“A little powder, a lot of lead! Shoot them once, shoot them dead!” This basically sums up the British philosophy for revolver cartridges from 1868 to the end of World War 2. It’s relevant because of a new acquisition…
I mentioned my Forehand & Wadsworth bulldog on a cowboy action shooting forum, and one of the members mentioned that he had a Bulldog that he no longer shot, and that he might be willing to part with it. Negotiations commenced and in the end he sold me the gun, some bullets and brass he had adapted from .45 Colt for an unrealistically good price. Thanks to ‘Baltimore Ed!’
This is a British Lion revolver, in the style of a Webley British Bulldog. It’s chambered for .450 Adams (also known as .450 Boxer, .450 Corto, .450 Colt and , in the US, .45 Webley.) There is no serial number or indication of who the maker is, but there is every reason to believe that the gun is of British manufacture. Both the cylinder and frame are marked ’45,’ and the barrel, frame and each chamber are marked with a Birmingham proof mark. The specific proof was in use from 1813-1904, so it is not useful in dating the revolver. The use of the name ‘British Lion’ also points to British production; Webley had trademarked ‘British Bulldog’ so a domestic maker using that name would be in front of the law shortly. Manufacturer’s in Belgium, Spain and the US were under no such constraint and were not shy about applying the ‘British Bulldog’ moniker to their guns.
The weapon appears to have had a blued finish originally, which has transformed over time to a fairly uniform gray patina. There is no serious pitting or rust. The walnut grips are complete, appear original and feature the sort of flat checkering used in much of the 19th century. The gun has a very solid feel; fit and finish are good throughout, and it seems like a very robust weapon of good quality.
The chambers are in very good shape, and the bore is lightly pitted but with strong lands and grooves. The previous owner has fired the weapon, and it seems to function just as it should. The Double-action trigger pull is not overly heavy and very smooth, with no ‘staging’ points. The single-action pull has no take-up, virtually no over-travel and is a very crisp 4lbs. or so. The cylinder has almost no end-play and locks up acceptably tightly.
This weapon does not have the Stanton Patent rebounding hammer that some other British Lion revolvers do; the hammer must be cocked to the safety notch before the cylinder will rotate freely. It appears that this gun was meant to be carried with all five chambers loaded and the hammer in the safety notch.
The sights are unusually good for a vintage handgun, and consist of a half-round front blade and a surprisingly deep and well-defined V-notch in the rear; one can obtain a good sight picture.
This gun was sold to me as a shooter, and given its quality and condition I have no reservations about firing it. Which requires suitable ammunition, of course. The .450 Adams cartridge was the first metallic cartridge to be adopted by the British military in 1868 and remained in service until 1880- though as it could be fired from later .455 caliber revolvers it remained a ‘second standard’ cartridge until the end of WW2. The cartridge continues to be produced to this day as .450 Corto, manufactured by Fiocchi.
In it’s original loading the .450 Adams used a 225gr. round-nosed lead bullet over a charge of 13gr. of black powder, probably FFFFg. From the service-length Adams revolver this generated 725fps and around 263ft./lbs. of energy. Shorter-barreled guns like the Webley RIC and even more so the Bulldog got rather less performance from the round.
As you might guess loading data for smokeless powder is a little hard to come by, so I was left to develop my own load for this cartridge. Trail Boss seemed the best, safest bet. it has a very high volume to weight ratio, and works very well in cartridges designed for black powder. Trail Boss’s maker recommends developing a load by filling the case to where the bottom of the bullet will sit after loading, then removing a bit for a safe starting load. I decided to start work with a 200gr RNFP bullet, and following the instructions led to a charge of 2.0gr.
I was frankly dubious- .44 Colt, itself not a particularly powerful cartridge, uses 4.5gr. of Trail Boss. I tested the load from my 3″ Sherrif’s Special and they went bang and punched neat holes in the target- produced a pretty good group, too. It seems adequate, but in the future I am likely to do some penetration tests, maybe comparing it to the same bullet with a black powder load.
Since Baltimore Ed had provided me with a couple of hundred bullets I decided I would use those. These were 230gr lead round-nosed bullets with a hollow bored in the base, leaving them with an average weight of 198gr. I loaded fifty of them for the first range trip.
This afternoon I was off to Champion Arms indoor gun range to but some shots through this gun. For the most part it went well; there were no issues with the gun, but there were a couple of issues with the ammo. The problem was that without a proper roll-crimp a few of the loads launched the bullet before pressure could build up, and as a result a few times the gun went ‘Pamf!’ instead of ‘bang!’ The third time this happened the bullet stopped in the bore, but was easily dislodged with a cleaning rod. I’ll need to come up with a proper crimping die, after which I expect these loads will be quite satisfactory.
So what’s it like to shoot? Some guns you pick up, and you just ‘click.’ It’s like you’ve been shooting it for years from the first shot. This is not one of those guns. The ergonomics are different than modern revolvers- not bad, just different. It took some adaptation to shoot the gun well, but by the end I was getting the hang of it. As sometimes happens with me and revolvers I found this gun easier to shoot accurately double-action. Recoil, by the way, is quite light.
Overall I am extremely pleased with this gun. It functions flawlessly and is a pleasure to shoot. I’m pretty pleased with the loads as well, and I think a good roll crimp will sort them out nicely.
Regarding British Lion revolvers- my researches thus far have confirmed that they were made in Britain, and they were considered at least nearly the equal of a Webley for quality. They were offered in both .442 and .450 calibers, and some were nickel plated and engraved. As to who the maker was, when they made them etc. I have not been able to discover a thing. Perhaps more information will come to light in time.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 May 2018