repeated by several authors since. I will not go into naming these authors or their books  because to do so is to risk besmirching their names over a simple error in what are otherwise excellent research references. These authors incorrectly identified the Baker Rifleman’s Sword as a Pioneer or Artillery Sword based mainly on the saw tooth back found on these swords. Research by the late Howard L. Blackmore published February 1997 in the Arms Collector, Volume 35 No. 1 Pages 9 – 15 and in British Military Flintlock Rifles (1740 – 1840) by De Witt Bailey Ph D., Page 143, published 2002, A. Mowbray Publishing, has shed light on the actual identification of these swords. Upon me making this information available on a well known sword forum the post was understandably met with scepticism at first. It quickly became evident, upon reading the post, as to why this sword’s identification had been accepted incorrectly for so long. One response was that they were unable to see the connection between this sword and the baker Rifle. The respondent was, of course, correct in that it is not directly associated with the Baker Rifle but with the Rifleman himself. It is a sword for the soldier and not for use on the rifle.

Pictured below

The Pattern 1816 Saw-Back Baker Rifleman’s Sword, Overall length: 26 ¾ “ (88cm), blade length: 22” (59 cm) 1½” (3.5 cm) wide, weighing 1100 gm.                                                                      Author’s collection

 

Baker sword.JPG

History of the Pattern 1816 Baker Rifleman’s Sword.

 

During the Napoleonic wars there appeared the famous Baker rifled musket with its improved accuracy and range, Pattern 1800. With the war seemingly over with the signing of the Treaty of Paris 30 May 1814 the British Government could now draw its attention to improving the Baker Rifle and address the problems discovered during the Napoleonic Wars. One of the glaring issues was with the sword bayonet that had been developed to be used with the Baker Rifle by the Rifle Companies. The affixing of a long (28½” or 72.4 cm) and heavy (957 gm) sword bayonet to the relatively short Baker rifle adversely affected accuracy; the very advantage of a rifled musket.

 

 

 

The production of the Baker Sword Bayonet continued to 1815 when it was superseded the same year by the Pattern 1815 Socket Bayonet. Following some discussion it was decided to equip the Rifle Companies with a new sidearm in addition to the new socket bayonet on 22 May 1815. While as of 12 June 1815 the proposed rifleman’s sword was approved an additional specification on 23 June 1815 was made for a saw back blade. This decision for a saw back blade was to confuse the identification of this sword as a Pioneer or Artillery sidearm in works written on the subject from 1967 right up to as late as 2013. The new pattern was put into production in March 1816 as the Pattern 1816 Saw Back Rifleman’s Sword.

Pictured below

The Baker Sword Bayonet Pattern 1801. Overall length: 28½” (72.4 cm), blade length: 23½ “ (60 cm) Blade width: 1¼” (31 mm) with a weight of 957 gm)                                                  Author’s collection

 

Baker Bayonet.JPG

The new “improved” sidearm for the Rifle Companies was slightly shorter than the sword bayonet it replaced yet the wider blade and heavier guard with its lion head pommel weighed 143 gm heavier. This resulted in not everyone being a fan. In 1816 Colonel Norcott of the rifle brigade wrote:

 

“As the bayonet has been lately substituted to fix on the rifle in place of the sword [he is referencing the socket bayonet], I would suggest that it be abolished altogether; the soldier has no use for both. It was always a preventive to his easy marching from the manner in which it was slung, and is very heavy. If it be said that it must be of use upon service in order to cut wood, or to hut, I can testify that the light division in Spain carried small felling axes, purchased by the captains for their men at the particular request of the latter, ... and used them in preference to either sword or bill hook ...indeed, I scarcely ever knew the soldier [to] use his sword, but for the purpose if dividing the meat, or for clearing ground to lay on.”

 

Pictured below

The Pattern 1816 Baker Rifleman’s Sword lion head hilt and blade detail.                       Author’s collection

Baker hilt.JPG

Baker lion.JPG

A total of 5,194 Baker Swords were supplied between 1816 and 1818 with Craven supplying 650. Thomas Craven made swords in Birmingham from 1818 to 1890, therefore the sword featured in this article would have been among the last manufactured. The exact date when these were discontinued in the field is unclear. It is interesting to note that these swords, or any sword bayonet for that matter, have never been documented as being used as a sword in any engagement, though the creation of such weapons seemed to be thought necessary by those making such decisions.

 

Author: Brian Wolfe, New Hamburg, Ontario Canada. April 2020

 Bibliography

 Bailey, De Witt, British Military Flintlock Rifles (1740 – 1840), Page 143.

 Blackmore, Howard L. The Baker Rifleman’s Sword – Arms Collector Volume 35, No 1 (Feb. 1997) Pages 9-15.

Latham, John Wilkinson, British Military Swords, From 1800 To The Present Day, Plate 35

 Robson, Brian, Swords of the British Army, The Regulation Patterns 1788 to 1914, The Revised Edition, Page 232 and 233, Plate 209.

 Withers, Harvey, British Military Swords, 1786 – 1912 The Regulation Patterns, Page 81.

 Pictured below

A rifleman of the North Yorkshire Militia loading his Baker Rifle. Note the sword he wears with the animal head (lion?) pommel. This period drawing would seem to verify that the sword was issued to Riflemen and not Pioneers or Artillerymen.                                                                                     Author’s collection

 

 

Baker rifleman.JPG

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