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A treatise on the British military Martini, 1869-C1900.

* Ever since Jim Alley of IDSA Books told me of a new publication detailing the history of the British Martini rifle I have been eagerly awaiting its debut.

Written by Australians B. A. Temple (The Boxer Cartridge) and Ian Skennerton (The British Service Lee, and others) the book is a blessing to all fanciers of that symbol of the Empire, the Martini-Henry tilting block rifle.

Originally conceived as the first volume of a Martini trilogy (the other two books will deal with Martini-Enfield and Martini accessories), this large-format, 246-page tome covers the development of the Martini-Henry military rifle and variants, from its early trials in 1869 to the gun's demise around 1900.

Above I call the book a blessing, and that it is, albeit a mixed one. Because of the subject matter and format, Treatise invites comparison with Skennerton's earlier work on the Lee, and while generally very complete and detailed, in a couple of minor areas the Martini book does come off second best.

First the strengths. The Treatise is unquestionably the best treatment of the subject to date. In fact, there had been a considerable dearth of material on the Martini, and those of us who fancy that arm have had to piece together information from a number of antique and modern sources to get anything approaching a geneology the piece.

It is difficult to imagine a more painstaking piece of work than Treatise. There is an abundance of period reports, letters, field trial comments, and tables, all drawn together by a concise, intuitive narrative which services not only to coalesce the early material, but to interpret it as well.

If you have any questions concerning military Martini-Henrys, the answer is surely there. A meticulous table of contents, and even more detailed index, makes finding a major design change or minor modification very simple.

The book takes the Martini from its hazy American/Swiss antecedents through to the point where the guns were declared substitute standard, and .303 versions adopted.

Treatise has a glossary, of sorts, but some of the entries (i.e., "Beeswax--secretation of bees used to construct their cells"), are a bit fatuous. Why not tell us that beeswax was used for bullet lube and cartridge spacing discs?

The main area where the book is lacking, however, is in its limited pictorial material. Unfortunately for a subject like this to be completely successful it needs considerable graphic backup, as in The British Service Lee. The photos in Treatise are sparse and often badly outlined, murky, or just plain out of focus.

Also, I would have liked to see more material on markings; British, colonial, and foreign, as well as a section on ammunition. Perhaps these will be forthcoming in one of the two later volumes.

I don't want to give the reader the impression that this is not a good book--far from it. It has already found a valued position in my arms library, and I have reserved space for the companion pieces as well. To reiterate, this is the best book on Martini-Henrys that I have seen and one which, I am sure, will remain the standard work for some time to come. A Treatise on the Martini-Henry, 1869-c1900 is available from most book sellers specializing in outdoors material or from the importer, IDSA Books, Dept. GA, Box 185, Hamilton, OH 45012 for $32.50 plus $1.50 shipping.
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Author:James, Garry
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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