Curved, single fullered blade, ambidextrous basket hilt with pierced Maltese Cross symbol and turned-over edges, black pressed leather grips secured by five steel rivets. Overall length 1.05m (39½ inches) blade length 87cm (34¼ inches). No leather washer or scabbard.
The spine of the blade is stamped with ‘/90’, indicating that it is an 1890 Pattern, and a crown inspection mark for Enfield. The flat of the blade is stamped at the forte on one side with a broad arrow and ‘WD’, indicating War Department property, another Enfield inspection mark, and an ‘x’ indicating that the blade passed a factory bending test. On the other side it is stamped with issue marks for 1892, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1904 and 1907, seven Enfield crown inspection marks and a Birmingham Repair mark. The inside of the hilt is stamped with ‘8 C 8’, ’20 H’ indicating the 20th Hussars, and the sword number ‘712’. The exposed tang has several stamps including a Birmingham Repair mark, the letter ‘A’ and ‘H M’, and an anchor-like mark. The top of the hilt is stamped with another broad arrow with ‘WD’, and another crown inspection mark.
These stamps collectively indicate that this sword had an active service history with the 20th, issued seven times and requiring at least one official repair, and was still being issued even after the 1890 Pattern was officially replaced by the 1899 Pattern. Possibly the 20th Hussars kept some of the old 1890s in use until the 1908 Pattern was introduced.
The 20th Hussars was originally raised as the 2nd Bengal European Light Cavalry in 1858, part of the army of the East India Company but recruited from Britons. It fell under the command of the Crown in the same year after the dissolution of the EIC and was officially transferred to the British Army in 1862, renamed the 20th Regiment of Hussars. The regiment came to be nicknamed ‘Nobody’s Own’, as unlike almost all other British hussar regiments it was never awarded a title such as ‘King’s Own’. It remained in India until 1872, after which it was based in England between overseas deployments. It deployed to the Sudan in 1885 as part of the Suakin Expedition, returned to England in 1890, deployed to India in 1895 and was still there at the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. Considering this sword’s service stamps it may have still been in use during the 20th Hussars’ deployment to South Africa in the Boer War – they arrived only in December 1901 but still took part in fighting during the spring of 1902 together with the 3rd Hussars under Colonel Nixon, capturing retreating Boer forces and repelling a counterattack on the line of the Cornelius River. After service in WW1, sometimes on horseback but mostly as dismounted infantry, the 20th was amalgamated with the 14th Hussars to form the 14th/20th King’s Hussars in 1922, which was then merged with the Royal Hussars in 1992 to form the modern King’s Royal Hussars. Its lineage is maintained by A Squadron, KRH.
This is a particularly interesting regimental connection for an 1890 Pattern sword to have, as the 20th Hussars played a key role in the creation of this type. The 20th mounted a cavalry charge and subsequent melee at the Battle of Suakin on the 20th December 1888. The battle was an overwhelming victory with losses of 12 British to around 1000 Mahdists, but the next day the Secretary of State for War was asked in Parliament ‘whether it was true, as reported, that in the charge of the Hussars against the rebels at Suakin on Thursday, three of the Hussars’ swords broke short; and whether, if so, he would cause inquiry to be made into the matter?’. The Secretary promised that inquiry would be made.
The quality of equipment issued to soldiers was a persistent topic of public anxiety in Britain during this period, and the British press seized immediately on the suggestion of swords breaking, whipping up a ‘Great British Sword Scandal’, intended to be a repeat of the 1885 ‘Bayonet Scandal’ three years earlier which resulted from reports of bayonets bending during combat with the Mahdists.
A Board of Enquiry was duly formed to investigate the Suakin incident. It found that only two of the Hussars’ swords had actually broken in hand-to-hand combat, the troopers involved describing the incidents as follows:
‘Encountering one of the enemy’s footmen, I made a downward cut at his head, and my sword broke about 3 inches from the hilt.’
‘I first engaged one of the enemy footmen on my off side, and cut his head open. I then became engaged with one of their cavalrymen… I gave him a cut between the elbow and the hand, and he galloped off. I now found a mounted horseman on my near side, I delivered cut 3*, which he parried, and my sword flew into three pieces… my sword met that of my opponent about half way down the blade… My opponent’s sword was a much heavier one than mine.’
*A cut diagonally upwards from right to left, from the swordsman’s perspective.
These failures do not seem all that exceptional, especially for a sword to break when parried by a thicker blade, having just cut successfully into two other targets. However, the Board of Enquiry concluded after testing that while the Suakin swords themselves were not defective, the blade of the 1885 Pattern sword in general was:
‘…too thin in the ‘fuller’ section and in a large number of cases too hard; the latter fault arising from the endeavour to produce swords capable of withstanding the very stringent tests as to rigidity and elasticity which have been insisted upon.’
The 1890 Pattern Cavalry Trooper’s sword was introduced as a result, the last of the ‘Maltese cross’ cavalry swords, almost identical to its predecessor but with 3 ounces more steel strengthening the blade – which inevitably led to it being called too heavy to fight effectively with.
The 20th Hussars’ charge also paved the way for the complete overhaul of testing procedures for British swords, the introduction of a uniform chemical specification for sword steel and new standards for manufacturing to eliminate inconsistencies in blades. These were all changes recommended by the eminent engineers Sir Frederick Bramwell and Benjamin Baker, who in 1899 were the first scientific experts to be asked by the Army to comment on the chemical and physical characteristics needed for good sword blades.
The blade and hilt have very light cleaned pitting overall, the blade has some areas of more noticeable pitting and some nicks to its edge in the midsection, slight wear to the point. The chequered leather grips are intact with very little wear considering the sword’s evident use.
£360 including UK postage - see the Blackthorn Antiques website for purchase, for details on postage elsewhere and for more antique arms not shown on Gunstar.
Recently responses to customer enquiry emails which were sent through the Gunstar website haven't always been getting through. If you'd like to get in touch by direct email for a surefire response, the contact page to use is https://blackthorn-antiques.com/contact-blackthorn-antiques...Read full description