The Short Chamber Boxer-Henry .45 Caliber Cartridge

The Short Chamber Boxer-Henry .45 caliber is a rather unique cartridge. Most people are awestruck when they see it for the first time. It is big, bad, and ugly. I think the most common thought I hear when showing one to somebody who has never seen it before is the suffering the Zulus who were shot with this cartridge must have endured if not killed outright. Colonel Edward Mounier Boxer of the Woolwich Royal Arsenal in Kent County was the true genius behind much of the new technology in the cartridge. Namely, the coiled brass case. Though primitive looking by today's standards, the coiled brass case was a remarkable breakthrough in metallic cartridge development. The reason behind the coiling of the cartridge is best described in Col. E.M. Boxer's own patent (Boxer's Patent No.137 1/15/1866)...

"My invention has for its object to construct the cases of cartridges for breechloading firearms and ordnance in such a manner that they shall rapidly expand by slightly uncoiling and stretching on firing so as to fill the chamber and will contract slightly after firing so as to admit of the empty case being easily removed."

Eventually, a solid, drawn brass cartridge was adopted to replace the rolled or coiled brass cartridge. It was found to be resistant to rough handling, it produced superior muzzle velocities and had the same qualities of expanding to fill the chamber and form a seal as did the coiled brass case. Best of all, it had fewer parts and required no assembly, as did the coiled case.

In trials of the Martini-Henry, there were two cartridges proposed for use with the rifle. The original was a long .45 caliber cartridge containing 85 grains of Curtis and Harvey #6 black powder. In trials, this "Long Chamber" cartridge was found to be awkwardly long and difficult to handle and load. As a result, W.T. Eley experimented with the cartridge and eventually invented a revised, shorter cartridge capable of holding the same charge of powder. This was accomplished by enlarging the base portion of the cartridge into what has become familiarly known as a "bottle neck" shape. Through trials, this was referred to as the "Short Chamber" cartridge, and upon acceptance, its nomenclature in the L.O.C. was "Short Chamber Boxer-Henry .45 caliber". This new cartridge utilized "R.F.G.2" Powder. This stands for "Rifled, Fine Grade. No.2". This powder meshes 12 to 20, with a density of 1.72 to 1.75. This powder was used in the majority of Martini-Henry ball cartridges.

Check the links page for sources of brass and reloading supplies. 


A real world comparison...on the left, a standard .22 Caliber LR cartridge. On the right, a rolled brass Short Chamber, Boxer-Henry .45 Caliber cartridge.

A box of commercial Boxer-Henry .45 Caliber Carbine-Load cartridges made by Kynoch (a division of Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, Metals Division). The manufacture date stamped on this box is May, 1952.

A cartridge from the box above. Note the green paper patching around the bullet indicating a Carbine Load.

Pierced Berdan primers are a problem with the OWS version of the .450 Martini-Henry. The rounds pictured here were fired from a Mark I Carbine, which has been inspected and found functional and within specs by a competent gunsmith. Since I've heard a few reports of this problem, I sent "Dangerous Dave" of OWS an email asking about this issue. He responded that OWS is aware of the issue (which is caused by poor quality Berdan primers) and that they will soon be selling a new revision of the cartridge featuring Boxer primed, cases.

UPDATE, 17 JAN 02: Just talked to OWS, the new M-H Brass is boxer primed, but it's Kynoch brass. This is great quality stuff, but at $139 per 20 rounds, it's a bit on the ridiculous side for most people! Looks like it's time to shoot the .303 Martinis! OWS suggests using 6504 Primers with their Berdan brass as a workaround, however, they've said they have no plans to change the crappy primers they sell with them!!!

UPDATE, 05 JAN 09: OWS no longer sells the .450 Martini-Henry, and from what I hear, hasn't in quite some time.



Old Western Scrounger's Version of the Boxer-Henry .45 Cartridge with 450 Grain, .450" diameter non patched lead bullet. Solid brass, Berdan primed case. Reformed from 24 Gauge CBC Shotgun Shells.

British Rolled Brass Boxer-Henry .45 Cartridge, complete with inspection markings. 480 Grain Bullet (12 parts lead, 1 part tin), paper patched, beeswax lubricated.

British Drawn Brass M-H Infantry Rifle Cartridge. 480 Grain paper patched bullet. 85 Grain Black Powder Charge.

British Drawn Brass M-H Carbine Cartridge. 410 Grain paper patched bullet. 70 Grain Black Powder Charge.

British Specifications from the LoC...

Rolled Brass Boxer-Henry .45 Data

Solid, Drawn Brass Boxer-Henry .45 Data

Buckshot Boxer-Henry .45 Data

Other Variants...
.476 Indian Pattern load for Police with specially chambered Martinis. Note low shoulder so that .450 ball rounds cannot be loaded
Martini-Henry Buckshot Cartridge, Mark I
Martini-Henry Buckshot Cartridge, Mark II
Carbine, Mark III ball. Red patch
Eley manufactured. Similar to Ball Mark III but with different base closure with no sight hole
Drawn case Cordite Mark II. Kynoch. Note yellow patch
Drawn Case Black Powder Mark II. Kynoch
Royal Laboratory Incendiary Mark I, 1914. Also referred to as "RL Flaming bullet". Used in Martini carbines for early air war against Zeppelins
Kirkee India manufactured riot load with three round lead balls. Normal case length for Army use

The bottlenecked Mark III Special Greener Police Gun Shotshell. Drawn brass, crimped. Next to a .22cal LR cartridge for comparison. This cartridge was specially designed for use with Greener's Police Gun Mark III. The Police Gun was a Martini-Action shotgun widely used by British Colonial Police forces (particularly the Egyptian Police) in the early 1900s. It featured a firing system that would only allow firing of the special cartridges made specifically for the Police Gun. See the FAQ page for more info on the Greener Police Gun.

A comparative view of the cartridge heads. Note the large annular groove around the primer. The purpose of this groove was to allow the special lugs on the breechblock face of the Greener Police Gun to protrude forward to engage, and fire the cartridge. The Greener Police Gun could not fire standard cartridges, and was thus of little or no use if captured by "the bad guys".

Front view showing the crimp and the cardboard wad marked "SG". "SG" is a standard shotgun pellet size (approx 8.5mm diameter).

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Last Modified: 01/05/08