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We all make mistakes - The story of the Selous .425 Rifle

Why do I like to go to the Las Vegas Antique Arms show?, because there is always the possibility of a surprise to be unearthed on one of the tables. Over the years I have bought some super guns and rifles at the show, often from individuals who are selling off their small collections. I guess the first rule of Antique Arms is to look first at everybody else's guns and then set up your own after, a rule I didn't follow this year.

F.C.Selous and Westley Richards-2

A long standing client and possibly the most enthusiastic Westley collector I know, asked me on Friday to have a look at a .425 take down rifle, he wanted an opinion on the rifle in general and what I thought of the price that was asked. I duly did this and commented that it didn't have the desirable side clips to assist feed but besides that it was a good rifle in nice condition. I suggested a price he should try and get it for.

A couple of days later I had a text message saying 'The .425 rifle was made for Selous". he had not requested a history from the factory but rather had noticed from our book "In Pursuit of the Best Gun" the photograph of the ledger for the Selous rifle. Rifle No. 37798 supplied to Selous in 1911.

Having kicked myself very hard and been told I was totally incompetent by Trigger I am pleased to say that I really don't think there is a better man who should have found the rifle and uncovered the truth, the new owner is totally deserving. I am quite sure I would never have put 2 & 2 together and whilst he denies it, I am sure Trigger wouldn't have done either!

The rifle is heading to Africa this year which is fitting, there will be no film or such, just a great safari with a rifle that was ordered and shot by one of, if not the most famous hunters of our time. I am sure that will give a warm and cozy feeling whilst in the bush.

4.1.1

16 Comments

  • vancedaigle on February 10, 2016 at 7:15 am

    Morning Simon,

    Confucius says that if you sit by the river long enough that your enemy will float past. Well I don't know anthing about an enemy as I hope not to have any....many. But I think this also works with guns. wait and either another will drift by, or the same one will come again.

    I am still sitting by the river in hopes that a few more guns of my dreams come by. At least you know where the great Selous gun in located, and that it has a good home. Happy your trip was sucessful and that you are back home in your own bed my friend. Have a day!!!

    In Christ
    Vance,

  • Gary Duffey on February 10, 2016 at 7:30 am

    What a great discovery! If this individual is as alert during his Safari as he was at the show he will have a great time indeed!

  • Larry on February 10, 2016 at 7:50 am

    This is an awesome story and it's one of those that just makes you smile and chuckle! The rifle couldn't be in better hands and knowing that it's headed back to the old stomping ground is even more of a thrill!

  • GERMAN WILDMAN on February 10, 2016 at 11:05 am

    thanks much for share friend
    do you make this oneshot rifle today??
    one singleshot?
    selous was a true englander and true gentleman to
    in germania we regard him with much much respekt
    do you make them in 300, 375, 416 kalibers?
    much thanks
    wilhelm

    • Simon Clode on February 11, 2016 at 1:21 am

      We will discuss making anything from our historical line up. I am not exactly sure what you are after but we completed a single shot rifle last year which is featured on the blog. Search Farquharson. Thank you.

  • Neil McVeigh on February 10, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Simon,
    Certainly a case of the one that got away!By pure coincidence I was reading this afternoon Tony-Sanchez- Arino"s "Great African Calibres."He relates a story about Selous departing for Africa,bags packed,taxi waiting outside.His new .425 from WR had only arrived an hour before his departure.Rather than leave without firing the gun,he went upstairs to his bedroom.He spied an odd-colored brick on a chimney ninety yards away .He fired five quick shots at the brick and checked the grouping with his binoculars.Satisfied with the grouping he went downstairs to get into the taxi.He was confronted by a group of anxious neighbours and a policeman.They asked him had he heard the "bangs"?Yes he said they appeared to come from a neighbouring house and promptly departed the scene in the taxi bound for Africa!

    Great story if true.Was it the gun you just missed out on?

    • Keith on February 11, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      An interesting footnote to the Selous shooting the .425 at home before leaving for Africa. At the bottom of the Westley Richards ledger page for his .425 transaction there is the following entry:

      He tried Rifle at Hendon Oct 17-1911
      & was very pleased with it
      used 5 ctgs only--------

      It is leaving for Africa again May 1st 2016.

      Keith

  • Byron Christie on February 10, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Trigger would most certainly not have twigged to the Selous connection! He thinks he would but au contraire!!

    • Simon Clode on February 11, 2016 at 1:17 am

      Exactement!

    • Larry on February 11, 2016 at 7:17 am

      Haha!

  • F.K. Sandercock on February 11, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    A Selous single shot rifle with the metal reinforced pistol grip was sold at auction by Maynard's Auction in Vancouver, BC more than 20 years ago. It's possible that this is the same rifle. It has been my everlasting regret that I could not afford it at the time.

  • Jack Harris on February 11, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    Hello Simon:

    Great seeing you at SCI and chatting about the Selous 425WR.

    I too saw the rifle at the Antique Arms show within the first couple of hours of the show on Friday. I looked the rifle over and shouldered it. I went back with a friend and looked at it again. I got the gentlemen's card that was selling it and wrote the info on the back of his card. I put the card on my bathroom mirror when I got home so I didn't forget about the rifle.

    I'm kicking myself too! At least I can say I was able to see the rifle, shoulder it and appreciate the rifle and it's history even more.

    Congrats to the new owner!

    Sincerely,
    Jack

  • Woody Cotterill on February 13, 2016 at 6:33 am

    Dear Simon
    This is remarkable news! And especially for those of us who have recrossed his tracks in Africa. Here follows a summary of an event – encountering a classic .425 Magazine rifle - when I was about 13 in the then Rhodesia of the late 1970s.

    A regular feature for any family living in a more remote village were the do-all/get-all shopping trips to the nearest provincial town or city. For my family, this urban shopping centre was Gwelo [today called Gweru]. Bulawayo and Salisbury [Harare] were visited even more rarely. As the bushwar intensified, one always travelled with due protection (shotguns, sporting rifles, as well as handguns or a military issue 9mm submachine gun (Uzi style mimic) were standard] and the wise travelled well before sunrise, as most ambushes hit later in the day or after dark; so the perpetrators could lay down some distance from the inevitable wrath of a security force hot pursuit, which could call in the dreaded air support ! Wise civilians would also tag on to a military convoy of 5tonne Merc RL trucks, the ubiquitous Land Rovers, with the occasional 2.5 Unimog (all the more vehicles became mineproofed as the war intensified); ferrying young troops in and out of expanding Operational Areas. One always waved to the men. I still have vivid memories of the fixed expressions of some teenage troopers showing clear evidence of what would one came to recognize as battle fatigue and worse… So for children and youngsters, these excursions on the national roads remain firmly imprinted on us all.
    The highlight of these trips to the urban wonderland for country youngsters was the visit to the local gun and fishing tackle shop. In Gwelo, this was Tatos Bros and Sports Haven [latterly also in Que Que, managed by a Mr Marillier who encouraged keen boys in their passions]. Here a lad could gloat at the contents of their armory after spending the finite pocket money on fishing tackle and Marksman No. 1 pellets (the annual .22 licence allocation for my rifle was always long since exhausted...). I was one of the few lads allowed to cross the prohibited line into the gun section to examine the tags. Very occasionally, a right treat was to be shown a rifle! Well-worn British made rifles and shotguns featured prominently.
    I can never forget on one visit to Sports Haven, Gwelo - between 1977 and 1978, I think - my father and I examined a .425 WR bolt action. These rifles were as rare then as now, and Kynoch ammo of course even scarcer. This .425 had the classic 28" barrel and the unique full 5 extended round bevel-hinged magazine with definitive horn hinge. If I recall correctly it also had an encircling handgrip of "green" elephant ear-skin dry-shrunk on to the fore piece (which some of the early hunters favoured). The shop manager proudly claimed this was the very rifle - yes the infamous one - owned by F C Selous! I recall this rifle was in decent condition despite appearing well used.
    I was in my early teens - about 13. I already had read all Selous' books several times, along with Pondoro Taylor's, among Denis Lyell and others. So the context needed no elaboration. I begged my father to buy the rifle - sadly to no avail; he already owned his own 5-round .425 magazine with 24" barrel, so wielded the clinching argument!
    Well, suffice to say this formative experience branded its mark! I have often wondered since about the veracity of the acclaimed historical ownership, and what became of this wonderful old rifle. It would be fascinating to learn if Selous' .425 had indeed once passed through a provincial gunshop in the then Rhodesia in the late 1970s. In any case, its journey between Europe, Africa and latterly North America must hold many facets. If this .425 accompanied Selous to German East Africa, it could well have seen active combat. The most reassuring news right now is that it’s owned and treasured in deserving hands in a "safe" country! Photographs and more details will be most intriguing.

    I cannot thank you enough for this news that’s laid to rest a key part in a major mystery.
    An all very best to you all in Birmingham

    Woody

    PS Tell Trigger I have had to imbibe a glass or two of fine Cape Red to celebrate news of this discovery. Dammit for some of us steeped in local and regional history south of the Equator, it’s made the year and more.....

    • Keith on February 14, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      Woody,

      As I hunted Rhodesia in 1977 your story brings back memories of my trip there and what was going on at the time. I regret to say that the .425 you saw was not the one owned by Mr. Selous. His has a 24" barrel and is a takedown model. It's current state is in very good condition with and exceptional bore. It does not appear to have been refinished. Someone or someones have kept it safe for close to 115 years. Simon and I have discussed taking some picture but they need to be of the quality that only Simon can do. When that is accomplished I am sure he will post them.
      Keith

      • Woody Cotterill on February 17, 2016 at 12:05 am

        Dear Keith, A fascinating update. This makes sense, and it is all the more remarkable how the Selous .425 has survived the contingencies of history in such fine condition: and not least the proverbial Winds of Change.

        Thank you very much for resolving so many facets of the Selous and the "other" .425. Eagerly awaiting promised photographs.

        All the very best

        Woody

  • Woody Cotterill on February 13, 2016 at 6:57 am

    Further to the above...the infamous account of the "urban-test" by F C Selous of his brand new .425 is often recounted. It’s in fitting with the man’s personality, and indeed clashes with authority in his youth had caused his parents much despair! The event late in 1911 most likely centred in an upstairs bedroom in his parent’s house in Gloucester Road, Regent’s Park. If the factory records place the date of completion of the fine rifle as 20th October 1911, it was likely soon after, shortly before he sailed for East Africa where the rifle saw good use. It was also with this very rifle that Selous saved his life, and that of Elani, his gunbearer, in a tight skirmish with a buffalo bull, published in The Field [June 8th, 1912].

    Much of his house in Worpleston, Surrey (Guildford) still stands, where his widow died in 1951; although it's no surprise that the countryside is much changed today. The Museum built by Selous for his hunting trophies was demolished, with the “…Selous’ Worplesdon house Heatherside….now divided into two properties under other names.”. Undoubtedly, the local wildlife has dwindled since the dedicated naturalist that was Selous kept his meticulous nature notes, especially on migratory birds and emerging butterflies. The hunting trophies that he proudly displayed in his museum are in the Natural History Museum. I have examined a few in my own research on antelopes. Here’s an interesting essay:
    http://www.guildford-dragon.com/2012/03/20/incredible-big-game-hunter-who-lived-at-worplesdon/

    To the best of my knowledge, the “urban rifle firing trial” was originally recounted in the biography by Millais (1918), and was summarized by Stephen Taylor in his more complete biography, The Mighty Nimrod [1989, pg 274]. Here follows the original account:
    “As an example of Selous' practical nature with regard to rifles, and the absolute necessity of testing them thoroughly before field-use, he told me one day the following story :

    At a leading London gunmaker's he had ordered a heavy high-velocity rifle, which he intended to use on large game in one of his more recent expeditions. As so often happens, the gunmaker in question delayed the delivery of the weapon till the very last moment, and one hour before he was to depart for Africa, Selous found himself in possession of a new weapon whose sighting and cartridges he had not tested. Now, to a man of his experience, such a thing as taking a rifle to Africa without first shooting it carefully was unheard of. The cartridges might not fit, or the sights might be set too high or too low. There was only one thing to be done, he must test the rifle somehow, even though located as he was in a house in Regent's Park. Calling the servant he asked her to get a cab and put all his kit therein and to place his hat and coat ready in the hall. When the maid announced that this had been done, he then opened his bedroom-window, and selecting a neighbouring chimney-stack, at about 100 yards distance, he fired five shots in quick succession.

    The effect in the densely populated neighbourhood may be more easily imagined than described. Heads appeared at every window and knots of people began to assemble in the streets below. What on earth was happening? Had someone suddenly gone mad? Was a murder being perpetrated, or had the Germans landed? Selous quickly got out his field-glasses, and noticed that the pattern on the brick chimney was distinctly good. He then carefully cleaned the rifle and put it in its case, donned his hat and coat, and opened the front door. Here was assembled a group of scared people, whilst a policeman was seen hastily crossing the road. Someone asked him as he entered the cab if he had heard the shots, and the old hunter replied that he had, and that the sounds seemed to have come from one of the rooms above. So Selous tried his rifle and went on his way rejoicing.”

    [excerpt J. G. Millais. 1918. Life of Frederick Courtenay Selous, D.S.O. Capt. 25 Royal Fusiliers, pp 354-355]
    Download ebook here: https://archive.org/details/lifeoffrederickc00milluoft

    Again, I cannot thank you sufficiently for this most remarkable story and laying a mystery to rest.

    Thank you

    Woody

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