Memoir of William Ellis Metford (5)

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In 1867, Mr. Metford and his friend Capt. (now Lt.-Col.) Fosbery, V.C., went to the Paris Exhibition and exhibited to the French artillerists their respective explosive rifle bullets, for Capt. Fosbery had used one of his own design with great success, especially for finding ranges, in the Umbeyla Campaign. The Montigny Mitrailleuse had then just been produced, and Capt. Fosbery reported on it to the India Office and War Office. He was instructed by the Government to get one of these machines made in Belgium, and with Mr. Metford's assistance provided an improved barrel, with the result that its efficiency was much improved, and that it afterwards made as accurate shooting at 1,000 yards as it had before at 450.

One advantage of the ousting of the Whitworth system of deep grooving and a non-cylindrical bullet was that the difficulty of producing a satisfactory breech-loading rifle became less formidable, and before long this question was occupying Mr. Metford's attention. The Martini action, in combination with the Henry barrel, had been adopted in February, 1869, by the Small Arms Committee, who had before them the work of all the prominent rifle makers. of the day, but not Mr. Metford's. In 1870 he embarked seriously upon the problem. His very practical mind at once saw that the solid-drawn brass cartridge-case was, for strength and simplicity, far ahead of the compound rolled case adopted for the Service; and that, especially considering the needs of hot climates and other practical conditions, lubrication of bullet or cartridge was inadmissible. Every detail of the barrel and cartridge received close attention from him, and especially the form of the chamber and of the "entry" conducting the bullet from the cartridge into the rifling. The adoption of a grooving of segmental form was also found to give great advantages in preventing the accumulation of fouling. It was not long before his first experimental breech-loaders made their appearance, and at Wimbledon, in 1871, two rifles and a limited supply of home made ammunition were used. Mr. Metford was extremely anxious that his rifle should win, if possible, H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge's prize for military breech-loading rifles, a single prize of 50 pounds, and twelve competitors used these two rifles in the first stage of the competition, at 800 and 900 yards. Sir Henry Halford, who was the only one of these to shoot against ten other competitors in the final stage of ten shots at 1,000 yards, won the single prize in this stage with two points to spare, and the average score made by the rifle in the hands of the twelve who used it in the first stage was much higher than that of any other rifle.

The Metford rifle again won the Duke of Cambridge's prize in 1872, and in the same year the "Withingon" match, between teams armed with breech-loaders and muzzle-loaders, proved that, while the latter were certainly still superior, the Henry match breech-loader was quite out-classed by the Metford military rifle with match sights attached. By 1877 the rifle and ammunition had passed out of the experimental stage, and were made by makers of repute, to whom great credit is due for the good workmanship, which was an indispensable condition of the success of the rifle. From that time the record of the military rifle is an unbroken series of triumphs; and in the whole twenty-three years up to 1894, when military rifles of larger bore than .315 were no longer recognised by the National Rifle Association, the Metford rifle only four times failed to win the Duke of Cambridge's prize, while it took a preponderating share of the other prizes. The Martini-Henry, adopted so recently by the Committee on Small Arms as the best breech-loader, soon found its level, and after 1882 absolutely disappears from the long-range prize lists for the military breech-loader class. The superiority of the Metford rifle was notably shown in the matches with the military rifle between the Volunteers of Great Britain and the National Guard of the United States, in 1882 and 1883, when the American rifles proved to be decidedly inferior to the British, notably at the long ranges. In 1882 ten, and in 1883 eleven, of the British teams of twelve used the Metford rifle. Meanwhile, Mr. Metford's match rifle was always prominent in the long range competitions.

In a memorandum on the subject of his military rifles, Mr. Metford notes that the determination of the best alloy for his bullets cost him at least a year's time, and this is an example of the thoroughness with which every detail was considered. But although his own special line of work was concerned with the barrel and the cartridge, it must not be supposed that the merits of different breech actions failed to receive very close scrutiny. In 1870 he prepared for Mr. M. T. Bass, M.P., an exhaustive memorandum on the comparative merits of the Westley Richards and Martini breech actions, in which be dwelt forcibly on the weakness of the latter in leverage for extracting the cartridge. One can but feel, after reading this memorandum that the jamming of our soldiers' rifles in Egypt, a dozen years later was due to some fatal shortsightedness. Great, too, was the labour which he expended on making tables for the trajectories of his rifles. Mr. Froude gave him great help by suggesting a convenient formula on which to work, and he always-made calculation. and experiment go hand in hand. In deducing results from his experiments, he was extremely cautious, never allowing himself to be led into hasty conclusions. He possessed the rare gift of being able to criticise impartially his own work and ideas. In the summer he would sometimes fire his rifles up to their extreme ranges at Plymouth or Freshwater, against some rock in the sea, taking the distance with a theodolite, and watching through a telescope for the splash of the bullet in the water --for calm weather was essential-- seconds after pulling the trigger. Most of his experimental shooting was done in conjunction with Sir Henry Halford at Wistow. He was singularly free from any personal desire to win a high place in rifle competitions, and only once shot in the English Eight for the Elcho Shield, though in that annual match, in which his own rifles were so conspicuous, the English team constantly had the benefit of his "coaching" until about 1890, when he ceased to be a regular visitor to the National Rifle Association meetings. His great pleasure at Wimbledon was to watch the shooting and to talk with those really interested in rifles --for his great store of experience was always at their disposal.

The rapid advance in military small arms abroad, especially as regards quickness of loading, caused the appointment of a Committee to deal with the question of an improved British rifle in February, 1883. Mr. Metford designed, at the request of the Committee, the detail of the barrel of .42 bore for the rifle provisionally issued for trial at the beginning of 1887. But just at this time the question of further reduction of the calibre was raised, as a result of Continental experiments, and the outcome was the adoption of the present .303 barrel and cartridge for the Service. The fulness of Mr. Metford's knowledge enabled him at very short notice to lay down the proper proportions for the grooving, the pitch of the spiral, the shape and dimensions of the "entry," and the "clearances" to be given for the cartridge, all so satisfactorily, that though he himself verified them at much trouble and cost, and the Committee also tried them exhaustively, it was found that no modification could improve them, as regards accuracy, convenience in use, or ease of manufacture. It has to he remembered that the .303 was first used with black powder, for which his segmental grooving was almost essential, and that it was only the rapid destruction of the bore by the smokeless powder afterwards adopted, which made it advisable to return to a very obvious form of grooving which had been used by Mr. Metford twenty five years earlier. The adoption of the name Lee-Enfield for the 303 magazine rifle with the altered grooving, obscures the fact that the shape of the groove was only one of the many important but not obvious' details connected with the barrel, chamber and cartridge, which are due to Mr. Metford's skill. Far as he was from being ambitious, and utterly alien as any mercenary idea was to his mind, he felt keenly more than once, and especially in connection with the .303 rifle, the difficulty of obtaining that proper public recognition of his work for the country, which his strong sense of justice felt to be due to him.

The peculiar shape of the bullet devised and used by him in later years, with a blunt point and a long sloping shoulder, was found to cleave the air with less resistance than the older shapes, and to. make a very appreciable difference to the flatness of the trajectory at long ranges. This improvement was adapted by him for the Service rifle. For many years all the bullets used in his match and military rifles had been made on the premises of his own house, so important did he consider care in their manufacture to be. His industry was indomitable, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the labour expended by him on the one item of experiment with alloys of lead suitable for bullets. He went deeply into the subject of the gradual change of hardness which taken place in them, and thus gained a light on points that would otherwise have seemed inexplicable.

It was characteristic of Mr. Metford that he intended to have. spent a substantial part of the sum awarded him by the War Office for his services in connection with the .303 rifle, in fresh experiments, to clear up questions connected with recoil, the resistance of the air, and other matters; but, in the summer of 1892 a sharp attack of his old illness from which he did not return to his normal level of comparatively good health, put an end to such projects; and, after a few years of failing strength quietly spent, he passed away peacefully at his house at Redland, Bristol, on October 14th, 1899.

He made, in his latter years, few now friends, for he was not always equal to the exertion of social intercourse, and not many save his old friends really knew him for what he was. His kindness to the young learner, those who experienced it will never forget, and he had a sweetness and broad humanity about him such as many equally vigorous characters lack. Though devoted chiefly to scientific pursuits, ho read widely, and was keenly interested in all the matters that occupy the attention of thinking men--history, politics, science, and especially religion, for be was above all a God-fearing man. He bore the constant burden of illhealth with singular patience, and his calmness was conspicuous when, some fifteen years ago, he lost the records of half his life's gunnery work in a handbag stolen from a cab in London, and never recovered. It should be mentioned that in 1876, when closing the breech of a rifle, the cap exploded prematurely and blew off the upper part of his right thumb. He bore the pain of the healing of this with great fortitude. Cant and hypocrisy he hated, and the work of his hands was thoroughly and scrupulously finished; nor was the accuracy of his mind less well marked. His work, whether in India or at home, was worthy of wider appreciation than it received, and he left in the world of those interested in rifle-work a gap which there is none to fill.

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Memoir of William Ellis Metford (4)

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In the course of his experiments with explosive projectiles, Mr. Metford had found that the hollow-fronted bullet was not less accurate than that of the usual form, and in his later experiments he discovered that, with the Enfield bullet, which had a hollow rear, the accuracy of flight was very considerably increased by the hollow in front. The whole subject of rifle shooting had been brought into fresh prominence by the rise of the Volunteer movement and the formation of the National Rifle Association in 1859-60. Mr. Metford, though his shooting was much handicapped by his health, and he did not shoot very often in competition, found that he could hold his own by using this form of bullet, and indeed had some small advantage over competitors using ammunition of the ordinary pattern. He won, at rifle meetings in the West of England, two first prizes of 100 pounds each, in 1862, and one in 1863. At the Rifle Conference, in January, 1864, he read a paper on the handicapping of men and of weapons, and alluded to the advantage which he considered to be given him by his method of loading. But he felt that, having won enough prizes to repay the cost of his experiments, the best course was to give the secret to the public, and, almost immediately after the close of the Conference, he wrote a letter to the secretary of it, describing the modified bullet on which his success depended; and a full description of it, with diagrams, was published in a pamphlet on Rifling and Rifle Sights," edited by Lord Bury, for the National Rifle Association, in the same year. Mr. Metford, of course, did not patent this bullet, but Sir J. Whitworth, early in 1864, applied for, and obtained, a patent for an exactly similar bullet. When challenged by Mr. Metford, however, he could not prove either originality or priority of invention. The value of this form of bullet may be judged from the fact that when rifle shells were no longer admissible, the form of the bullet was retained unaltered, and continued to be used as the "Metford-Enfield" bullet until the Snider was superseded by the Martini-Henry. In 1865 we find that in the "Volunteer Service Gazette" competition, at Wimbledon, for long Enfield rifles at 800 yards, "any ammunition" was allowed expressly in order to permit the use of Metford bullets, and that the first prize was won by a competitor using them. Advantage was taken by Mr. Metford of the form of this bullet with its considerable hollow in front, to enable the position of the hit on an iron target to be indicated. He filled the hollow with vegetable charcoal, which, as the bullet broke up, made a momentary cloud, easily visible from the firing point. Mr. Metford also pointed out how a similar bullet, made of hardened lead (1 of tin to 15 of lead), would make good shooting at long ranges if fired from a rifle of .577 calibre with a spiral of 1 turn in 3 to 4 feet, and 3 shallow grooves of .01 inch deep.

In 1862 the late Sir Henry Halford came to the front at the Wimbledon meeting as a winner of several important prizes, and Mr. Metford's acquaintance with him, which soon ripened into a lifelong friendship, dated from that time. Henceforward they were associated in all their rifle work, and if Mr. Metford's was the guiding spirit of their partnership, all the zeal, skill, and resources of his friend were ungrudgingly placed at his disposal. They co-operated when in 1864-5 the National Rifle Association gave prizes for a special competition at 2,000 yards with muzzleloading rifles, weighing not more than 15 lbs. Mr. Metford specially made for this competition a rifle of about .5 inch bore with telescopic sight, which gave fair results. It was the only rifle entered in 1865, and in the competition of 1866 the only other competing rifle failed to find the target.

Before this time Mr. Metford had given much consideration to the question of rifling in relation to the nature of the impulse given to the bullet, and he came to the view that the best and most correct way of imparting to the bullet its full rotation would be to cut such a spiral as would give the bullet equal increments of rotation in equal times. Such a spiral would give an equal pressure on the side of the bullet, and the tendency to escape the rifling would be, therefore, represented by the starting pitch of the spiral and not by the final pitch, which starting pitch of spiral would be, in this system, of a much slower rate than in spirals of the usual uniform, rate. In ascertaining the speed of the bullet at different points in passing along the bore, Mr. Metford occupied much time. He had barrels out off to different lengths, but he also calculated the speeds, and finally drew a series of curves ending in different final pitches of spiral, with some of which he finally experimented at the long ranges of 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 yards. From very early times, variations had been made in the pitch; increasing, and even decreasing, spirals had been used. But they had depended on no rule--merely on the fancy of the maker. Mr. Metford was the first to make the curve of the increasing pitch of the spiral correspond with that of the effective work of the powder. He felt it important to patent his increasing spiral, both to record that it was he who put the principle upon a proper scientific basis, and also to guard himself from unworthy imitations, and for nearly 30 years it was applied to the Metford rifle generally. It does not, however, seem to have been a principal element in the success of the rifle, though it had the incidental advantage of infallibly shearing the paper patch sur rounding the bullet, and so preventing a cause of false shots not unknown in rifles with an even spiral. For the purpose of ascertaining the speed of the bullets projected from different lengths of rifled barrels, it was necessary to design and erect an instrument capable of accurately measuring it. With the help of his ever-ready friend, Mr. Froude, who suggested a method of double suspension, Mr. Metford designed a new form of ballistic pendulum, which was found convenient in use, and very accurate in its results.

Mr. Metford proved, by a very simple experiment, in Feb., 1865, that the expansion of a bullet when fired was effected instantaneously before it acquired any forward motion. Experiments with hardened cylindrical bullets, such as he had used as far back as 1854 (as already mentioned), showed him that the old idea that a lead bullet could not be too soft was entirely erroneous. It was thought that complete and rapid expansion of the bullet into the grooving demanded that it should be of pure lead. This was probably due to the custom of making the grooving of rifles of considerable depth. Mr. Metford soon saw that the great thing was to check the expansion, and to use a hardened bullet giving less friction in the bore. This would allow of the bullet being spun without stripping by a very shallow rifling, and the practical convenience of a cylindrical bullet quickly made itself felt as against the arrangement patented by Sir J. Whitworth, and invented even earlier by Mr. Brunel, wherein was used a polygonal bore with a mechanically fitting bullet. An additional advantage of shallow grooving, and a very important one, was that the trouble caused by the accumulation of fouling, a conspicuous feature of rifles with deep or polygonal grooving, was reduced to a minimum. Delicacy of measurement and extreme accuracy in all essentials was a conspicuous feature of Mr. Metford's work, and he found that grooving of not more than about .004 in. deep would give a proper spin to a bullet of suitable hardness, and that even grooves so shallow as to measure only half of the thousandth of an inch in depth would rotate a bullet. This new system of light rifling with a hardened bullet was very soon adopted by all rifle makers in England and America, excepting Sir J. Whitworth, whose polygonal grooving was very soon completely outclassed.

The first "small bore" rifle made on these principles by Mr. Metford was fired by Sir Henry Halford, who at once made a sensation by winning with it the Cambridge Cup, at the annual meeting of the Cambridge University Long Range Club, in 1865, the competition consisting of 15 shots at 900, 1,000 and 1,100 yards, on each of two consecutive days. This rifle had five shallow grooves, cut concentric with the bore, a form of grooving which, if allowance is made for the difference in size, is the very counterpart of that of the present service arm, the "Lee-Enfield." At the Wimbledon meeting of 1865 there seem to have been only two Metford rifles used, one by Mr. Metford himself and the other by Sir Henry Halford, and they did not take a very prominent place in the prize lists. But in 1866 we find five Metford rifles in the English team for the Elcho Shield and two in the Scottish. The next year six Englishmen used them, and they grew in favour until in 1871 the whole English team shot with them. Meanwhile the Whitworth rifle had disappeared, and the other rifles competing against Mr. Metford's were all based on his principle of hardened bullets and shallow rifling. The pains which he took to perfect each detail by the most careful and exhaustive experiment can hardly be over-rated. The wadding, the bullet, the paper wrapped round the bullet, all were the subject of trial to ascertain the best form, dimensions, and material, always with a special attention to what was simple and practical. And so, year after year, perfection was more and more nearly approached, and Mr. Metford's mind became stored with so much information and experience on his own subject as could be matched by no other man.

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Memoir of William Ellis Metford (3)

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Mr. Metford's apprenticeship to rifle work began, as has been already said, while he was yet a boy, and he gave constant attention to it in the intervals of his engineering studies and apprenticeship. There was very little rifle-shooting done at that time, except at quite short ranges, but as early as 1852 he was carrying on long range experiments as far as 1,200 yards, as shown by the records he then kept.

Late in 1852 or early in 1853 he suggested a hollow-based bullet for the Enfield rifle expanding without a plug, which was brought out with the assistance of Mr. Pritchett, who was awarded 1,000 pounds by H.M.'s Government for this invention, on its adoption by the Small Arms Committee to whom he had offered it.

It was in 1853 that Mr. Metford discovered that a soft lead flat-backed bullet would fully expand in the rifling, and without a plug, an addition thought at that time absolutely necessary. He exhibited this bullet to the Select Committee on Small Arms, and having convinced the Committee that the bullet would expand, he was authorised to make experiments to enable him to discover whether this bullet would shoot better than the Enfield bullet. These experiments, as made by Mr. Metford, proved that there was a difference in favour of the accuracy of the Enfield bullet, though a very slight one, and he reported against his own bullet--the flattening of the back made the bullet too short.

In the year 1854 Mr. Metford experimented with bullets made of alloys of lead and tin, with the view of discovering whether any sort of alloyed bullets would, when flat-backed, rifle up by the force of the explosion, and, if so, how far the lead could be hardened while leaving enough softness to enable the energy of the powder gas to rifle it.

In the year 1854 he first discovered that all rifle barrels, when in their stocks, are bent before the bullet passes the muzzle by the agency of the explosion. While fitting a telescopic sight to his rifle, he was much puzzled to find that the rifle shot to a point quite different from that to which the axis of the barrel was pointed at the moment of pulling the trigger. Careful trial showed him that the discrepancy existed equally and in the same direction in respect to the barrel, whether the rifle was fired with the sights upright, horizontal, or upside down, and that it must therefore be quite independent of gravity. Mr. Froude suggested to him the true explanation, that it was due to the mass of the stock being unsymmetrical with the mass of the barrel. He proved that the amount of disturbance varied with variation of the charge, and thus a flood of light was let in on the idiosyncrasies of different rifles. In 1856 be found that the most curiously erratic shooting could be produced from a rifle barrel held in a. vice, quite undamaged, but with the particles of the metal put into a state of strain.

In 1854, and probably earlier, Mr. Metford was familiar with the American telescopic sights made by James, of Utica, after the design of Mr. J. Chapman, C.E., and at this time he designed and made a telescopic sight on rather different principles, which gave ample play for the elevation needed for long ranges, and which ten years of heavy recoiling had failed to damage when it was described by him in "Rifling and Rifle Sights," edited by Lord Bury for the National Rifle Association in 1864. He used telescopic sights for many years in his long range experiments, and had invented an arrangement of lenses which enabled the eye to be kept well away from the eyepiece in aiming, and so to escape damage from the recoil.

The possibility of making an explosive rifle-bullet soon engaged Mr. Metford's attention, and in the year 1856 he invented the rifle shell which bore his name, and was eventually adopted by the Government. In the year 1857 he was applied to by Colonel Dixon, the Chief of the Select Committee, to send in his explosive shell for experiment, and it, in his hands, defeated all other rifle shells tried, and was eventually exhibited as the best shell before Lord Panmure, Secretary of State for War, and others, and gave great satisfaction. This, however, was in Mr. Metford's absence, for he had recently left for India, and for the moment no such shell was adopted.

Soon after his return he was informed that the military authorities were again experimenting with rifle shell, and ho wrote desiring that, as his shell bad already taken the first place as being unfailing, simple and cheap, it might be put into competition again. It then competed against Colonel Boxer's and General Jacobs' shells and defeated them, and was finally adopted by Her Majesty's Government in 1863. The production of this shell had cost Mr. Metford much time and trouble; he had himself made 66,000 shells for the Government, as well as special machinery for turning them out, and had lived at Woolwich some time for the special purpose of making them. Further, be had not patented the invention, wishing to leave the Government in the most advantageous position, should it adopt it. Yet the War Office, which often seems to find a difficulty in distinguishing between the more crank, with an exaggerated notion of the value of some crude or useless idea, and the capable scientific man who asks only a reasonable recompense for really valuable work, awarded him, in the first place, only 1,000 pounds in full discharge of all expenses and claims in connection with the matter, a sum absolutely not sufficient to meet the actual cost to him of his experiments, and the manufacture of the bullets, with a very moderate allowance for the time expended in the work. Mr. Metford, who was the least self-seeking of men, after strongly pressing his claims for a juster treatment, was eventually awarded 1,000 pounds in addition to the reimbursement of his expenses; but, considering the value of the invention at that time, this reward can only be described as quite inadequate. Further, his work in this matter had been done under the very trying circumstances of great weariness and chronic headache, which was now his normal condition of health, so that it can be no matter for surprise that when, in 1868, the Committee on Small Arms applied to him for his views on the adoption of an arm of smaller calibre than the Enfield rifle, he did not see his way to putting his knowledge at the disposal of the War Office.

Mr. Metford used to say that an explosive bullet was justifiable, because it would make wars short, but the explosive bullet did not survive very long, for the Convention of St. Petersburgh, in 1868, declared against explosive missiles than 14 oz. weight, and in March, 1869, it was declared obsolete.

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Memoir of William Ellis Metford (2)

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It became now an object to Mr. Metford, who had recently married a daughter of his father's old college friend Dr. Wallis, of Bristol, to obtain a remunerative appointment; and, largely through the good offices of Mr. T. E. Blackwell, backed by the recommendation of Mr. Brunel, he was offered, and accepted, a very important appointment on the East Indian Railway, under the present Sir Alexander Rendel. Early in March, 1857, he and his wife left England for India, arriving at Calcutta in April, and at Monghyr, on the Ganges, on May 18th. Just at this time the Mutiny was breaking out, and the house - about three miles from Monghyr - in which they first established themselves, was very soon obviously unsafe. They therefore moved into the town early in June, but found the situation in Monghyr an anxious one. The Railway Company sent orders for Mr. Metford to return with his staff to Calcutta; the East India Company's civil officers, on the other hand, being at their wits' end for men, pressed him to stay. Seeing the necessity of supporting the Government he remained, and persuaded nearly all his staff to do the same. His position as chief of the railway staff - but even more his courage and coolness, and power of organising - laid upon him with the help of his comrades the burden of keeping if it should be possible, a city of 50,000 or 60,000 inhabitants, imbued with every element of disaffection, and containing only some 70 or 80 Europeans all told, in quietness until it could be occupied by military force. Of the magnitude of this task with such means as were at his disposal, as well as of the difficulties added by the incompetence - or worse - of some of the few Europeans on whom he had to depend to help him, no better idea can be given than is conveyed in some extracts from a journal kept by his young wife in that terrible time.

Mrs. Metford's journal runs as follows:-
"June 11. - William making bullets all day. Thirty Sowars marched in - Mr. _____ very cleverly putting them into the unoccupied part of the gaol, so that they could combine with the prisoners. June 13. - Eight or ten gentlemen came to discuss affairs. News that some of the same regiment that we have to defend (?) us have just murdered their officers at a neighbouring station. It was decided to send supplies to the fortified house, and the women and children. Patrols decided on. Our party keep a look-out on the gate near us, and others at the four others, and communicate with each other continually, besides a strong guard at Dr. McCrae's (the fortified house). June 17. - William out continually; he is getting quite the head of the military arrangements here. It is well known that shells and murderous inventions are being made in abundance by 'Metford Sahib,' and there is a pretty strong feeling of respect for this corner of the fort. Mr. _____ dare not give any orders, so the Sahibs take it on themselves. William very savage at the proposal by Mr. R____ that everyone should take to the boats and lie off shore ready to fly; I am ashamed to say this Mr. R____ has a tolerably large party. June 16. - A report came this morning through the servants that the people in the Bazaar said, 'All the Sahibs had run away to the river, and that they were coming to loot their houses.'. . ."
The weary defence dragged on for six more weeks, and on July 26 Mrs. Metford writes: "William worried to death with his own and everybody else's business. You would, think he was the head of the station to see how every one comes to him for everything and looks to him for guidance." Then came a departure of some of the Europeans by boat. They were urged to join them. But Mr. Metford felt that if he left, his staff would go too, and that there would be many left defenceless to almost certain violence. Mrs. Metford refused to leave her husband. Her journal says:-
"There is only one lady left here besides myself. . . . Kept my boots on in case one might have to make a rush for Mr. Hellyer's boat. He is kindly staying at Monghyr, as he does not like to leave us entirely without refuge, in case of a visit from the Sowars. Mr. T____ and William intend to make a regular fortification, provided thirty men can be made to sign a paper that they will, in case of necessity, fight and defend themselves and families; thus, instead of flying, this is now being arranged by William, who is better, but still very unwell. Mr. _____ looks anxious and distracted: the last steamer would not spare us any troops. . . . William came home about 12; I was quite shocked at his appearance; he said he had a continual pain across his forehead."
Early in August English soldiers arrived at Monghyr, and Mr. Hellyer insisted that Mr. and Mrs. Metford should accompany him down the river to Bhagulpore, Mr. Metford being now completely broken down by his exertions. His illness was (says Mrs. Metford) "brought on by his hard work, mental and physical, for he kept watch for seven weeks nightly, two hours at a time, sometimes four, and the night after that four hours' watch was up the whole night; and this, together with the work his own energy brought on him in the station; for people soon began to see he was the only one who could and would do anything, and came to him about every trifle. Consequently he suffered severely for it. I saw how it was all tending, but all I could get from him was, 'If I don't do it, no one will, and we may all lose our lives in consequence.' And the entire arrangement of the night guards was in his hands; and if you knew the selfishness, drunkenness, and unwillingness he had to contend with daily, you would not be surprised at the result."

Five months were spent at Bhagulpore, and early in January, 1858, Mr. and Mrs. Metford returned to Monghyr, hoping that he would be able to resume his work; but after six weeks it was evident that his health would not allow this, and he returned to England in the spring of that year, suffering from chronic inflammation of the membrane lining the brain, and was obliged to relinquish his profession, and to live upon his private means. His quiet heroism was hardly known and met with no reward; there had been no outbreak and consequently no sensation. And from that time his work - for he could not be altogether idle - was often done under the weight of continual depression and headache. Yet, even so, he made for himself a reputation such as most men may envy, as a "path-finder" and an authority in matters connected with small arms, and kept up an active interest in many other fields of investigation.

Attracted by the precious stones which he saw while in the East, be studied their properties after his return home, and was by no means satisfied with the usual method of cutting them. He devised with little difficulty an ingenious machine by which he could form the facets with great precision, and quickly produced the most admirable results. At the Exhibition of 1862 he showed a case of gems of his own cutting, which were much appreciated by those who know good cutting from indifferent. Yet so strong is the habit of a trade, and so great is general ignorance on such subjects as this, that the invention had no chance whatever to become a success, or even to be tried commercially, although anyone of ordinary intelligence could very quickly learn its use. But the stones cut by its means remain, a monument of well applied commonsense.

Among other subjects in which Mr. Metford took an interest was astronomy, but he did not find it possible to employ very constantly the 4 1/3 in. equatorial telescope, which he had mounted for the purpose. He contributed, however, to the Astronomical Register of May, 1876, a description of a method of illuminating the time and declination circles, watch face, micrometer wires, and finder of the telescope by means of Geissler tubes - an original method, if not a new one at that time. Kite-flying was, an amusement in which he excelled and indeed, there was no part of the field of mechanics in which he did not take a keen interest.

Introduction | To India | Bullets & Telescope Sights | NRA & Small-bore Rifle | Military Breech Loaders

Memoir of William Ellis Metford

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This Memoir was privately printed in May, 1900. It was written by W.E. Metford's friend and contemporary Henry Brunel, C.E. and Major the Hon. T.F. Fremantle (later Lord Cottesloe).

WILLIAM ELLIS METFORD, was the elder son of William Metford, M.D., of Flook House, Taunton, by his marriage with Miss M. E. Anderdon, and was born on Oct. 4th, 1824.

The family of Metford is an old one in the West Country - a Metford was Bishop of Salisbury in 1396 - and Metford's grandfather, Dr. Ellis Button Metford, who owned Post Green House, Poole, as well as Flook House, was a widely known physician with a large practice, and a man both able and agreeable. Metford's father ceased to practice when quite a young man, on his marriage in 1821, and devoted himself to country pursuits, being a good sportsman, an exceptionally skilful archer, and a very good shot with the rifle. He assisted his friend and neighbour, Mr. Andrew Crosse, of Broomfield Hall in many electrical experiments, one of which was to obtain powerful discharges from lightning by means of a very long circuit of wires set up in the open fields. Mr. Metford's elder sister married Mr. R. G. Badcock, of Taunton; his younger brother, Lawrence G. Metford, entered the 6th Regiment, but when aged only 21 went down in the "Birkenhead " on the way to the Kaffir War off Point Danger in Simon's Bay, Cape Province, South Africa, February 26, 1852, with 488 men standing at attention.

Mr. Metford was sent to school at Sherborne from 1838 to 1841, under Dr. Lyon, but seems to have shown no remarkable aptitude for study. He is remembered by his contemporaries as an agreeable and very intelligent boy, very kind to his juniors, and even then, fond of a. talk about rifle shooting. His interest in firearms had considerable scope when he was at home, for his father had established a rifle club with a range in the fields at Flook House. He also developed a taste for mechanics, his father having a small workshop, and during his holidays he made, among other things, a model steam-engine, for which he had first to make many of his own tools. This, no doubt, was the first step to the adoption of engineering as his profession, for which the development of railways, then in active progress in his neighbourhood, gave every opportunity.

He was apprenticed first to Mr. W. M. Peniston, resident engineer under Mr. Brunel, on the Bristol and Exeter Railway, and was afterwards employed, from 1846 to 1850, on the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway. At this time his chief hobby was the making of rockets and other fireworks, and while lodging at Frampton (Dorset), at the house of a gamekeeper, he narrowly escaped severe injury from the accidental combustion of some of his materials in his sitting room. He devised an ingenious double rocket, a second charge in which was ignited as the first burnt out.

After 1850 the work on the Wilts, Somerset and Dorset ceased, and Mr. Metford, applied for the appointment of Surveyor to the City of Bristol, having a very high testimonial from Mr. Brunel, but he did not obtain this appointment. Afterwards he was employed in levelling and surveying by Mr. T. E. Blackwell, C.E., engineer of the Bristol Docks, in connection with schemes for the development of the traffic of that town.

In November, 1854 he was recommended for the situation of resident engineer of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, by Mr. Brunel, but was not appointed. He afterwards acted for a short time on the Wycombe Railway as engineer under Mr. Peniston, who had then become contractor. In connection with this work he resided for a time at Bourne End.

Early in 1855 he was introduced by his friend, Mr. G. B. Pennell, to the late Mr. William Froude, who at once recognised his worth and the skill and accuracy of his workmanship as something out of the common. The intimate friendship thus begun continued until Mr. Froude's death in 1879. At the time of this introduction, Mr. Metford had devised a little contrivance with which he could pick any Bramah lock - a feat which created much astonishment. Some years earlier he had designed an improved Theodolite - made under his instructions by King, of Bristol. The chief features of it were a traversing stage, giving a movement of one inch in any direction, and a curved arm upholding the transit axis, which made it both light and very convenient in use.

He also invented a special and very good form of level. His design was that the upright stem of the level telescope should terminate in a sphere which was to be gripped by a ring grip held by four screws pulling downwards, and this sphere was to rest on the lower plate of the level. The great increase of friction of the ring grip over the mere downward pressure would and did control the friction on the lower plate. The advantage of this plan was that the legs of the instrument could be fixed, very firmly into the ground at any reasonable position, even if the plates were 25 degrees out of the horizontal. The pulling screws had spherical nuts, and the instrument could be set up anyhow, but still was capable of perfectly accurate adjustment. Mr. Froude then suggested that instead of a sphere resting on the bottom plate, there should be a hemisphere with an internal hollow hemisphere concentric with the outer one, and resting on a small sphere attached on top of the lower plate.

In March, 1856, Mr. Metford was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, being proposed by Mr. Brunel, while he received distinguished support from Messrs. J. M. Rendel, James Simpson, C. H.. Gregory, Wm. Gravatt, W. Froude, W. Pole and other eminent men of that day.

It will be more convenient to postpone, for the moment, mention of the important work which Mr. Metford was doing as regards rifles during these years, since the history of his experiment and improvements is really a continuous one. But the subject never ceased to occupy his attention, and the years 1852-1857 saw much useful work accomplished.

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