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The .577 "Manstoppers"

Emerging at the dawn of centerfire revolvers, extremely large bore English revolvers were intended to be the ultimate in big-­bore self-­defense cartridge arms.

The .577 "Manstoppers"

(Photo by Phillip Schreier)

By the midpoint of the 19th century, Colt, Adams, Lefaucheux and Smith & Wesson had established their styles of revolvers: single action (SA) and double action (DA), percussion, pinfire and rimfire. However, the fledgling centerfire had yet to find its ideal configuration or vehicle.

The Webley .577 Boxer revolver was a behemoth six-­shooter based on an early five-­shot Tranter. It was a handful weighing 2 pounds, 7.4 ounces. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Surprisingly, the first centerfire self-­contained handgun round — that of Samuel Johannes Pauly — appeared in 1812 and predated the pinfire by many years. Later systems, a good number of them involving internal priming or complicated needle-­fire arrangement, had still not caught the public’s fancy.

(Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Although it wasn’t obvious at the time, this all changed in October 1866 with British patent number 137 awarded to the superintendent of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich, Colonel Edward Mounier Boxer. It involved a cartridge with a coiled brass case and separate base, which was externally primed. Patent number 2653 was granted soon thereafter in December that same year, and resulted in Pattern II which incorporated the type of primer we are most familiar with today. Though not perfect, it worked well and was considered reliable enough to be chosen as the type of round to be used in Britain’s first general-­issue breech-­loading service rifle, the Snider, which was adopted the same year as Boxer’s, patent shortcomings of the case notwithstanding. Through the .577 Snider’s service, the round went through nine different “Marks,” i.e., changes.

Though the .577 Webley’s bore is the same as that of .577 Howdah pistol, its 1-­inch-­long cartridge is considerably less powerful than the double’s, which chambers a .577 Snider service cartridge. Interestingly, both of these guns were sold by Rodda & Co. of London and Calcutta. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

The firms of P. Webley & Son and William Tranter both entered the cartridge revolver game around 1862, Webley by producing a copy of the Smith & Wesson No. 1 .22 Rimfire (RF) and Tranter a more proprietary smallbore rimfire design that expanded to several rimfire calibers from .230 to .380. Both firms segued to larger frame .44 rimfires in short order. Tranter was first with his solid-­frame 1863 “Army” revolver, initially in .442 RF and later in .450 Centerfire (CF), the .450 being the first metallic handgun cartridge adopted by the British military. This particular piece, while chambering a self-­contained “large bore” round still maintained a distinctly percussion appearance. Its ejector rod was even a variant of the earlier Brazier percussion loading lever.

As proper 1-inch .577 Boxer cartridges are in short supply, this .577 Webley was skillfully converted to percussion with the substitution of an alternate cylinder and the modification of the hammer’s nose. Probably because of the added machining that would be required, the cylinder was not fluted. This detail adds considerable weight to the revolver. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

In 1868, Tranter’s line was expanded to include a much more modern piece, a gun like Webley’s superb Royal Irish Constabulary revolver of 1867 that would be a mainstay of the firm and which would appear in many variants for a considerable period of time. It was chambered in calibers from .380 RF to .500 CF. Like earlier percussion and cartridge repeaters, this DA/SA featured a lug on the rear of the trigger that entered a space in the frame and tripped the sear. It was a robust, reliable arrangement that would be seen on Tranters and the arms of some other makers for a significant period.

As can be seen by the comparison of the original (left) and altered revolvers (right), aside from the obvious changeover from cartridge to percussion, there are slight cosmetic differences, primarily in the frames and the cylinder pins. The .577 Boxer gun was likely made by Webley, and the percussion alteration was based on a Braendlin-­Tranter. (Photo by Philip Schreier)

In the meantime, the acceptance of the .577 Snider into British service in 1866 apparently spurred someone’s imagination at Tranter. Why not capitalize on the interest of the new infantry rifle system and produce a revolver in the same caliber? Of course, the 2.43-­inch-­long Snider round would be impractical in a revolver, but the bore and chamber size could be maintained, more or less, with the case being shortened to a manageable length — say around 1 inch.

The cartridge .577 retains its caliber designation on the barrel as well as the gun’s retailer’s name, Rodda & Co., on the topstrap. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

That is exactly what happened. As the ammunition firm of Eley Brothers was already producing military .577 ammunition, it was no problem to manage a similar, shorter .577 round built in the same manner as the Snider load with a rolled-brass case with attached base. This was duly undertaken and, between 1866 and 1868 (sources conflict with the actual introduction date), Tranter came out with a massive five-­shot, 1-inch .577 centerfire caliber revolver.

To load a .577 Boxer Webley, the gun is put on half-­cock, the cylinder pin catch pressed in [1], and the pin removed [2,3]. The backplate is separated from the cylinder [4] allowing cartridges to be inserted. The gun is reassembled and then ready to fire. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Though similar in length and grip size to the firm’s smaller-­caliber arms, because of it’s large “manstopper” caliber, the cylinder was increased to Brobdingnagian proportions, causing the size of the frame to be expanded accordingly. The cylinder was fitted with a removable backplate to eliminate the possibility of primers backing out, jamming the mechanism. This meant rounds could not be loaded in the normal manner through a loading gate, but that the cylinder had to be removed and the backplate taken off to insert rounds in the chambers. When completely charged, the backplate was replaced, the cylinder returned to its space in the frame and the piece was ready for action. It’s not a particularly rapid reloading process, which leads one to wonder if the revolver was intended to be sold more as a novelty than a serious service revolver. Whatever the case may be, the .577 Tranter, at least early on, became popular enough for the company to allow variants of the revolver to be made by others. Most notably was Braendlin who had a facility in the Tranter factory and who made close Tranter .577 copies, but with six chambers, and Webley, who’s revolver also closely resembled the Tranter to include the signature trigger lug sear release.

The .577 Boxer, like some other revolvers in the Webley line, employed a Tranter-­style sear release on the rear of the trigger. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Apparently, the heyday for this particular style of .577 revolver was short, lasting for about 5 years, after which time Tranter, Braendlin and Webley retired the behemoths in the favor of more practical, salable revolvers. However, other makers, both British and European — primarily Belgian — picked up the gauntlet, producing their own .577 revolvers in solid- and hinged-frame styles. The latter generally incorporated simultaneous extraction and pincher-­style Pryse release catches.

Markings on the altered .577 include the name of its retailer, R.O. Dickson & Son of Edinburgh, found on the topstrap and a proofs on the barrel. As the cylinder was likely made in the U.S. sometime during the last few decades, it has no British proofs. Instead of a removable baseplate, the rear of the cylinder has been fashioned to allow use of percussion nipples. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Concurrently with revolvers, handguns in .577 were also offered by other makers, but in the original Snider chambering. This was primarily seen in double-­barreled pistols intended to be used as last-­ditch arms by tiger hunters riding in “howdahs” atop elephants. When the wounded felines, understandably taking umbrage at being wounded, would attack the shooter in his perch, the pistol, being more manageable at close quarters than a rifle, could be used to dispatch said interloper. A Snider load, even in a ­7-­inch-­barreled handgun, would offer considerably more punch than the attenuated 1-inch .577, and thus achieved a greater popularity with sportsmen and military officers who desired the ultimate in stopping power.

The .577 Boxer’s sights are quite basic, involving a simple notch rear in the topstrap and non-­adjustable blade at the front. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Revolvers in 1-inch .577 were made long enough, and apparently sold in sufficient quantity, to provide a demand for ammunition lasting well after production of the arms ceased. Through the cartridge’s lifetime, from 1866 to around 1914, it was made in a number of styles, the earliest employing the coiled brass/paper construction soon followed by more practical, easier-­to-­manufacture, drawn brass versions. Cartridge lengths varied widely from about .70 to 1.20 inch, though the chamber lengths of the cylinders were usually generous enough to accommodate this disparity in ammunition size.

G&A’s reconstructed dummy 1-inch .577 cartridge compared to a British service .450 Adams round and .577 Snider cartridge. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Bullets and loadings ran the gamut from round ball to .450 conicals. Blank and shot rounds were also available for good measure. Charges ran from 28 to 40 grains of blackpowder. The most practical and popular load was probably a .400/40-grain combo that apparently produced a muzzle velocity of some 650 to ­700 feet-­per-­second (fps) and calculated energy of 375 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.), a considerable improvement in puissance versus the British service .450 revolver that employed a 255-­grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 650 fps to produce 211 ft.-­lbs. of energy.


To load the percussion .577 Webley, the gun was put on half-­cock, cylinder pin removed, releasing the cylinder from the frame. A 27-­grain charge of FFg blackpowder was poured into the chamber [1] followed by a .58 Wonder Wad [2] and round ball [3]. The piece was then capped [4] and the cylinder returned to the revolver.(Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Unfortunately, the author has yet to turn up a bona fide first-­hand account of any type of .577 revolver being used in the service or for personal self-­protection. To be practical, a 2½-­pound revolver with a cylinder diameter of 21⁄3 inches would rest uneasily in a holster on the hip or slung from the shoulder. It would certainly not be a particularly cozy associate nestled in the pocket of an Ulster or Inverness coat. To compare, a Webley .577 tips the scales at 2 pounds, 7.4 ounces; a .450 Tranter 1868 at just 2 pounds; and a .450 Webley RIC 1 pound, 1.4 ounces. Barrel lengths associated with these weights are 4, 4 ½ and 5 inches, respectively.

This cutaway from an 1893 Charles Lancaster’s catalog shows the common hollow-­base employed in the .577 450-­grain conical bullet. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Few Tranter or Webley .577 revolvers were marked with the companies’ names. Most commonly the guns are seen with retailers’ designations, standard British proofs and sometimes, but not always, with the caliber. The shapes and mechanisms are so similar that it can be difficult to tell one maker from the other, though obviously a five-­shot Tranter could be easily distinguished from the Webleys and Braendlin-­Tranters. If one studies extant examples, he can see slight nuances in frame and grip configurations that give a hint to a particular specimen’s origin. For instance, I have noticed Braendlins appear to feature a Tranter-­style step in the lower portion of the frame whereas Webleys do not.

One-inch .577 revolver cartridges as depicted in Eley Bros. Ltd. catalogs from 1892 and 1910 to ’­11. While the conical bullets remained at 450 grains, powder charges varied from 28 to 40 grains of blackpowder. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Shooting a .577 Revolver

For this story, we were allowed access to a pair of .577 revolvers, the products of a recent donation to the National Firearms Museum ( in Fairfax, Virginia. One was a standard Webley set up for 1-inch .577 rounds, the other which appears to be a Braendlin-­Tranter .577 that was cleverly altered to percussion by the fabrication of a new cylinder and the flattening of the hammer nose to allow it to properly detonate nipple-­mounted percussion caps. The Webley was retailed by R. B. Rodda & Co., London and Calcutta, and the Braendlin by J. Dickson & Son, Edinburgh. The modern owner of the pistols likely became frustrated in trying to obtain or construct proper .577 metallic cartridges and figured that if he wanted to give the massive sixgun a go, it would have to be with more easily managed loose powder and ball. The upside to this setup is convenience; the downside is, while the conversion was beautifully done, it detracts considerably from the gun’s value and collector appeal.

Despite the revolver’s .577 caliber, the light weights of the round ball (325 grains) and powder charge (27 grains), coupled with the gun’s weight of 3 pounds, 2.3 ounces, felt recoil was minimal. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

In an original 1-inch .577, the cylinder plate serves a rotating and locking function, so it was necessary to actually incorporate this piece as part of the cylinder. The resultant effort includes not only the notches and ratchet for locking and rotating the cylinder, but horizontal nipples inset to clear the inside, rear of the frame. Understandably, the gunsmith was loath to go to the considerable trouble of full fluting the cylinder, so it was left smoothly cylindrical. While this in no way impeded proper operation, it did add to the gun’s weight: 3 pounds, 2.3 ounces, as opposed to the almost identical, unaltered, Webley’s 2 pounds, 7.7 ounces.

A typical, late-­period top-­break .577 revolver, this one by Thomas Bland of London. It features the Pryse-­style release system. (Courtesy of Morphy Auctions.)

The Braendlin’s bore measured .585 inch and the chambers .591. Fortunately, in my stash of muzzleloading bullets, I found some 325-­grain .600 round balls that could be loaded into the chambers with little difficulty. Due to the manner in which the cylinder was made, the chambers were considerably shallower than those in a standard cartridge .577, thus, the girth of the ball, coupled with a .58 caliber, .15-inch thick Ox Yoke Original Wonder Wad, didn’t allow much room for powder. In order for the ball to be flush with the front of the cylinder, our maximum charge was on the light side: 27 grains of Schuetzen FFg blackpowder. The powder, wad and ball were loaded using the stout cylinder pin as a rammer. While the seal seemed to be acceptable, as the gun did not belong to me, I opted to fire loads singly and not risk the possibility of a multiple cylinder discharge.

Likely manufactured by Braendlin, England, this .577 Tranter revolver is typical of their type. It is almost identical to .577 Webleys of the period.(Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Groups were fired both offhand (i.e., one-­handed, period-­style, of course) and from a rest at 15 yards. The double-­action stacked a bit and was slightly glitchy, so to determine proper accuracy I chose to fire the piece single-­action-­only. Recoil was extremely light, no doubt a function of the pistol’s not inconsiderable heft and the necessarily tepid loading. Groups were so-­so, averaging just slightly larger than 8 inches offhand and 61/4 ­inches from a rest. The best cluster came in at 41/2 inches. The ­five-shot strings were kept to a minimum in deference to the gun’s borrowed status. The piece was definitely a handful, and not particularly well-­balanced. Whether much was proved here — other than the fact it was possible to convert a .577 cartridge revolver to percussion, if nothing else — shooting it was an interesting and enjoyable experience, one that I will be unlikely to repeat in the near future. These revolvers, not to mention proper ammo, are uncommon.

Tranter’s first large-bore metallic cartridge revolver was the Model 1863 Army in .442 RF and .450 CF chamberings. The loading-­lever-­style ejector rod was a holdover from percussion revolvers. (Photo by Phillip Schreier)

Were .577 revolvers ever practical? Yes. They worked well enough and it certainly would have been disconcerting to have been on the receiving end. Still, one must remember that by the early 1870s centerfire handgun loads had increased in power and efficiency with some matching (or exceeding) the specs of the .577s in more practical, conventionally sized repeaters. Like many of the dinosaurs, size was ultimately not to the advantage. After an admittedly much shorter comparative heyday, in the manner the Jurassic counterparts, the viability of these handguns ceased, and they became little more than interesting, evolutional artifacts.

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