An Illustrated Interview with Sir Henry Halford (2)

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It is not before you settle down in Sir Henry's den that you get a firm idea of his past career and present-day work. A table crowded with everything suggestive of guns - from on old-time powder-flask to a delicate pair of scales for weighing grains of explosive - take up considerable room. He is always experimenting - always trying to get better work out of rifles, as they vary so tremendously; but he thinks the future of the match rifle about settled now, and but little remains to be done.

The Den

The mahogany gun-cabinet stands in the centre of the room, and provides accommodation for ten weapons - match rifles, magazine rifles, express shooting rifles, and the little American .22 rifle for rabbit shooting. I examined the gun with which Mr. Bagshaw won the Wimbledon Cup this year at Bisley, making the record score at 1,100 yards of seventy points out of seventy-five, whilst the rifle used by Sir Henry this year at the same camp comes in for attention. It appeared with the grand old shot at his twentieth time of shooting in the English Eight, and helped to make him his biggest score of any year. Mingled together with many trophies on the mantel-board are relics of the hunting field. A curious chart is plastered all over with representations of targets showing extraordinary scores. Gibbs [5] stands first with the finest ever made, on October 4th, 1886, with forty-eight bull's eyes out of fifty at a thousand yards, and Sir Henry comes a good second with forty-three out of forty-five at the same distance, in October, 1885.

Around the room is an excellent collection of books - including all works bearing on the sport with which Sir Henry's name is inseparably associated - the sideboards and spare spaces are taken up with portable reminiscences of travels in foreign countries, whilst the pictures are for the most part shooting subjects, in which Sir Henry plays no small part. The trio of rifle shots who comprise an aggregate of ninety-five years' shooting at Wimbledon is surely a record. The three gentlemen are Captain Pixley, a Queen's Prize Winner [6]; Mr. Henry Whitehead, a noted shot; and Sir Henry Halford.

Portrait Group
Left to right:
Capt. Pixley, Mr. Henry Whitehead, Sir Henry Halford

Sir Henry refilled his pipe and laid aside his spectacles. Whilst he was handling the tobacco I noticed the difference between the shape of the right hand as compared with the left.

"Ah!" said Sir Henry, in reply to my query, "you can always tell the hand of a man who has shot much. Look at that second finger it is quite disjointed; indeed, the whole hand is turned. Then many men bear the kiss of the butt on the jawbone. The eyes, too, are a guide in singling out the rifle shot. I always think that blue or grey are the best shooting eyes; that's why the Scots are so successful at the target, for apart from their thoroughness in all they undertake, there are more blue eyes amongst them. An eye with a very small pupil is a great advantage. Brown eyes seldom come in; the marked exception to this, however, is Lamb, who is as good a shot as any man, and his are chestnutty brown."

A great cloud of smoke from Sir Henry's briar was blown with a satisfaction that blessed the memory of Sir Walter Raleigh. Then I learnt that amongst shooting men the larger proportion of them are non-smokers. The veteran is a persistent smoker, and, practically, never shoots without a pipe in his mouth.

"Let me put a plea for the pipe," he said merrily. "I was once shooting in one of the matches for the Elcho Shield [7] - shooting very badly.

"'Why, where's your pipe?' somebody asked. 'Light up - you'll do better.'

"And I did. I hadn't been smoking for some little time, but with the first few puffs, my very next shot was a bull's-eye!"

I tried some of Sir Henry's tobacco.

Notes
  1. George Gibbs, a Bristol gunmaker and manufacturer of the Metford rifle.
  2. Sgt. S. Pixley of the Victoria Rifles won the Queen's prize in 1862.
  3. The Elcho Shield match was first held in 1862 and competed for by England and Scotland. The teams of eight shot at 800, 900 and 1000 yards. An Irish eight shot for the first time in 1865.
Introduction | The Den | First Gun | To America