Revised 16 September 2015
I purchased the musket in these photos several years ago in southern Ontario, Canada, from a dealer who had acquired it locally and believed that it had not previously been on the collector market. The musket is a flintlock 'India Pattern' of the Napoleonic Wars period, one of several million produced in England between 1793 and 1815. What particularly interested me were the unusual regimental markings on the barrel and the buttplate tang, and the possibility that this musket might have seen service in Canada during the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States.
The underside of the barrel is stamped with the name Russel, one of a family based in Wednesbury near Birmingham who supplied barrels to the Board of Ordnance from 1793 and to the East India Company from 1807. The swan-shaped neck dates the manufacture of the cock to before 1809, when a more robust ring-neck cock was introduced. Ordnance muskets could have been set up from stockpiled components manufactured some years previously, but in this case the introduction of an improved cock suggests that the older cock design would not have been used for Ordnance muskets after that date; 1809 therefore provides a likely terminus ante quem for the setting-up of the lock and the gun.
The two photos below (click to enlarge) clearly show the markings MSR. D. No. 9 stamped on the barrel in front of the breech and D No. 9 on the buttplate tang. Barrel stamps in this fashion are unusual among India Pattern muskets, though it is clear that the letters MSR must signify a regiment, the single letter D a company within the regiment and the number 9 a rack or issue number within the company.
I know of two parallels for the markings on my musket. The first is a musket sold recently by a dealer in the US with a Pattern 1809 cock and the barrel stamp M.S.R. F. No. 87., differing from mine only in the dies used for the stamps and in the first three letters being separated by full-stops. The musket was apparently also stamped on the buttplate tang and on the ramrod (the ramrod was missing from my musket). According to the dealer, the musket came originally from Canada. Another musket from Canada, said to have come from a farm in the Niagara region of southern Ontario, is illustrated opposite and below. Excitingly, the stamp gives a rack number only two away from mine, in the same company - MSR.D No.7. The dies used look identical, and the lock also has a swan-neck cock. The wear on the buttplate tang - leaving only the D visible - suggests a similar history of use as the overall wear on my musket, indicative of regimental service as well as the kind of later use imaginable for these muskets as militia and farm guns.
Which regiment is signified by MSR? Having considered a wide range of possibilities for the period, including British, colonial British and US militia regiments, I've concluded that the most likely candidate is De Meuron’s Swiss Regiment, one of two Swiss regiments in the British army to serve in Canada during the War of 1812. The regiment is commonly referred to as ‘Régiment de Meuron’, but during its years in British service it was often styled in anglicised form - for example, a discharge certificate from 1816 that you can see here refers to ‘His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment of Foot.’ An officers’ dress specification for its time in British service quoted in the main modern history of the regiment, by Guy de Meuron, a descendant of the founder, notes that the belt and helmet plates were inscribed ‘De Meuron’s Swiss Regiment', and exactly that wording appears on a military button of the regiment recently found by a metal-detectorist in England. All of this suggests that MSR would have been an obvious abbreviation to stamp on muskets when the decision was made to mark them in this way.
In a record of new arms received by British regiments serving in North America during the War of 1812 – listing the most recent complete rearming noted in the sources, or the most recent significant issue – De Witt Bailey notes that De Meuron’s Regiment received 400 muskets and bayonets in May 1807, a date that might fit well with my musket. What makes an association with De Meuron’s Regiment even more compelling is the likelihood that the regiment’s muskets remained in Canada after the war. British regiments returning from colonial service commonly left their small arms in local Ordnance stores, something that would have made particular sense for a regiment that was not only leaving but also disbanding. Before De Meuron’s Regiment left Lower Canada in 1816, some 343 officers and men accepted an offer to settle locally – many in the Perth area of eastern Ontario -with substantial land grants and a gratuity. They were encouraged to join the militia, and it seems likely that such men would have been allowed to keep their muskets. Some 88 veterans of the regiment, uniformed and provided with muskets, formed part of Lord Selkirk’s 1816 expedition to the Red River Colony in present-day Manitoba, seeing action in the ‘Pemmican War’ between the Hudson’s Bay and North-West Companies and in some cases settling there permanently after the conflict was over.
This attribution must remain tentative until more evidence comes to light. However, the second of the parallels noted here, MSR.D No.7, was brought to my attention by a collector who had seen the first version of this article, and that gives me hope that others may exist out there to strengthen the case still further - so I'd be very interested to hear from anyone who might have another of these muskets, or knows of further evidence that MSR may have been an abbreviation used by De Meuron’s Swiss Regiment during their period in British service.
For their ideas and help with this research I'm very grateful to David Harding, John Denner, Stuart Mowbray, Dr Derek Booth (who supplied the photos of the second musket illustrated here) and members of the British Militaria Forum who have responded to my posts on this subject over the last few years.
For images and video of a Sea Service pistol of similar date, click here.
Bailey, De Witt. Small Arms of the British Forces in America 1664-1815. Mowbray Publishing, Woonsocket, 2009, p. 286.
Bailey, De Witt, and Nie, D.A., 1978, English Gunmakers. Arms and Armour Press (on the Russell family).
Goldstein, E and Mowbray, S. The Brown Bess. Mowbray Publishing, Woonsocket, 2010, p. 142-159.
Harding, David, Smallarms of the East India Company. Vol. 1, Procurement and Design. Foresight Books, London, 1997, Appendix C (Suppliers of Musket Parts), p. 316.
Lawson, C.C.P. and Severin, J.P. De Meuron’s Swiss Regiment, 1814-1816. Military Collector and Historian, Vol 9, issue 1 (1957), p. 77.
Meuron, Guy de. Le Régiment Meuron, 1781-1816. Le Forum Historique, Lausanne, 1982.