Brown Bess

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British Land Pattern Musket
a.k.a. Brown Bess
British Military Short Land Pattern Musket.jpg
A Short Land Pattern Musket
Place of originKingdom of Great Britain
Service history
In serviceBritish Army (1722–1851)
Used byBritish Empire, various Native American tribes, United States, Haiti, Kingdom of Ireland, Sweden, Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, Confederate States of America, Zulu Kingdom, Russian Empire, Vietnam, China
WarsIndian Wars, Chickasaw Wars, Dummer's War, First Maroon War, War of the Austrian Succession, Jacobite rising of 1745, Carnatic Wars, French and Indian War, Seven Years' War, Anglo-Mysore Wars, Anglo-Maratha Wars, American Revolutionary War, Xhosa Wars, Australian Frontier Wars, Haitian Revolution, French Revolutionary Wars, Coalition Wars, Second Maroon War, Kandyan Wars, Irish Rebellion of 1798, Napoleonic Wars, Emmet's Insurrection, Ashanti-Fante War, Musket Wars, Finnish War, Ga-Fante War, War of 1812, Greek War of Independence, Anglo-Ashanti Wars, Anglo-Burmese Wars, Naning War, Baptist War, Texas Revolution, Rebellions of 1837, First Opium War, Mexican–American War, Second Opium War, Indian Rebellion of 1857, Cochinchina campaign American Civil War, Paraguayan War, Anglo-Zulu War, Boxer Rebellion
Production history
Produced1722–1850s (all variants)
No. built4,300,000
VariantsLong Land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, Sea Service Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern, New Light Infantry Land Pattern, Cavalry Carbine, Marine Carbine
Mass10.5 lb (4.8 kg)
Length58.5 in (1,490 mm)
Barrel length42.0–46.0 in (1,070–1,170 mm)

Cartridgepaper cartridge, buck and ball/roundball undersized (.69/17.5 mm) to reduce the effects of powder fouling
Calibre.75–.80 (19–20mm)
Actionflintlock/percussion lock (conversion)
Rate of fireuser dependent; usually 3–4 rounds/minute
Muzzle velocity1,300–1,800 ft/s (400–550 m/s)[1]
Effective firing range
  • 100 yd (91 m) (point target)
  • 300 yd (274 m) (area target)[2][3]
Maximum firing range1,200 yd (1,097 m) (the maximum range of the bullet when fired at an angle of 60°)[4]
Feed systemMuzzle-loaded
SightsNone; bayonet lug also functions as fore-sights

"Brown Bess" is a nickname of uncertain origin for the British Army's muzzle-loading smoothbore flintlock Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. The musket design remained in use for over a hundred years with many incremental changes in its design. These versions include the Long Land Pattern, the Short Land Pattern, the India Pattern, the New Land Pattern Musket and the Sea Service Musket.

The Long Land Pattern musket and its derivatives, all 0.75 inch calibre flintlock muskets, were the standard long guns of the British Empire's land forces from 1722 until 1838, when they were superseded by a percussion cap smoothbore musket. The British Ordnance System converted many flintlocks into the new percussion system known as the Pattern 1839 Musket. A fire in 1841 at the Tower of London destroyed many muskets before they could be converted. Still, the Brown Bess saw service until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Most male citizens of the thirteen colonies of British America were required by law to own arms and ammunition for militia duty.[5] The Long Land Pattern was a common firearm in use by both sides in the American War of Independence.[6]

In 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars, the United Kingdom subsidised Sweden (during the Sweden–Finland period) in various ways as the British government anxiously wanted to keep an ally in the Baltic Sea region. These included deliveries of significant numbers of Brown Bess-muskets for use in the Finnish War of 1808 to 1809.[7]

During the Musket Wars (1820s–30s), Māori warriors used Brown Besses purchased from European traders at the time. Some muskets were sold to the Mexican Army, which used them during the Texas Revolution of 1836 and the Mexican–American War of 1846 to 1848. Brown Besses saw service in the First Opium War and during the Indian rebellion of 1857. Zulu warriors, who had also purchased them from European traders, used them during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. One was even used in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, during the American Civil War.[8]

Origins of the name[edit]

One hypothesis is that the "Brown Bess" was named after Elizabeth I of England, but this lacks support. Jonathan Ferguson, Firearms Curator of the Royal Armouries, traces the name to at least the 1760s, and his research suggests the name was adopted from slang for a mistress, prostitute, or lowly woman who also appear in period sources referred to as "Brown Bess". He writes, "'Bess' was a generic and sometimes derogatory name, a bit like 'Sheila' in modern Australian English", and "brown" simply meant plain or drab. Ferguson discounts, with evidence, many of the other theories previously popular.[9]

Early uses of the term include the newspaper, the Connecticut Courant in April 1771, which said: "... but if you are afraid of the sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulder and march." This familiar use indicates widespread use of the term by that time. The 1785 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a contemporary work that defined vernacular and slang terms, contained this entry: "Brown Bess: A soldier's firelock. To hug Brown Bess; to carry a fire-lock, or serve as a private soldier." Military and government records of the time do not use this poetical name but refer to firelocks, flintlock, muskets or by the weapon's model designations.

Soldiers of the Black Watch armed with a musket (Brown Bess) and a halberd, circa 1790

Popular explanations of the use of the word "Brown" include that it was a reference to either the colour of the walnut stocks, or to the characteristic brown colour that was produced by russeting, an early form of metal treatment. However, in the case of russeting at least, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Ferguson note that "browning" was only introduced in the early 19th century, well after the term had come into general use.[10] Others argue that mass-produced weapons of the time were coated in brown varnish on metal parts as a rust preventative and on wood as a sealer (or in the case of unscrupulous contractors, to disguise inferior or non-regulation types of wood), an entirely different thing from russeting.

Similarly, the word "Bess" is commonly held to either derive from the word arquebus or blunderbuss (predecessors of the musket) or to be a reference to Elizabeth I, possibly given to commemorate her death. The OED has citations for "brown musket" dating back to the early 18th century that refer to the same weapon. Another suggestion is that the name is simply the counterpart to the earlier Brown Bill. However, the origin of the name may be much simpler, if vulgar.

In the days of lace-ruffles, perukes, and brocade
Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise—
An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes—
At Blenheim and Ramillies, fops would confess
They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess ...

— Rudyard Kipling, "Brown Bess", 1911

Kipling may have based his poem on an earlier but similar "Brown Bess" poem published in "Flights of Fancy" (No. 16) in 1792. Of course, the name could have been initially inspired by the older term of the "Brown Bill" and perhaps the barrels were originally varnished brown, but it is well known in literary circles that the name "Brown Bess" during the period in question in the 17th to early 19th centuries is not a reference to a color or a weapon but to simply refer to a wanton prostitute (or harlot).[11] Such a nickname would have been a delight to the soldiers of the era who were from the lower classes of English and then British society. So far, the earliest use noted so far of the term "Brown Bess" was in a 1631 publication, John Done's Polydoron: or A Mescellania of Morall, Philosophicall, and Theological Sentences, page 152:

Things profferd and easie to come by, diminish themselves in reputation & price: for how full of pangs and dotage is a wayling lover, for it may bee some browne bessie? But let a beautie fall a weeping, overpressed with the sicke passion; she favours in our thoughts, something Turnbull.

The Land Pattern muskets[edit]

The Long Land Pattern "Brown Bess" musket was the British infantryman's basic arm from about 1740 until the 1830s

From the seventeenth century to the early years of the eighteenth century, most nations did not specify standards for military firearms. Firearms were individually procured by officers or regiments as late as 1745, and were often custom-made to the tastes of the purchaser. As the firearm gained ascendancy on the battlefield, this lack of standardisation led to increasing difficulties in the supply of ammunition and repair materials. To address these difficulties, armies began to adopt standardised "patterns". A military service selected a "pattern musket" to be stored in a "pattern room". There it served as a reference for arms makers, who could make comparisons and take measurements to ensure that their products matched the standard.

Stress-bearing parts of the Brown Bess, such as the barrel, lockwork, and sling-swivels, were customarily made of iron, while other furniture pieces such as the butt plate, trigger guard and ramrod pipe were found in both iron and brass. It weighed around 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and it could be fitted with a 17-inch (432 mm) triangular cross-section bayonet. The weapon did not have sights, although the bayonet lug doubled as a crude front sight.

The earliest models had iron fittings, but these were replaced by brass in models built after 1736. Wooden ramrods were used with the first guns but were replaced by iron ones, although guns with wooden scouring sticks were still issued to troops on American service until 1765 and later to loyalist units in the American Revolution. Wooden ramrods, also called scouring sticks, were also used in the Dragoon version produced from 1744—71 for Navy and Marine use.

The accuracy of the Brown Bess was fair, as with most other muskets. In 1811, in London, a test shooting was conducted at the site. The target was a wooden shield the size of an infantry or a cavalry line. The results of the practice were as follows: at a distance of 100 yards (91.44 m) 53% hits, 200 yards (182.88 m) 30% hits, 300 yards (274.32 m) 23% hits. The accuracy of the Brown Bess was in line with most other smoothbore muskets of the 18th to 19th centuries. But it should be borne in mind that this[clarification needed] is the result of shooting by ordinary soldiers who had little training. Soldiers of light infantry had more training, and were taught accurate shooting.[12]

The Brown Bess was used not only in the line infantry, but also light infantry, as well as Rogers' Rangers, hunters, skirmishers, Indians and many other irregular troops who used non-standard tactics.

The Brown Bess's bullet was lethal at its full effective range. In the mid-18th century, Robertson measured the speed of musket bullets on a ballistic pendulum. According to him, the speed of a round musket bullet slug was about 1804 feet per second (550 m/s)[citation needed]. That is, the muzzle energy of the musket was about 3,500 to 4,000 joules, which is comparable to the energy of modern rifle cartridges. Modern ballistic tests have confirmed these data.[13] According to the Russian lieutenant-general Ivan G. Gogel, all the muskets of the European nations were able to penetrate a wooden shield with a thickness of 1 inch (2.5 cm) at a distance of 300 yards.[14]

British soldiers armed with Brown Besses preferred to reduce the standard number of steps for loading a musket. To this end, they would drop the cartridge into the barrel and strike the butt on the ground, to seat the load without the use of a scouring stick. This approximately doubled their rate of fire.[15]

Besides not having fore-sights, Brown Bess-muskets were virtually identical to Potzdam muskets up until the Prussian 1809 pattern.


X-ray of a Brown Bess musket recovered by LAMP archaeologists from an American Revolutionary War-era shipwreck from a ship lost in December 1782. It is believed to be a 1769 Short Land Pattern, and is loaded with buck and ball

Many variations and modifications of the standard pattern musket were created over its long history. The earliest version was the Long Land Pattern of 1722, 62 inches (1,575 mm) long (without bayonet), with a 46-inch (1,168 mm) barrel. It was later found that shortening the barrel did not detract from accuracy but made handling easier, giving rise to the Militia (or Marine) Pattern of 1756 and the Short Land Pattern of 1768, which both had a 42-inch (1,067 mm) barrel. Another version with a 39-inch (991 mm) barrel was first manufactured for the British East India Company, and was eventually adopted by the British Army in 1790 as the India Pattern.

Towards the end of the life of the weapon, there was a change in the system of ignition. The flintlock mechanism, which was prone to misfiring, especially in wet weather, was replaced by the more reliable percussion cap. The last flintlock pattern manufactured was selected for conversion to the new system as the Pattern 1839. As a fire at the Tower of London destroyed large stocks of these in 1841, a new Pattern 1842 musket was manufactured. These remained in service until the 1853 outbreak of the Crimean War, when they were replaced by the Minié and the P53 Enfield rifled musket.

Pattern In service Barrel Length Overall Length Weight
Long Land Pattern 1722–1793
Standard Infantry Musket 1722–1768
(supplemented by Short Land Pattern from 1768)
46 inches (1,200 mm) 62.5 inches (1,590 mm) 10.4 pounds (4.7 kg)
Short Land Pattern 1740–1797
1740 (Dragoons)
1768 (Infantry)
Standard Infantry Musket 1793–1797
42 inches (1,100 mm) 58.5 inches (1,490 mm) 10.5 pounds (4.8 kg)
India Pattern 1797–1854
Standard Infantry Musket 1797–1854
(Some in use pre-1797 purchased from the East India Company for use in Egypt)
39 inches (990 mm) 55.25 inches (1,403 mm) 9.68 pounds (4.39 kg)
New Land Pattern 1802–1854
Issued only to the Foot Guards and 4th Regiment of Foot
39 inches (990 mm) 55.5 inches (1,410 mm) 10.06 pounds (4.56 kg)
New Light Infantry Land Pattern 1811–1854
Issued only to the 43rd, 51st, 52nd, 68th, 71st and 85th Light Infantry and the Battalions of the 60th Foot not armed with rifles. The detail differences between this musket and the standard New Land Pattern were a scrolled trigger guard similar to that of the Baker Rifle except more rounded, a browned barrel and a notch used as rear-sights, the bayonet lug being used as fore-sights
39 inches (990 mm) 55.5 inches (1,410 mm) 10.06 pounds (4.56 kg)
Cavalry Carbine 1796–1838
Issued to cavalry units
26 inches (660 mm) 42.5 inches (1,080 mm) 7.37 pounds (3.34 kg)
Sea Service Pattern 1778–1854
Issued to Royal Navy ships, drawn by men as required, Marines used Sea Service weapons when deployed as part of a ship's company but were issued India Pattern weapons when serving ashore
37 inches (940 mm) 53.5 inches (1,360 mm) 9.00 pounds (4.08 kg)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Benjamin Robins, New Principles of Gunnery: Containing the Determination of the Force of Gun-Powder, 1805
  2. ^ Hughes, B. P. (1974). Firepower: weapons effectiveness on the battlefield, 1630—1850. London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 978-0-85368-229-5. OCLC 1551982.
  3. ^ Haythornthwaite, Philip (2001). Napoleonic infantry: Napoleonic Weapons and Warfare. London: Cassell. ISBN 978-0-304-35509-9. OCLC 43501345.
  4. ^ Krenn, Peter; Kalaus, Paul; Hall, Bert (6 June 1995). "View of Material Culture and Military History: Test-Firing Early Modern Small Arms". Material Culture Review.
  5. ^ Linder, Doug (2008). "United States vs. Miller (U.S. 1939)". Exploring Constitutional Law. University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School. Archived from the original on 23 November 2001. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  6. ^ Neumann, George. "The Redcoats' Brown Bess", Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine American Rifleman, posted 2009.
  7. ^ Norrbottens museum, Månadens föremål 2009/September Flintlåsgevär med bajonett.
  8. ^ Brown, Dee Alexander (1959). The Bold Cavaliers. p. 50.
  9. ^ "History of the term 'Brown Bess'". Royal Armouries. 17 May 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  10. ^ "History of the term 'Brown Bess'". Royal Armouries. 17 May 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  11. ^ A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, Gordon Williams (1994) pgs 102–103
  12. ^ British Light Infantry and Rifle Tactics of the Napoleonic Wars
  13. ^ Krenn, Peter; Kalaus, Paul; Hall, Bert (6 June 1995). "View of Material Culture and Military History: Test-Firing Early Modern Small Arms | Material Culture Review". Material Culture Review.
  14. ^ Гогель, Иван Григорьевич - Подробное наставление о изготовлении, употреблении и сбережении, огнестрельнаго и белаго солдатскаго оружия : С 6-ю чертежами - Search RSL. В типографии Медицинскаго департамента Министерства внутренних дел. 1825.
  15. ^ Thomas Anburey. "Here I cannot help observing to you, whether it proceeded from an idea of self-preservation, or natural instinct, but the soldiers greatly improved the mode they were taught in, as to expedition. For as soon as they had primed their pieces and put the cartridge into the barrel, instead of ramming it down with their scouring sticks, they struck the butt plate of the piece upon the ground, and bringing it to the present, fired it off."

General bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]