We previously brought you news of the exciting development that led classic British gunmaker John Rigby & Co. to change its donation piece for next year’s SCI Convention – the rediscovery and acquisition of the .275 Rigby renowned hunter Jim Corbett.
To whet your appetite, in this issue we’ll look more at the original gun itself, which will be on show at the convention. Next time, to get you even more excited, we’ll have an exclusive preview of the donation rifle as it nears completion at Rigby’s south London workshop.
As well as modern gunmaking facilities, Rigby has an almost complete set of its historic ledgers at its present day premises at Pensbury Place in London. These give the specifications of the rifle that was to become Corbett’s.
Logged under serial number 2516, it had a 25-inch barrel, an ivory bead foresight and a one fixed/two-leaf rear sight, set for 100, 200 and 300 yards. It weighed 7lb, 8oz and was described as a ‘Best Mauser Rigby Sporting Rifle’. There is, naturally, no hint in the ledgers of what awaited this particular .275 out in India, but it was unlikely to spend its days rusting in a gunroom – back then, as today, Rigbys were made to be used.
Corbett himself summed up just how important the rifle was in his adventures in a 1953 letter to his friend and publisher, Geoffrey Cumberlege of Oxford University Press (OUP):
“One of our most valued possessions is the .275 rifle that Sir John Hewell[sic], Governor of the United Provinces, presented to me when I shot the Champawat man-eating tiger. This rifle has accounted for many man-eaters, and its exploits are mentioned a hundred times in my books.
“My shooting days are now over and I am wondering if you could find a corner in Amen House [OUP’s London headquarters at the time] where this faithful old friend, who has saved my life on many occasions, could pass his well-earned retirement in peace and comfort. He would not feel lonely at Amen House, for he would know that he was among friends.”
Corbett’s .275 left Rigby’s London workshop for the Indian sub-continent in April 1905, then spent the first two years of its life quietly on the shelves of Manton & Co. in Calcutta. It didn’t play an active part in Corbett’s exploits until 1907, when it was presented to him in thanks for killing the dreaded man-eating tigress of Champawat.
By the time Corbett was called in to hunt down the Champawat tigress, she had killed a recorded 436 people and was reported to have reduced the locals to a state of such fear that they were afraid to step outside, even to fetch food, and were in danger of starvation. Jim wasn’t the first person to try to end the beast’s reign of terror: before him, a number of government-appointed hunters, locals and military men – including a unit of notoriously hardy Ghurkhas – had all attempted to stop the tigress but failed.
Corbett refused to take a bounty for the tiger, but accepted the rifle, which he went on to use to good effect in the years that followed. He chronicled these in his best-selling memoirs, which were first published by Oxford University Press (OUP) in 1944 and have since been reprinted in numerous countries and languages.
Corbett’s spirit and his achievements live on in his writings, and also in his rifle, onto which tales of his adventures are inscribed in its dents and notches. A bit of that spirit is also carried in every rifle that leaves Rigby’s present-day workshop, though its not written in dents – it’s in the Rigby DNA and in the skill and craftsmanship that goes into creating each one. The donation rifle being specially built for the SCI Convention auction will have even more than most.
Corbett wished for his faithful Rigby to be among friends, and that will certainly be the case at February’s SCI Convention – so make sure to come and see it for yourself, along with the commemorative .275 built for the auction.–Marc Newton