(Photos of this New South Wales Alexander-Henry (with red carpet background) courtesy of Chris Lener)
GENERALLY: The Alexander Henry was made mostly for sporting use. It is a dropping block design, more similar to the US Sharps action than to any other military deisgn of the day. I believe that the New South Wales contract was their only military contract. It is chambered in the standard .577-.450 British military cartridge.
I received this excellent letter:
Subj: Alexander Henry rifle
Date: 99-10-02 22:37:59 EDT
Here's a synopsis of the info I have on the Alexander Henry military contracts. Most of it's drawn from Kirton, "The British Falling Block Breechloading Rifle from 1865," 2ed. 1997. In late 1870s the New South Wales government placed its first order for 2500 rifles with Alexander Henry, part of which was subcontracted to Westley Richards. The first rifles were delivered about late 1871. The order contained both long rifles chambered for the .450-3 1/4" Boxer-Henry Long cartridge (the one originally tried and rejected for the M-H) and carbines chambered for the .450-2 1/2" short chamber cartridge. For some reason, two lengths of rifles were produced--long rifles with 34 1/2" barrels, and short rifles, with 31 1/4" barrels (carbines had 22 1/2" barrels). The British adoption of the M-H in 1872 gave the NSW authorities pause, as they debated whether to abandon further Henry orders, but then they plunged ahead with more orders. In all, there were eight separate orders for Henry rifles/carbines. The first order was produced by Westley Richards, marked 1871. The second order was produced by National Arms & Ammunition (marked N.A.&A. Co. Ltd. 1872) (most weapons beginning with the second order were either converted to .577/.450, or originally produced in that caliber). The 3d through 5th orders were produced by Braendlin Armoury Company ("B.A.Co. Ltd.-1873, -1874, or -1876"), the 6th order was again by N.A.&A. Co. Ltd.-1877 (mine falls in this order). The 7th order was again by Braendlin, marked 1880, and the 8th and final order was again by National, marked 1880. The 7th and 8th orders were probably all carbines for police use. The weapons were issued variously to the "Permanent Artillery," Naval Brigade, and various combinations of regular and volunteer artillery, cavalry, mounted rifles, infantry, cadets, engineers, police and prison guards. Kirton goes into some detail for two pages--seems that everything was created and disbanded at least twice between 1867 and 1881. For the most part, the carbines, or cutdown rifles seem to have been used by police and guards.
states it is impossible to determine the total number of NSW Henrys produced,
but estimates as many as 6,000-7,000. Winfer ("British Single Shot
Rifles, vol. 1--Alexander Henry") at p.92 says that surviving "records
point to orders of up to 5,400 and possibly more than 6,000"). Of
course a verbal description is wholly inaccurate, but my camera is only
just going to be ordered. The particularly odd thing is the left
hand outside hammer. Apparently, that was thought to be an advantage.
My experience loading dummy rounds causes me to give it less than a ringing
endorsement. The hammer is constructed in such a way that, even when
cocked, it restricts access to the chamber somewhat, and forces you to
manipulate the cartridge carefully to get it fully seated into the chamber.
Perhaps practice would help. Other than the left-hand action, features
include a falling block rather similar to a Sharps, and operated by a lever
underneath. There is an ordinary triggerguard and the lever lies
along the outside of it for most of its length. A plunger at the
end of the lever engages a hook on the bottom of the triggerguard.
If you have Walter's "Rifles of the World " 1993 (first?) ed, there is
a picture of a Farquharson on p. 67 which shows a similar lever.
The balance of the receiver is not unlike a Sharps. Fittings are
quite similar to a MH. Well, that gives you some idea.
I will try to get some of my references photocopied for you. The
camera has not yet been ordered, unfortunately, but I am assured that it
will be soon (birthday was in May). I know that your interests run
primarly to the military rifles, but your interest in breech mechanisms
might prompt you to consider the Kirton book. I never realized how
many different variations of semi-military match rifles the Brits produced.
PHOTO: Model 1871 New South Wales Alexander Henry rifle
DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS: See above.
The hammer and a back-action lock are fitted on the LEFT side of
the rifle! (the idea was to facilitate loading). Also, the
"push button" lever which lowers the breech block is highly distinctive.
(Photos of this Alexander-Henry courtesy of Bertus Huisman, firstname.lastname@example.org .)
Photo courtesy of BertusHuisman
Right receiver wall of Alexander-Henry manufactured by the
National Arms $ Ammunition Company (of Sparkbrook, Birmingham, England)
N.S.W. = New South Wales (Australia)
M1871 Alexander Henry: (high
definition pics, long download, sorry!)
(photos courtesy of Chris Lener)