At Holland & Holland we are lucky enough to have an extensive collection of historic firearms representing key moments in the history of gun development. Known as the Brevis collection, it grew from the personal collection of Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, a famed historian and ballistician.
It was while avoiding some rather tedious paperwork, I chose to have a nose through some of the more unique pieces in our collection. I quickly stumbled across this stunning rifle; a Holland & Holland 4-bore. Built in 1884 for Mahboob Ali Khan, the then Nizam of Hyderabad, the rifle has been painstakingly hand-engraved with a myriad of creatures including an elephant, bear, lion and tiger. Even after 130 years, the engraving is still remarkably crisp and untarnished, a marvel for a gun this age. As well as the game engraving, the gun also features a gold plaque engraved with the Nizam crest.
This classic Holland & Holland double rifle fired a spherical ball from its 4” chambers having been charged with 14 drams of black powder. When compared with modern loads this makes for a scary thought when facing off against an angry big cat, though being on top of an elephant would certainly help embolden any hunter of the day.
Aside from the elaborate engraving, the rifle featured a balanced set of 24” Damascus barrels with much of their original colour and pattern surviving today. These barrels were also fitted with a single fixed V sight regulated to 50 yards. The rifle’s treble grip action is locked by a Jones patent underlever and features back action rebounding locks.
The original owner of the rifle, Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan, ruled from February 1869 until August 1911. He was the Nizam (ruler) of the Princely State of Hyderabad, the largest in then British India.
As Nizam, Kahn was well known for his extravagant lifestyle with an elaborate collection of clothes and cars. He even devoted a whole wing of his palace to his wardrobe and would never wear the same outfit twice. It is therefore no surprise that through his life he chose to order a number of guns from London gunmakers, most commonly Holland & Holland with him believing them to be the finest tool for the job.
A locally famed and skilled hunter, he was known as ‘Tees Maar Khan’ meaning the King who killed 30 tigers. Nearby villagers would often call on him to deal with dangerous tigers plaguing their communities. By doing so he gained much love and admiration with his subjects. Despite his title as a tiger hunter, Khan was known for his love of nature. Never killing a tiger unless essential, he always treated his striped foe with the respect they deserved, only choosing to hunt them when there had been a proven danger to life.
With the development of more accurate and reliable dangerous game hunting cartridges, rifles such as these quickly fell out of favour for their modern successors. This was the beginning of the end of the golden age of hunting in South Asia.
What a remarkable rifle owned by a truly remarkable hunter. Who knows what I will find next as I continue to be distracted by this incredible collection.
Charlie Young, Gunroom Sales Associa