Gahendra: the Nepalese Martini (or not)

Long a mysterious unknown member of the Martini family, the Nepalese Gahendra rifles finally became available in the US and Europe after IMA purchased Nepal’s cache of historic arms. The Gahendra is a uniquely Nepalese design built to sidestep British reluctance to supply military arms to the colony. Developed by a General Gahendra (who is also responsible for the Bira copy of the Gardner Gun), the rifle is not actually a Martini at all. Instead, it shares its mechanical features mostly with the earlier Peabody falling block rifles, using a hammer and flat mainspring (the Martini improvement replaces there with a striker and coil spring).

Gahendras are chambered for the standard British .577/.450 Martini cartridge, although their bore diameters vary substantially, and one should absolutely slug a specific rifle before loading ammunition for it. In fact, unless you are capable of proficiently assessing the safety of the Gahendra, it is wiser not to shoot them at all. These rifles were individually handmade well over a hundred years ago using steels of questionable metallurgy and hardening.

That said, the guns were actually much better made than most people assume, considering their non-interchangeable parts. Craftsmen built each rifle part by part, giving the factory an output of just 4 rifles per day. Production began in the 1880s, and according to the Nepalese government ended prior to 1899. Dates on the rifles, however, are commonly found as late as 1911. These dates are generally assumed to be inventory or refurbishment dates.

12 Comments

  1. One point of clarification…. Nepal was never a British colony, or anyone’s colony. Nepal and Britain fought a brief war in the early 1800s which ended by mostly reestablishing earlier borders and giving the British the right to recruit young Nepali soldiers, today known as Gurkhas.

    • The British learned that even the poor farming folk of Nepal were really good fighters. Thus after the Anglo-Nepalese War you’d find plenty of Nepalese troops serving under British colors, especially in colonial areas. Even with the Nepalese monarchy abolished and the current government in Nepal condemning “deplorable mercenary recruitment,” young Nepalese men still sign up to join the British Army and the Indian Army. Their motivation seems to be the increasingly good pay and benefits provided compared to the lack of jobs that the Nepalese (mostly communist) government offers. Given a choice, I suppose “mercenary” work for a foreign army is better than toiling (and starving) in joblessness!

  2. I’ve got an IMA Francotte with bayonet proudly hanging over my portrait of Chinese Gordon. It cleaned up quite nice with Kroil Oil, bought one of the untouched ones, and it was easy to fabricate a buttplate. Broken firing pin but “Who cares!”. Not quite historically related but time-wise ok and it looks great. I presume most of you guys have picked up one of these bargains at IMA for wall hangers.

  3. I thought a Peabody was an external hammer-fired pivoting-falling block action, and a Martini was the basic Peabody action with an internal striker-fire mechanism. So if this is not a Martini but doesn’t have an external hammer, is there an internal hammer or is it striker-fired?

  4. IMA was the third dealer to tap the Nepal arsenal. About 1960 International of Montreal was selling Martinis from Nepal along with a miscellany of other arms including Gahendras which were a mystery at the time. I bought my Gahendra about 20 years ago. In the early 70s I examined a truckload of parts that a gunsmith had bought from a surplus dealer which included several burst Martinis which I now know were Nepalese. They still had the remains of coil case ctgs in the chamber.
    In the mid 70s a US dealer was also selling arms from Nepal.

  5. I have the Peabody from the British 1869 trials. For some reason it was sent to Napal and was copied for this rifle. I think the mechanism changes are
    caused by the coil spring that could not be manufactured in Napal. The trials rifle
    is in a long 0.45 cartridge that looks like a 500 nitro express

  6. “their bore diameters vary substantially”
    It was intentional (change at some point of production) or not (lack of precise measuring equipment) or both?

  7. The barrels being of the Damascus type, means that they were made of several strips of steel forge welded around a mandrel. This type for fabrication does not allow for close tolerance of the bore. The bore diameter is subject to many factors, including time of day, what the blacksmith had for lunch and if he just had a fight with his wife.

  8. The markings on the rifle are not written in “Hindu” (a religion, of course), nor “Hindi” (a major language) and perhaps what was meant to be said in the video. The script appears to be “Devanagari,” a script used in Hindi, Nepali, and a number of other South Asian languages. Very interesting weapon description and historical background. Having served in Nepal in the ’90s, I can attest to the (then) Royal Nepalese Army’s ability to maintain older and contemporary weapons simultaneously.

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