In my previous article I covered how to go about starting your collectors licence and Doug has asked me to cover some collector guns both old and modern. I’m going to go old school first and my next article will cover a modern combat sidearm.

The Howdah pistol was a large calibre double barrelled handgun that came into vogue from the beginning of the 19th century when Britain’s Empire covered most of the known world.

The Howdah Pistol
The word Howdah comes from the platform mounted on the back of an elephant that was used by hunters. Extremely popular with members of the Raj in India who, in their off duty hours would hunt from the back of elephants, which were very capable of pushing thru the dense undergrowth and gave you a distinctive height advantage. Of course the chosen prey for any good Sahib was Tigers.

Unfortunately Tigers fall fairly and squarely into the Dangerous Game categories, they are large powerful beasts with claws like sabres and teeth like a runaway chainsaw. Now for some reason Tigers take a real exception to being shot at, jolly un-sports like, what, and would often leap into the Howdah and commence to turn any unfortunate hunter present into best British mince. Not unsurprisingly the Sahibs thought this was appalling bad form and decided they needed a large calibre, short barrelled pistol that one could dispatch the impudent tiger with therefore avoiding all that unpleasantness.

You need to keep in mind that all this would take place in the very confined area of the howdah which was on the back of what I would imagine was a fairly distressed elephant who was being driven by an even more distressed Mahout, why this was called “sport” quite eludes me.

The first form of Howdah pistol was a cut down double barrelled flintlock rifle, not the most reliable of ignition systems in a stress situation I would have thought but short, handy and powerful. By the time percussion came along most London gunmakers offered a Howdah pistol that could be privately purchased when your Regiment was posted to some far flung corner of the empire. The standard pattern seemed to be a large calibre, usually the standard service calibre 577 so rounds where readily available, double barrelled so you had a quick follow up shot and short barrelled so they could be easily deployed in a confined space.

Though first developed in India as the Empire expanded into Africa it was found that Lions had the same distaste of being shot at and had the even more distressing habit of dragging you out of your tent for a midnight snack and the faithful Howdah pistol was considered to be the must have bedside companion whilst on safari on the dark continent.

By this time black powder centrefire cartridges were the norm and “modern” Howdahs were chambered to some rather large calibres though the 577 Snider remained very popular as it was the standard service round at the time and readily available.

The example pictured is a Pedersoli reproduction that shows the Howdah at the peak of its percussion cap period. Short double rifled barrels chambered to take a large calibre lead slug which delivered massive knock down power at close range. This unusual firearm represents very different times and attitudes and what was most definitely a very different world.

Todays modern sidearm look and act very differently and it will my pleasure to explain it all in the next article.

Gunny Out