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A Rare Canadian Indian Contract Pistol by Ketland & Allport 1813-1815

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Price: £2,650

Ref: 065.23

Item Description

A British Ordnance pistol of the type supplied to Canadian Indians to strengthen Britain’s defence of its Canadian border in the War of 1812 with the USA. The pistol was produced under what became known as the 1813 Indian Contract in which the Board of Ordnance utilised the services of its Birmingham contractors to speedily manufacture arms for Indians in Canada. This pistol is by Ketland & Allport, who, like the other gunmaking firms that were party to this contract, were already an established Birmingham based supplier to the Board. The name is stamped on the lockplate.

The full stocked pistol is mounted with a 9 inch 16 bore (0.66 inch) barrel. It is mounted with  a  plain brass trigger guard, butt plate and ramrod pipe, and a flat lock. The pistol is typical of the type produced for this contract.

Trade in arms supplied by France and Britain to the indigenous peoples of North America and Canada had concentrated around the area of the Great Lakes since the 17th century. These arms were most certainly used in hostilities between them. The supply of British guns to the native population accelerated towards the end of the 17th century mainly through the Hudson’s Bay Company which secured supply contracts with independent gun makers in Britain. From 1753 the Board of Trade took responsibility for the supply of guns as trade goods. With the outbreak of war between the USA and Britain in 1812, the British realised the importance of securing assistance from their Indian allies to protect the Canadian frontier from incursion by the USA. An urgent need for firearms for Canada was realised and the Board of Ordnance took over responsibility for this supply from the Board of Trade from 1813 until 1816 after which it was handed back.

This pistol belongs to a small group of less than 3,000 Ordnance pistols of which only a few survive that were supplied to the Indians by the Board of Ordnance during this period. Although they resemble the trade guns previously supplied to Indians they are “Ordnance” rather than “Trade” weapons produced as part of the 1813 Ordnance Contract for “Firearms for the Indians in Canada”. To fulfill this need  supply arrangements were agreed with at least 16 existing Ordnance contractors in Birmingham. By 1816 nearly 27,000 arms had been produced for this contract of which 2,636 were pistols.  The relatively small number of pistols goes some way to explain their scarcity today.  Less than half of the nominated contractors produced the pistols, favoring the production of long guns instead, and production ceased a year before the end of the contract in 1815.

These pistols are of a less complex type compared to contemporary British military pistols. For example they possess the early form of pan without a bridle which is unusual at this date. The key factor that marks them out as being part of this “Indian” contract compared to the trade pistols that went before, is that they are marked to the Board of Ordnance standard, just as military pistols were, and as is demonstrated by this example.

The barrel shows “Tower” Ordnance View and Proof marks plus the barrel inspector’s mark at the tang of a crown over a number 25, and the touch hole inspector’s mark, of a crown over a number 18. The lock plate shows the government ownership mark of a crown over a broad arrow beneath the pan. The stock shows the maker’s mark of “I D” stamped to the right of the side plate. The storekeeper’s stamp of “1806” type is present above the lockplate tail and an inspection mark alongside the trigger guard tail. 

Note: The cock of this pistol has a three petalled tulip impressed twice, a smaller one above another.  This feature appears on the barrel tangs, lock plates and / or cocks, of a number of “Trade” rather than “Ordnance” pistols of the time with a Canadian connection, though the meaning is now unknown. It has been suggested that the mark may be a logo identifying some form of commercial entity, just as the sitting fox often appears on Hudson Bay Company trade guns. This stamp may indicate that the pistol discussed here was made for a different supply route, but was diverted towards the Ordnance, and of sufficiently high standard to meet the quality standards of the Indian Contract.

Provenance: This pistol is from the collection of the late Clive Brook who together with Barry Chisnall and Geoff Davies co-authored “British Ordnance Single Shot Pistols”, published by Maine Military in 2019.  A copy of this publication is included with the sale of the pistol.

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