The "Volunteer Rifle" was born out of necessity. While England maintained a sizeable military throughout the entirety of the 19th Century, the dawn of France's Second Empire period in 1852 caused the British government to become increasingly concerned of an invasion by the new French Emperor. As a result, the "Volunteer" movement was born. Tim Prince of College Hill Arsenal describes the period and guns that resulted:
"The patriotic “Volunteer” movement sought to establish a well-trained militia throughout the island nation to help defend the country . . . the British government encouraged the formation of these patriotic volunteer units to provide the core of a well-trained militia to help repel the feared invasion. These units often competed in local and national shooting competitions, in multiple categories. The primary class was the Military Match Rifle class, which required the use of arms that were essentially of current British military configuration, and in the standard British military .577 caliber. There was a large amount of latitude in the features that were legal on the firearms used in the Military Match Rifle target competitions. Other than the requirement that the gun essentially follow a standard, current military pattern, be able to mount a bayonet and be .577 caliber, almost anything that could enhance the accuracy of the gun was allowed. These features could be minimal, such as checkered stocks to enhance the shooter’s grip on the gun and competition quality locks, often with a fly on the tumbler, an enhanced trigger pull and a highly tuned action. More significant equipment upgrades could include precision adjustable sights and patent rifling patterns in the .577 caliber bores to enhance accuracy."
Volunteer rifles were generally made by the same firms that made standard pattern 1853 Enfields for the British Military. As a result most Volunteer Rifles are encountered with locks stamped with the same markings found on Enfield Rifles purchased for use during the American Civil War. Additionally, these Volunteer Rifles were among the first guns to be purchased by the Confederacy as they were generally higher quality than a typical P1853 musket.
This Volunteer Rifle is particularly interesting as it was set up for long range shooting; featuring a .451 bore rifled with Thomas Turner's 1:20 twist "Turner Patent Rifling". Turner Rifles were just one of many small bore long range guns to be produced in England during this time. The sport of long range competition shooting had become a very popular subcategory of the Volunteer Movement, and several large English gunmakers, including Henry, Kerr, Turner, and most notable, Whitworth, patented their own rifling designs to help stabilize bullets at long range. While many gunsmiths had opted to utilize a hexagonal bore for long range work, Turner opted to a more traditional, five groove progressive depth rifling with a fast twist. Turner claimed his system would never foul and there are several testimonials to its efficacy.
In addition to Turner's patent rifling, this gun also has several features that are unique to guns produced by Thomas Turner's Birmingham-based firm. The most notable of which is the trigger assembly; which features a one piece trigger plate and tang with a separate trigger bow. This design is the mirror opposite of the standard P1853 Enfield on which this gun is based. The P53 features a one piece trigger bow and tang with a small separate trigger plate to hold both the trigger and receive the tang screw which secures the breech of the barrel to the stock. The only issue with this design is the small separate trigger plate is vulnerable to overtightening from the tang screw - on worn guns, the user can actually tighten the tang screw to the extant that it pulls the trigger up into the lock mortise and effects the functionality of the sear. By setting the trigger into a much longer plate that incorporates the trigger assembly's tang, Turner eliminated the possibility of overtightening; insuring that the rifle's trigger pull would remain consistent.
From a collector's stand point, this rifle remains in very good condition. The lightly figured English Walnut stock is very good with no cracks or splits and wonderfully crisp maker's stamps; indicating that it was never been refinished.
The lock, and the rest of the hardware, has a matching untouched patina. The hammer holds solid on both half and full cock.
The barrel is full length with great markings. The sights are both intact and unmodified.
The bore is good with strong rifling and some areas of light rust.
While no surviving original examples have been found, original records do list the Turner Rifle in the lists of sharpshooter rifles that were purchased by the Confederacy; making this piece appropriate for both living history and reenacting. A target shooter may also find this piece to be particularly attractive as well. So don't hesitate on this piece, these rifles are every bit a competitor to the famous Whitworth and Kerr rifles, but without the hefty price tag.