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The Boer 1895 Mauser

By Tim Watson

1899, and war had broken out in South Africa. Approximately 90,000 Afrikaner farmers took on the might of the British Empire by invading the British colonies of Natal and the Cape Colony after years of frustration with British policies.

 

The Boers were armed with a variety of small arms including Martinis, 1885 Guedes and captured Lee rifles, however the most popular were the newly imported 1895 Mausers in both rifle and carbine configurations.

 

The Mausers represented at the time the spear-point of innovative arms design. The 1895 featured a twin locking-lug bolt head, long range adjustable sights, and importantly, a clip-loading receiver to feed the five round internal magazine.

 

“...several shipments of captured rifles were distributed by Britain to ... New Zealand. They were stamped with “SAT” across the top of the receiver for “South African Trophy.”

 

This was to prove a significant advantage over the Lee Metford and Enfield rifles employed by the British and colonial troops. Some Boers were initially sceptical of the Mauser chosen by their government with many believing its new, small diameter bullet was too lightweight for warfare, but were soon won over by the accuracy, increased range and devastating effects of the 7x57.

 

NZ’s 4th contingent entered the Boer War in April 1900. On 28 January 1901 they attacked and seized an artillery unit and a supply column under the command of General Koos de la Rey, capturing 135 Boer troopers in the process.

 

Their load comprised a 173 grain round nose, cupro-nickel plated steel FMJ projectile propelled at 2300fps. Compared with the British service .303 load of a 215 grain bullet travelling at 2050fps, the 7mm’s superior ballistic coefficient in the hands of the capable Boers (who had been hunting the Veldt for years) soon exposed the weaknesses in the British Army’s equipment and tactics of the time.

 

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: ABOVE: Five rounds can be clip-fed into the internal magazine; the cock-on-closing bolt has two sturdy locking lugs; the rear ladder sight is calibrated out to an ‘optimistic’ 1900m for the 173gr fmj round. The practice of a whole company dropping a hail of bullets on an advancing enemy at extended ranges was a popular notion prior to WW1.

 

It is no wonder the British started to develop their own .276 calibre, clip-fed, Mauser-style battle rifle after the war. Only the onset of WW1 prevented the full scale adoption of the P14’s original concept design.

 

THE NZ CONNECTION

With the Boer war finally over, several shipments of captured rifles and equipment were distributed by the victorious, grateful Britain to her doting colony of New Zealand. They were stamped with “SAT” across the top of the receiver for “South African Trophy” along with a serial number. 

 

Like the New Zealand Rough Riders, the Boers were noted for their skill on horseback and accurate shooting.

 

My first memories of Boer Mausers come from visits to the Waiouru Army Museum as a young fella, where I often lingered well behind my father as I read every description and poured over every diorama. The rifles still come up for sale regularly at gun auctions and there’s an excellent resource page on the NZ Antique Arms website that lists known SAT marked rifles.

 

Between battles, and in their downtime, the Boers would often personalise their rifles with carving. Elaborate scenes and scrolls, battle sites, generals, flags and most commonly their names were often added to both sides of the rifle stocks.

 

Many 1895 Mausers were also imported by Chile, who entered into an arms race with Argentina between 1896 and 1898.

 

With many of the Boers purchasing their own rifles (at a cost of £3.00), they were more than entitled to customise them as they saw fit, and rather than dissuade their men, the Boer generals often had their own rifles carved in a similar fashion.

 

“...the Boers would often personalise their rifles with carving. Elaborate scenes and scrolls, battle sites, generals, flags and most commonly their names were often added to both sides of the rifle stocks."

 

This custom naturally spread to the New Zealand troopers. During the war (or afterwards) they altered their privately purchased Lees or captured Mausers in much the same way. These rifles tell an important story of our history and heritage, more so due to the provenance found on the stocks.

 

A well-travelled rifle – the buttstock carvings list the campaigns its owner fought.

 

OUR FAMILY'S RIFLE

The rifle in our collection was made by Ludwig Loewe, but others were also made by DWM. Interestingly the receiver is not marked with ‘SAT’. Was this rifle smuggled back to NZ by the trooper who acquired it?
Sadly, this article is not a testfire as the rifle’s bore is far too worn, but with reduced loads it is possible shoot others like it. Regardless, the character of this Mauser is apparent without test firing.

 

Here are the standout features:

  • The barrel is extremely long, at 29 inches. This gives the rifle a steady feel when you’re aiming offhand.
  • The workmanship. The bolt runs very smoothly with little slack between it and the receiver. The bolt cocks on closing (like a .303) and gives the same impression you’d get by locking a Swiss bank safe door. The metal work is chequered on the top of the safety lever and the edges of the rear sight leaf adjuster. Case hardening blue remains on the magazine follower.
  • The carving of the fiddleback walnut stock. The left side of the butt lists the places where the owner campaigned – Transvaal, Orange River Colony, Cape Colony and Natal, along with the ZAR (Transvaal) coat of arms. The right side depicts one of the most respected Boer generals of the war, Koos de la Rey.

 

General de la Rey’s likeness is carved into the buttstock of the 1895.

 

General De La Rey led the Boers in the very first skirmish of the war, derailing a British armoured train between Mafeking and Kimberley. By the end of the war, his commando was among the last Boer formations still resisting. He’d earned the respect of the British with his generalship, several miraculous escapes, and chivalry towards captured enemies. His men held him in high regard, as did his Kiwi foes who had a lot in common with the Boer farmer. This could be why his image is on the stock.

  

One cannot but admire men who fought for their homes against the might of the British Empire. The Mauser is not only a great reminder of their courage, but also of our forebears who often had to ride into the deadly hail of 7x57mm Boer bullets so many miles from home.

 

“One cannot but admire men who fought for their homes against the might of the British Empire. The Mauser is not only a great reminder of their courage, but also of our forebears who often had to ride into the deadly hail of 7x57mm Boer bullets so many miles from home.”

 

Back in New Zealand, either sporterised or left as original, the Mauser was ideal for deer stalking. Old sporting snapshots can still be found of proud deerstalkers with their 1895 Mausers in hand.

 

No doubt many Boer Mausers found a new, happier purpose in the hills, providing food for hungry families and trophies above the mantelpiece.

 

Tim

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