‘One’ denotes the singular nature of this vintage piece: It has one barrel, one lock and there is only one of it in existence, in fact, only one was ever made.
You are looking at it.
These photos depict a ‘Super Magnum Explora’, single barrel, 12-bore, with hand-detachable lock. Westley Richards aficionados will recognise some other proprietary features scattered around the gun: it has a Deeley & Edge forend fastener, a Westley Richards top-lever and a doll's head.
The eagle eyed will notice that not is all as it would normally appear, however.
First among the deviations from the norm is the top-lever and bolt arrangement. The top-lever is familiar but the doll's-head, though jointed on the circle, has no bolt to secure it, as would normally be the case. Instead, it borrows from our 'Ovundo' over & under gun, in having twin bolts, spring-loaded and set into the action face.
They correspond with twin projections from either side of the barrel's breech-end. These push the bolts back when the gun is closed, the bolts then spring forward to sit flush with the face, yet hold the extensions securely in place until retracted by the turning of the top-lever. In addition, it has a Purdey under-bolt, operated in the usual way.
What about the name? ‘Super Magnum Explora’?
The ‘Explora’ is the namesake of this journal. It first saw use at Westley Richards in 1905 as the name for our ‘shot & ball gun/rifle.
It was devised to tap-into the demand for such things, cemented by G.V. Fosbery’s ‘Paradox’, which had been such a hit for Holland & Holland since its introduction in 1886.
It is a shotgun with a rifled-choke section, imparting spin to a conical bullet yet allowing for shot cartridges to perform without blowing the pattern.
The Explora was developed with a special rifled-choke section and patent 'LT' bullets, designed by Leslie Taylor, advertised as capable of placing 6 shots at 100 yards in a target 3.8” x 2.3” and effective to 300 yards.
The basic ‘Explora’ fired this 730 grain, pointed, capped-bullet at 1,250 fps with a muzzle energy of 2,611 ft.lbs from a 2 ½”, 12-bore case. Typically, it was built as a double-barrel, fixed lock Anson & Deeley action but detachable locks were also available, as was a hammer gun version.
There is no ‘Magnum Explora’, development goes straight to the ‘Super-Magnum’. ‘Super’ derives from the Latin, meaning ‘above’. ‘Magnum’ refers to a cartridge firing a bullet with greater velocity than is usual for its size. So, ‘Super Magnum’ emphasises the greater power of this model over its originator.
Using 45 grains of Cordite, the same 730-grain, brass-capped bullet is pushed at 1,500 fps with a muzzle energy of 3,643 ft.lbs. The brass case length is lengthened to 2 ¾”. Accuracy was expected to achieve five shots at 100 yards into a 3”x 3 ½” target. It became extremely popular in India and was a proven tiger killer.
The second of our numbers, 17,889, refers to the serial number of this single-barrelled 'Super Magnum Explora'. This can be traced in the order book to 1923, for ‘Kapadia. Merwanji’ and is listed as:
One single-barrel, ‘Super Magnum Explorer’ 12- gauge, hammerless ejector ball & shot gun.
Willesdan canvas case.
1 long whalebone life protector
1 2nd quality cartridge belt
A quantity of cartridges and bullets were ordered with it.
The cost for the gun was eighty pounds.
The stance of this piece is all rifle, though it was capable of shooting shot cartridges and those ordered with it include fifty rounds of each: No.8, No.5, No.2 and BB, along with 100 solids, all packed into a tin-lined box to keep them fresh.
However, the leaf sights, pistol-grip stock and overall feel of the Super-Magnum Explorer give the impression of a big, powerful, tiger stopper. Its shot-gunning capabilities would appear secondary. Indeed, Westley Richards catalogues of the day emphasise its powers for slaying big game over its qualities as a duck gun.
The final of our three numbers, 3,311, is stamped on the detachable lock work. This denotes the use number of the Taylor 1897 patent. This Explora is the 3,311th incarnation of the design.
It remains in wonderful condition, with perfect wood-to metal fit despite the years and its original home being India, where many fine sporting rifles suffered due to the climate and turbulent social history. A high percentage of the original case colours remain on the action and the engraving is sharp. Bore remains very good, with clean rifled-choke section.
There is no doubt that this veteran could be confidently taken on a tiger shoot tomorrow, were such adventures still open to us. The original leather-covered rubber pad, if it had one, would long ago have perished; the replacement is of best quality and perfectly fitted.
Unfortunately, tigers (such as the one depicted prowling through a grove, on the floor plate of the action bar) are almost as scarce today as original Super Magnum Explora bullets and cartridges. The photograph below shows both the drawings of the ammunition from a vintage Westley Richards catalogue and rare examples of the 'LT' brass capped bullet and a loaded brass cartridge.
Kapadia and Merwanji are names associated with the textile industry in Bombay and the Great Eastern Spinning & Weaving Company, established in the 1860s.
That this 'Explora' was built sixty years later, casts doubt on the order coming from the first generation of the firm but perhaps it was still in existence and the heirs ordered it.
We shall probably never know. What we can recognise is that it was born into a radically different time. A time when tigers were common, hunting was a passion for the elite on the sub-continent and the British Empire was un-knowingly basking in the sunset of its glory days. Twenty years later, the Japanese took Singapore and the world was on fire.
neil mcveigh on September 12, 2021 at 6:58 am
Pure "eye candy"this gun is absolutely gorgeous.At 80 pounds I think I will have one myself.I'm pretty sure I can find something to shoot with it.Keep these treasures coming please guys!
Trigger on September 13, 2021 at 8:56 am
Many thanks Neil. It is an absolute beauty of a thing.
All the best
RICHARD R. COUSINS on September 14, 2021 at 1:51 pm
TRIGGER, ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.
HOWEVER, WHAT IS A LONG WHALEBONE LIFE PROTECTOR?
Bob Erickson on September 14, 2021 at 3:07 pm
The Explora was certainly a wonderful creation and rendition of a perfect ball and shotgun. Unfortunately it was limited by availability of the proper cartridges. I owned for quite a number of years big game hunter, Franz Rosenberg's Faunetta side by side 28 bore with the paradox styled barrels. Originating with a four-leaf flip up site it was a joy to shoot for me, but alas, only on birds. To make the LT bullets was beyond what I could accomplish. I did make a rendition of two of those bullets which I harvested a moose here in my home state of Maine in the US but I had to have backup with the old 30-06. I have subsequently passed it on to an Explora aficionado, and then he to someone else.
Having owned a plethora of Westley Richards guns over the decades, this was certainly my favorite as it brought together all the finest that the firm could deliver in a small but beautiful and useful package.
Thank you Trigger, Simon, and all that have preceded you through the centuries. I know those that truly appreciate it will continue to be as enthralled with your dedication, quality, and tradition as I have been over my last 50 years of custodian of but a few of your wonderful creations.
Robert Erickson DMD
Cliff Behrens on September 14, 2021 at 3:37 pm
Nice article, Trigger. I noticed that the Super Magnum Explora also shot a 730 grs Bluff Head Solid Soft Lead Bullet for targets within about 75 yrds. I was wondering whether you (or anyone else) have ever come across a drawing with specs for this ball, especially since the LT's are so hard to find?
Cliff Behrens on September 16, 2021 at 10:54 am
I really appreciate this informative article about a very unique and beautiful WR gun. I have read that for close range targets (< 75 yds) the Super Magnum Explora also shot a 730 grs Bluff Head Solid Soft Lead Bullet. I was wondering whether you (or anyone else reading this) might have a drawing and specs for this bullet since the LT cartridges are so difficult to find?
Trigger on September 20, 2021 at 5:10 am
I regret to say that we have no technical data on the LT bullet developed for the SME or any of the other calibres that we introduced. Sadly lost in the mists of time.
Pieter Coetzee on November 27, 2021 at 11:10 am
It seems a shame that such things aren't available today. Im so tired of plastic guns with painted and matte finishes, worse still are the camouflaged designs that seem to have become standard. Yes fine guns are still available; but sadly rarely seen in the field. They have almost become museum pieces, never intended to be used. Have we truly reached the end of the Gentleman Hunter?