Some firearm designs are iconic, almost mythic. One of those was introduced in the early 1870s, and was widely carried both by military forces and civilians, and is credited by many firearms historians as being a critical factor in the ‘taming of the West’.

No, I’m not talking about the Colt SAA. I’m talking about the SA/DA Webley No. 2 in .450 Adams/CF (center fire), commonly referred to the Bulldog, designed as a self defense revolver small enough to carry in a pocket. Like this one:

That pic doesn’t give a good idea of the small size of this big-bore revolver. But overall it’s about the size of a modern J-frame. Here are a couple of images of me holding it:

The serial number of this particular gun (23905) indicates that it was made in the first batch of guns (serial numbers 20,000 – 25,000 were made 1872 – 1876). Made in Britain, these guns usually had the legend “BRITISH BULL DOG” on the top strap, except those sent for sale in the American market, which were marked with the importer/seller’s name. This is one such example, with the legend “LIDDLE & KAEDING, SAN FRANCISCO” on the top strap:

I assume that the decorative elements are stamped, but this is the only one of this era I’ve seen with it, so I may be mistaken.

While many of these guns were made, not many today are in sufficiently good condition to be shot safely. Partially this is due to the fact that the original black powder cartridge, containing a 255gr bullet traveling at about 650fps (for about 211ft/lbs of ME), was superseded by more powerful cartridges that fit the gun and would cause damage if not catastrophic failure. You can see how this could happen if you look at the thinness of the webbing between the chambers in the cylinder:

However, this example seemed solid and in good condition upon examination. There were no signs of damage or significant wear on the functional parts, and the lock-up of the cylinder was good, with only minimal play. We had .450 Adams/CF ammo loaded to original spec (made using .455 Webley brass cut down), and decided to give it a try:

A note about that ammo name: The cartridges were .450 Adams, designed by another company for their firearms. But evidently Webley didn’t want to have another gun manufacturer’s name on their guns, so decided to just call the round the .450 CF, and marked their guns such. That may have contributed to the use of more inappropriately powerful rounds later which damaged the guns.

The gun is very well designed. The ramrod swings over to eject spent cases, then the retaining clip through which it passes can be shifted to allow removal of the cylinder for cleaning. While the grip design is different from modern revolvers, it isn’t unpleasant in the hand. Felt recoil is substantial, but mild compared to lightweight modern small revolvers such as a J-frame in .38sp. In terms of power, 211 ft/lbs of Muzzle Energy is about half to two-thirds of what modern pocket guns typically generate — certainly effective, particularly given the state of medical knowledge at the time these guns were popular.

While the sights are simple, just a blade on the front and the typical trough along the top strap, they’re adequate for a self defense gun. All of us were able to keep rounds on the black of an 8″ target at about 10 yards without a problem.

Here’s shooting it:

The Webley No. 2 didn’t have the effective range or power of the Colt SAA, but it was well suited to its role as a reliable close-range self-defense firearm. While it was never widely issued as a military side-arm, British officers would frequently purchase it separately to carry, and many were sold in the civilian market. It was so popular that the design pattern was copied and produced in many countries, earning its iconic status. It was a real pleasure to have a chance to shoot an original.

Jim Downey

*With apologies to The Beatles.

This content originally appeared at text and was written by James Downey This content is syndicated and does not necessarily reflect the views or positions of The Liberal Gun Club