The Baker Rifle was used by the British Army from 1801-1837 and was officially known as the Infantry Rifle.
The muzzle-loading flintlock rifle was used by the Rifle regiments in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Baker Rifle was first made in 1800 by Ezekiel Baker, a master gunsmith from Whitechapel in London and it was the first standard-issue, British made rifle accepted by the British armed forces. The British Army was still issuing the rifle into the late 1830s.
Before the formation of an Experimental Rifle Corps in 1800, a trail was held in Woolwich, London by the British Board of Ordnance on 22 February 1800 in order to select a standard rifle pattern, the rifle designed by Ezekiel Baker was chosen.
The first model resembled the British Infantry Musket, but was rejected as too heavy. Baker was provided with a German Jäger rifle as an example of what was needed. The second model Baker made, it had a .75 calibre bore, the same calibre as the Infantry Musket. It had a 32-inch barrel, with eight rectangular rifling grooves; this model was accepted by the Board of Ordnance as the Infantry Rifle, but more changes were made until it was finally placed into production.
The third and final model had the barrel shortened from 32 to 30-inch, and the calibre was reduced to .653, which allowed the rifle to fire a .625 calibre carbine bullet, with a greased patch to grip the now-seven rectangular grooves in the barrel.
The rifle had a simple folding back-sight with the standard large lock mechanism with a swan-neck cock as fitted to the ’Brown Bess’. Just like the German Jäger rifles, it had a scrolled brass trigger guard to help ensure a firm grip and a raised cheek-piece on the left-hand side of the butt.
Like many rifles, it had a ‘butt-trap’ or patch box where greased linen patches and tools could be stored. The lid of the patch box was made of brass and hinged at the rear, so it could be flipped up. The stock was made of English walnut and held the barrel with three flat captive wedges. The rifle also had a metal locking bar to accommodate a 24-inch sword bayonet, similar to the Jäger rifle. The Baker was 45 inches long from muzzle to butt, 12 inches shorter than the Brown Bess Infantry musket, and was almost 9lb in weight. As gunpowder started to build up in the barrel the weapon became much slower to load and less accurate, so a cleaning kit was stored in the patch box of the Baker.
When the Baker rifle came into service, more modifications were made and several different variations of designs were produced. A lighter and shorter carbine version was made for the cavalry including the Life Guards in 1801 and the 10th Hussars.
Following the German design the Baker was designed to accept a sword-bayonet of some 24 inches in length. The first bayonet for the Baker was a single-edged flat sword of 23 inches long. It was brass with handled with a knuckle bow and clipped onto a muzzle bar. It weighed 2lbs and as later reports confirmed, it created difficulties in firing when it was attached to the rifle muzzle. The sword-bayonets were contracted out to the Birmingham sword cutler Henry Osbourne.
The second pattern of Baker Rifle was fitted with a ‘Newland’ lock that had a flat-faced ring neck cock. In 1806, a third pattern was made that included a ‘pistol grip’ style trigger guard and a smaller patch box with a plain rounded front. The lock plate was smaller, flat, and had a steeped-down tail, a raised semi-waterproof pan, a flat ring neck cock, and a sliding safety bolt. With the introduction of the Brown Bess in 1810, with its flat lock and ring necked cock, the Baker lock followed suit for that then became the fourth pattern model. It also featured a ‘slit stock’- the stock had a slot cut in it’s under part just over a quarter-inch wide. This was introduced after Ezekiel Baker had seen reports of the ramrod jamming in the stock after a build-up of residue in the ramrod channel, and when the wood warped after getting wet.
During the Napoleonic Wars the Baker was reported to be effective at long range due to its accuracy and dependability under battlefield conditions. But with its advantages, the rifle did not replace the British musket, the Brown Bess, but was issued officially only to rifle regiments. The rifle was also used by what were considered elite units, such as the 5th battalion and rifle companies of the 6th and 7th Battalions of the 60th Regiment of Foot and the three battalions of the 95th Regiment of Foot that served under the Duke of Wellington between 1808 and 1814 in the Peninsular War and again at Waterloo in 1815. The two light infantry Battalions of the King’s German Legion as well as sharpshooter platoons within the Light Companies of the KGL line Battalions also used Baker rifles.
The rifle could not usually be reloaded as fast as a musket, as the slight undersized lead balls had to be wrapped in patches of greased linen so that they could more closely fit the lands of the rifling. A rifleman was expected to be able to fire two aimed shots a minute, compared to the four shots a minute of the Brown Bess musket in the hands of a trained infantryman. In the course of the Napoleonic Wars, rifleman used paper patches and even bare rifle balls when shooting in a hurry in battle, with faster loading time at the cost of accuracy.
Accuracy was of more importance than rate of fire when skirmishing. The rifleman’s main battlefield role was to utilise cover and skirmish against the enemy’s lines or to defeat the French skirmishers, whereas his musket armed counterparts in the line infantry fired in volley of mass fire. The skirmishers would face their opponents in pairs, so that one would fire while the other one reloaded.
The Baker as originally manufactured was expected to be capable of firing at a range of up to 200 yards with a high hit rate. Riflemen would regularly hit targets at ranges considered to be beyond the rifle’s effective range speaks for both their marksmanship and the capabilities of the Baker rifle.