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Loading and Firing the British Army Baker Rifle, 1799-1815
Edited by Robert Henderson

60th and 95th Riflemen by C. Hamilton Smith (by permission of Parks Canada- copyright)

In 1799 Baron Francis de Rottenberg wrote the British Army’s first manual for the Riflemen entitled Regulations for the Exercise of Riflemen and Light Infantry and the Instructions for their Conduct in the Field.

Born in Poland , de Rottenberg served in nine years in the French army and in 1791 returned to his native Poland to fight in the unsuccessful struggle to turn back foreign encroachments into his country. After being wounded in 1794 at the Battle of Praga, De Rottenberg left Poland again and joined the British Army the following year. As a lieutenant colonel, De Rottenberg was instrumental in the forming of Hompesch’s Light Infantry. Three years later in 1798 this corps was combined with the 60th Regiment and became that regiment’s 5th Battalion. That same year de Rottenberg’s Battalion was called into service in the Irish Rebellion. It was after the rebellion that de Rottenberg found time to pen his manual for Riflemen. Shortly after it went to print, de Rottenberg and 60th Riflemen were off to serve in the capture of Surinam ( Dutch Guiana in South America ) in August 1799. De Rottenberg eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier General and served in Canada during the War of 1812.

The manual itself was universally adopted by the Army and saw numerous reprints. The following are orders and explanations for the loading and firing of the Baker Rifle, commonly referred to at the time as the Platoon Exercise.


The words of command for firing and loading are as follows:

Caution – Prime and Load

At which the flugelman steps in front.

I. Prepare to Load

1st. Is the same as the first motion in the present. [The rifle is to be raised about two inches by the right hand, and brought forward a little from the shoulder, at the same time the left hand is brought briskly across the body, and seizes the rifle with a full grasp even with the shoulder.]

2d. The soldier half faces to the right, and in the motion brings down the rifle to an horizontal position just above the right hip, the left hand supports it at the swell of the stock, the elbow resting against the side, the right thumb against the hammer, the knuckles upwards, and elbow pressing against the butt, the lock inclining a little to the body to prevent the powder form falling out.

II. Load

1st. The pan is pushed open by the right thumb; 2d. the right hand then seizes the cartridge with the three first fingers and draws it from the pouch; 3d. the cartridge is brought to the mouth, and placed between the two first right double teeth, the end twisted off and brought close to the pan.

III. Prime.

1st. The priming is shaken into the pan; in doing which, to see that the powder is properly lodged, the head must be bent; 2d. the pan is sut by the third and little finger, the right hand then slides behind the cock, and holds the small part of the stock between the third and little finger and ball of the hand.

IV. (Cast about) for brevity “’Bout.”

1st. The soldier half faces to the left; the rifle is brought to the ground with the barrel outwards, by sliding it with care through the left hand, which then seizes it near the muzzle, the thumb stretched along the stock, the butt is placed between the heels, the barrel between the knees, which must be bent for that purpose; the cartridge is put into the barrel, and the ramrod seized with the fore finger and thumb of the right hand.

V. Rod.

The ramrod is drawn quite out by the right hand, the left quits the rifle and grasps the ramrod the breadth of a hand from the bottom, which is sunk one inch into the barrel.

VI. Home.

The cartridge will be forced down with both hands, the left then seizes the rifle about six inches from the muzzle, the soldier stands upright again, draws out the ramrod with the right hand, and puts the end into the pipe.

VII. Return.

1st. The right hand brings the rifle to the right shoulder; turning the guard outwards; 2d. the left seizes it above the hammer-spring till the right has its proper hold round the small of the stock; 3d. the left is drawn quickly to the left thigh…..

To fire on the spot with closed ranks, the following words of command will be given:

Caution – The Company will Fire.

I. Company.

At this word, the right hand file of each platoon takes three quick paces to the front, the rear rank man steps to the right of his file leader.

II. Ready.

At this word, the rifle is brought by the right hand before the centre of the body, the left seizes it, so that the little finger rests upon the hammer spring, and the thumb stretched along the stock raising it to the height of the mouth, the right thumb on the cock, and four fingers under the guard; when cocked, which must be done gently, the right hand grasps the small of the stock.

III. Present.

The soldier half faces to the right, the butt is placed in the hollow of the right shoulder, the right foot steps back about eighteen inches behind the left, the left knee is bent, the body brought well forward, the left hand, without having quitted its hold, supports the rifle close before the lock, the right elbow raised even with the shoulder, the fore finger on the trigger, the head bent, and cheek resting on that of the rifle, the left eye shut, the right taking aim through the sight: as soon as the rifleman has fixed upon his object, he fires without waiting for any command. When he has fired, the right hand quits its hold in facing to the right about, the left swings the rifle round into an horizontal position with the barrel downwards; the rifleman resumes his post in the platoon, in fronting to the left about, brings his rifle into the position to prime and load, half cocks, and proceeds to load, going through the motins as above without further words of command.”

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