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A Boer family and their early Mauser collection

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A very intriguing photo from Bester's "Small Arms of the Anglo-Boer War". There is no existing information about the context or origin of this photo other than what can be discerned from a visual examination of its contents. It shows a Boer family posing in front of their farmhouse with a native farmhand. Judging by the dress and weaponry, the photo was probably taken in the early 1890s in either the Transvaal or the Orange Free State.

The weaponry on display is of particular interest, consisting entirely of arms rarely associated with the conventional image of a Boer rifleman and his celebrated Model 1893/95 Mauser. The man standing on the far left brandishes a rifle that Dr. Bester identifies as a Gewehr 1888. The man standing to the right and behind him also appears to be armed with a Gewehr 1888, though Bester does not comment on it. The Gewehr 1888 was never purchased as part of an official Boer government arms contract, but it is certain from bills of sale that some 1888 rifles were privately imported into the subcontinent by commercial arms merchants throughout the 1890s.

The man standing on the far right of the photo holds a standard, full length infantry variant of the Mauser Model 1871, as identified by Dr. Bester. The two women seated in the center, are both armed with what I believe are cavalry carbine variants of the Mauser Model 1871, identifiable by the single barrel band, shorter length, and blunter muzzle profile in comparison to the infantry long rifle. In either configuration, the Model 1871 was a single shot, black powder rifle that would have been thoroughly obsolete by the time of the Second Anglo-Boer War, and the rifles captured in this photo were almost certainly surplus guns imported to South Africa by private vendors. For much of the 19th century, South Africa was a particularly lucrative market for European and American firearms dealers, who offloaded vast quantities of obsolete and surplus rifles and pistols on a frontier population which was not in much of a position to be picky about what arms they could purchase. By the time of the Second Anglo-Boer War at the end of the century, though, the arms purchasing and subsidy policies of the Boer republics resulted in the widespread standardization of the 1893/95 Mauser and the Martini-Henry among even the poorest of burghers.

While these obsolete, older model rifles are in themselves a rarity to find in contemporary Boer photos, most startling of all is the surprising collection of bladed weapons on display. The man on the far left has a standard Model 1871/84 Mauser bayonet affixed to his Gewehr 1888, while the man on the far right has a Yataghan-style sword bayonet of indeterminate make and origin mounted to his Model 1871 rifle. This latter blade could be a French pattern of 1876 sword bayonet, but the double-curved Yataghan-style blade with the forward-swept quillon hook had become something of a universally standard design by the late 19th century, emulated or otherwise copied wholesale by arms manufacturers all over the world. In any case, either this unknown sword bayonet or the Model 1871 rifle would have to have been modified in order to successfully effect this non-standard pairing. Both of these bayonets were almost certainly private purchases, and one wonders what purpose they could have served to Boers who were unpracticed in bayonet drill.

Finally, there appears to be a sabre hanging on the wall behind the Boers. It does not resemble any of the dragoon-style sabres and artillery short swords imported and issued to the artillery and police forces of the Boer republics, so it must also be a private purchase of some sort. Except for the Transvaal police, who valued the powerful psychological advantage of the sword in riot and crowd control applications, and the Boer artillerymen, who were often called out to serve as ceremonial honor guards during official events and receptions, most Boers would have had as little use for a sword as for a bayonet.
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Nice photo. Check your email note