LeMat Centerfire Pistol and Carbine at RIA

Colonel LeMat is best known for his 9-shot muzzleloading .42 caliber revolver with its 20 gauge shot barrel acting as cylinder axis pin – several thousand of these revolvers were imported and used in the field by Confederate officers during the US Civil War (and modern reproductions are available as well). What are less well-known are the .44-caliber pinfire and centerfire versions of LeMat’s revolver, and the carbine variants as well.

In this video I’m taking a look at a centerfire LeMat revolver and a centerfire LeMat carbine, both extremely rare guns. They use the same basic principles as the early muzzleloading guns, but look quite different. In these guns, the shotgun remains 20 gauge but uses a self-contained shell loaded form the rear, and the 9 rifles shots are designed for an 11mm (.44 caliber) cartridge very similar to that used in the French 1873 service revolver.


  1. The current 20 gauge are most often 2-3/4″ or 3″ in length. Was this shotshell sizes used for LeMat revolver or the shorter shotshells was used, if yes how long they were?

    • To fit in the available loading space, they couldn’t have been much more than 2″ in OAL, more likely 1.5″ or at most 1.75″.

      Since most field loads even then were in 2.5″ or longer cases, my guess is that there was a special short cartridge made specifically for the LeMats. This would be another strike against them in the market, although reloads for them could certainly be made by cutting down the length of standard shotgun cartridge cases.



      • The shotgun barrel at the center made sense in a muzzle loading gun, but not so much in a cartridge gun. LeMat should have redesigned the gun to use normal rifled barrel in the center chambered for something like .45 Colt or .44-40 WCF. The revolver barrel could have been smaller caliber in order to make the gun a little lighter, perhaps .38 (Short) Colt (which was a popular cartridge and not considered “weak”). Would it have been a success then? Probably not, but the shotgun chambering clearly was obsolete in the cartridge era for this type of gun.

        • While looking up a link on the Borchardt-designed Winchester revolver this morning, I ran across this;


          Among the goodies is an article on the “Baby LeMat”, only made in prototype form (five known to exist).

          One of them was a metallic-cartridge version, and its center barrel was rifled. So the manufacturers may have been thinking along the lines you describe.



  2. Great video! I love the look of the centre-fire LeMats — though I’m sure when you said it was “substantially uglier,” you meant “substantially awesomer,”… 😉

    Re: the question as to which cartridge they were intended to fire, as I understand it, the Chamelot Delvigne 11mm cartridge will fit, (albeit rather short for the cylinder length,) but the centre-fire LeMat predates the Chamelot Delvigne revolver by 3 or 4 years. So, was the short 11mm cartridge in production for a number of years before the first Chamelot Delvigne revolver circa 1872? Or was the LeMat chambered for another mystery cartridge? Or was, perhaps, the LeMat actually manufactured later than we think?

    • IIRC, in its own time the centerfire leMat was marketed as a “colonial” revolver. Just the thing for a planter in, say, Haiti, to use to deal with obstreperous field hands. Or for a French officer in, say, the Legion Etrangere’ to use.

      As such, it most likely was intended to fire the standard French M1873 revolver round. Neither Ezell or Barnes mention any other French-sourced cartridge that would be similar but with a greater case OAL.

      One possibility is that the longer chambers may have been intended to accommodate one or more of the following;

      1. Rounds loaded with cup-point “manstopper” or “dum-dum” bullets similar to those of some early 0.455in Webley loads. Such a bullet would probably protrude further from the case mouth, requiring a longer cylinder to avoid problems.

      2. Shot loads in paper or cardboard “sleeves”. This is somewhat unlikely, since there’s a 20-gauge shotgun there, too.

      3. The ability to chamber and fire other analogous ammunition such as the .44 S&W American or Russian, in event that the standard French ammunition was unavailable.

      (3) seems to me to be the most likely reason, and would be logical for a revolver (or carbine) expected to be used in the colonies. However, I do not recommend anyone experiment. Due to variances in rim thickness and possibly case diameter just below the head, plus differences in powder charge, headspace problems and pressure “events” are a distinct possibility.



      • Would the LeMat Carbine be considered overkill if used on something similar to the Baskerville Hound or an enraged Bengal Tiger?

        • The Victorian Era’s principle was that the term “excessive force” was an oxymoron. Especially when dealing with irritable wildlife.

          Myself, I’d have started with a Winchester M1873 .44-100 for the pup, and a .475 Nitro Express for the kitty-cat.

          The LeMat carbine after all fires a revolver round. And a not particularly powerful one, at that; Barnes states the French 11mm M1873 service load as 180 gr. @695 FPS for 195 FPE. That’s in the same ballpark as a .38 S&W. aka 0.380in Revolver in a Webley MK IV. The old .44 Colt CF used in the M1872 “Open Top” 1860 Army conversion was actually slightly more powerful (210 gr @ 660 FPS or 225 gr @ 640, for about 206 FPE either way).

          Seen in comparison to European loads of the day, it’s no wonder American cartridges like the .45 Colt (255gr @ 855 for 405 FPE) or .44-40 WCF (200gr @ 918 for 375 FPE) were considered “Magnums” in modern terms. They had about twice the ME of their Continental contemporaries.



          • The load Barnes gives for the Mle 1873 appears to be the 1873/90 load, which was introduced in 1890 to address complaints about the original being too weak. The original was 180 grains at 437 fps for 73 ft-lbf of ME. According to both English and French Wikipedias, which use different sources, the 1873/90 load was actually 165 grains at 620 fps for 141 ft-lbf. (Wikipedia has strange rounding errors, I used the m and v0 provided).

            I remember reading somewhere that the original Mle 1973 load is probably the weakest pistol cartridge load ever accepted officially by any military, and that appears to be true. Compared to it the .45 Colt was a real super-Magnum. On the other hand, the German M1879 Reichsrevolver (10.6mm) was a much more potent than the Mle 1973; it fire a 262 grain projectile at 670 fps for 261 ft-lbf. (As you probably know, the cartridge was actually based on the .44 Russian.)

      • The massive centerfire LeMat revolver was used by the guards of the infamous Cayenne penal colony in French Guyana, I think they were the only users to get it directly as a service weapon…it’s seems that it was not considered overkill at all. Then, like the British officers did, it could be used as a personal weapon by colonial officers.

  3. “was the short 11mm cartridge in production for a number of years before the first Chamelot Delvigne revolver circa 1872”
    municion.org lists some 11mm center-fire cartridge but I fear that determining of cartridge using in this fire-arm will not be possible. Assuming that the 11mm was used (can be sure that?) and using cut-off date of 1870 and excluding long rifle cartridge following cartridges listed on municion fullfill these criteria:
    11 mm Devisme patent Gaupillat 1866
    11mm Javelle Tin Case
    11 mm Swedish Ordnance – http://www.municion.org/11/11x18RSwedish.htm
    Before more depth researches we should find that:
    -can we assume that the revolver is chambered for French cartridge?
    -how is the length of cylinder (which determines the maximum overall length of cartridge)?
    -which year treat as a cut-off date to excluding “too modern” cartridge?

  4. Thanks again Ian for bringing to my attention a fascinating gun that I had no idea existed.

    I can’t help but compare that Lemat Carbine to a modern AR-15 with and under-barrel “masterkey” shotgun attached to the rails :). Not that they were built for the same purpose but I guess every old idea can be new again eventually.

  5. Great finds, the finish on the carbine looks beautiful. Is the LeMat specifically exempted from the NFA? or exempt because of it’s age? Shouldn’t it be considered a short barreled shot gun?

    I’ve thought it would be an interesting concept to redo with a standard revolver and a shrunken M203 grenade launcher chambered in 12 gauge. Mill the front of the trigger guard off the revolver and adapt the m203’s trigger spaced in front of the revolver’s trigger. Here in Canada I think it would be the same legally as the revolver alone,

    • Back in the late Eighties IIRC, Guns and Ammo ran a cover story about a father-and-son pair of skilled amateur gunsmiths (both engineers) who went that route with a S&W N-frame.

      They converted it to top-break like a Webley(!), made new barrels, etc., and when it was done hey had a revolver with a 16″ barrel (for NFA reasons) that could hold 6 rounds of .357, 6 rounds of .22 LR, and a single .410 shotgun shell all at the same time. Firing through three parallel barrels arranged rather like those of a German over-and-under “drilling” three-barrel rifle/shotgun, with the .357 on top, the .410 right under it, and the .22 on the left side as viewed from the breech end. The .22 barrel was positioned so that when a .357 chamber was properly aligned with that barrel, the .22 chamber next to it was properly aligned with the .22 bore. Simple, and pretty foolproof.

      Fire control was by a sliding bar in the frame, that transmitted the hammer fall to any one of the three floating firing pins selected by the transfer-bar method. It also functioned as a safety, by having a fourth position that prevented the hammer from striking any of the three firing pins.

      Yes, it had a Webley-type simultaneous extractor star, and yes, it was a complicated beast. BTW, the .410 barrel was rifled to avoid NFA problems. So technically, I imagine it could also have fired .45 LC (hardly much point with the .357 chambers) or .454 Casull (which would be serious OUCH territory, at both ends).

      I could see such a weapon in .357 today, with a 20-gauge center barrel. And maybe .22 WMRF chambers tucked in between the .357 chambers. I’d go with five-shot capacity on .357 and .22 to ensure that the locking notches were between the .357 chambers, not over them, to prevent “dimpling” with high-power loads.

      And it would definitely have 18″ barrels, and a shoulder stock like the S&W 320 Revolving Rifle that’s coming up for sale at RIA. The top-break mechanism would make fitting a sheet-metal shield around the cylinder/barrel gap to prevent lead spitting a lot easier than it would be for a conventional solid frame revolver with a swingout cylinder. Just drop it in like the stamped holster guide on a Webley MK IV.

      If I were taking it to Alaska, it would be a five-shot .44 Magnum or .454 Casull, with five rounds of .22 WMRF and a single 20-gauge or 16-gauge barrel for a base pin.

      Than should give Ol’ Ephraim something to think about if he decides to get cranky.



  6. lematt original patent: http://www.nrvoutdoors.com/LEMAT/DRAWING.JPG


    LeMat revollvers are always in production and used by french sportshooters, here one made by pietta


    but they are expensives (929€= 1156 us dollars):

    lematt are more complex and delicates than remingtons and colts:



    they are also a masterpiece to manufacture in 1860 !!
    it’s was a rich man revolver.

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