Mention the name Rigby to any serious rifleman or hunter and inevit- ably, images of Jim Corbett stalking man-eating tigers, or Karamojo Bell contemplating a big-tusked elephant, with his trusty Rigby rifle in hand, spring to mind. Rigby represents so many of the finest things we have come to associate with hunting rifles – quality, elegance and reliability.
Rigby is one of the oldest existing gun-making firms in the English-speaking world with a proud history dating back to 1775 when it was first established in Dublin, Ireland, by the first John Rigby. Rigby initially established himself as a maker of duelling pistols and flintlocks, both double- and single barrelled. Later the shop in London was opened which became Rigby’s exclusive home in 1892 following the closure of the Dublin branch.
As one of the premier London makers, Rigby enjoyed an excellent reputation among the rich, famous and infamous of the day. It was an introduction in 1898, however, that would firmly cement the Rigby name in the minds of big-game hunters, and would establish Rigby as the premier maker of dangerous-game rifles for many years. In that year, John Rigby & Co introduced the .450 (3¼'') Nitro-Express cartridge. The .450 NE (a modernised version of the .450 Black Powder Express) fired a 480 grain jacketed bullet (available in both soft-nose as well as full-metal-jacketed “solid” configuration) at an advertised 2 100fps with the aid of 70 grains of cordite, the propellant of choice for the British ammunition trade at the time. If the .450’s recipe sounds vaguely familiar today it is because it has almost exactly the same ballistics developed by half a dozen other Nitro-Express cartridges introduced by the British in the years to follow, as well as the much later .458 Winchester Magnum.
The .450 NE developed 5 000ft.lbs of muzzle energy, and this is actually the most significant figure in this modest little equation as it duplicated the energy figures of the much larger 8-bore rifles (at that stage considered proper elephant medicine) in a package that weighed at least 6 pounds less, was much handier to carry, quicker to use and extremely effective on large, dangerous animals such as elephant, buffalo, rhino and lion. What Rigby had managed to accomplish was to render the old-fashioned bore rifles obsolete in one master stroke and usher in the Nitro era at the same time. The rest of the British gun trade had to play catch-up, and they did so very well, but Rigby will always be remembered as the first to make the giant leap into the Nitro big-bore era.
Read the full article in the July 2018 issue of Magnum.