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Lock, Stock, and History

The India Pattern Military Musket, The Brown Bess of the British East India Company

The East India company was a joint stock company founded to conduct trade between Britain and India.  Founded in the early 1700’s, it was one of the first multinational corporations and dominated the world of Georgian Era commerce.  The East India Company was perhaps the most powerful private entity in the world.  From the mid 1700’s to the 1800’s the company controlled large swaths of territory on the Indian Subcontinent.  The East India Company was also very powerful and was given free reign by the British Parliament to make its own laws and government within the territories they controlled.  In essence the East India Company was an empire within an empire.

To protect their commercial interests, the East India Company created their own private army and navy.  Numbering from 100,000 - 350,000 at any given time during its history, most East India Company soldiers were recruited from native Indians.  Incredibly the military forces of the East India Company were often better armed, equipped, and trained than that of the regular British military.  This was because the company was willing to spend more money to arm, train, and equip their forces. To arm their troops the company ordered a special model of Brown Bess musket from England specially designed to suit their needs.

The most noticeable feature was the musket’s length.  With a 39 inch barrel it was significantly shorter than the standard British Land Pattern (46 inch) and Short Pattern (42 inch).  This made the musket more compact, lighter, and easier to handle in the field.  The India Pattern was also a much simplified version of the Brown Bess.  It was made to be rugged and serviceable, but at the same time use less time and resources to produce.  For instance the standard Brown Bess has four pipes to hold the ramrod, the East India Company has three.  Carving of the stock became more simpler and more practical. The lock also used a much simpler and easier to maintain spring mechanism.  Because of its simple design and shorter length, it was the perfect musket for fighting in remote parts of the Indian frontier.

The India Pattern Brown Bess became a hit among soldiers.  In 1797 the musket caught the attention of British Ordnance Board and became the main arm of the British Army.  At the time the military needed a simpler Brown Bess that could be quickly produced for the Napoleonic Wars.  Around 3 million India Pattern Brown Bess Muskets were manufactured in the late 18th and early 19th century.

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