Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New users of the matchlock

The simplicity of the matchlock led to its adoption by indigenous warriors wherever it was taken by European traders and soldiers. The Japanese learned how to build matchlocks from Portuguese traders, while the Indians and Afghans adopted the technology from the British. On India's North-West Frontier, warlike tribesmen used their Jezail matchlocks, designed for easy fire from horseback, with ruthless efficiency against the British.

Japanese matchlocks
Although based on matchlocks introduced by the Portuguese traders in 1543, Japanese Tanegashima weapons never progressed beyond the basic snapping matchlock mechanism; most European designs used flintlocks. In the 1860s, percussion locks were imported from the West, and this ignition system was the first departure from the matchlock.

All Japanese matchlocks of this type were handmade, varying greatly in calibre, size, length and styles and rarely had interchangeable parts. Unlike European muskets, the stocks had no shoulder supports with a butt plate, but at the rear they had a distinctive cheek piece, described as a "cheek stock".

In feudal Japan the Tanegashima matchlock styles were classified by the shooting schools where the gun makers taught and worked, and by the fiefdoms of the ruling lords. The country was divided among almost one hundred lords, each with his own distinctive ideas or policies about the manufacture of every kind of civil or military product. Records suggest that in the late 18th century there may have about 250 shooting schools in Japan; shooting, or Houjyutu, was classed as a martial art along with techniques such as karate.
The Japanese had been introduced to the matchlock by Portuguese traders. They were quick to grasp its utility as a weapon. Here, warriors use a modified version; however, like European soldiers they retain their swords for personal protection.

Indian and Afghan matchlocks
A form of matchlock musket used in India until the 20th century was known as the Bandukh Torador. British soldiers also adopted the name, referring to their rifles as "Bondooks" well into the 20th century.
Warriors on the Afghan—Baluch frontier in the 1890s armed with their Jezail muskets; the stocks and other simple components were often handmade. These men were formidable marksmen, capable of hitting human targets at a considerable range.

The Jezail, which came from the area of the Pashto-speaking people of Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier of British India (now Pakistan), was a matchlock or flintlock musket fired from a forked rest. The Jezail used the unusual curved Sind stock, which made the gun easier to fire from horseback. Many of these guns were later converted to percussion. The Jezail, although long and awkward to carry, was reputedly accurate up to 730m/800yd; Afghans picked off sheep and horses at 550m/600yd with a single shot.

In his poem "Arithmetic on the Frontier", Rudyard Kipling writes about the death of a young British officer:

A scrimmage in a Border Station -
A canter down some dark defile -
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail -
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride.

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