Peter Finer

An Important Cased Pair of Indian Flintlock Pistols with Silver Barrels and Lock-plates, signed ‘L. Col. Claude Martin, Lucknow Arsenal’, circa 1785, presented in 1786 by Martin to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ross

Item Ref: 2483 Price on application

2483 29
2483 31
2483 30

India, Lucknow. Wood, steel, silver and gold.


Presented by Lt. Col. Claude Martin to Lt. Col. Alexander Ross in 1786; by descent until 2012

National Army Museum, London, until 1997
Los Angeles Museum of Art, 12 December 2010 to 27 February 2011
Musée National des Arts asiatiques-Guimet, Paris, 6 April to 11 July 2011 

These pistols are historically important and highly significant. They are of exceptional quality of manufacture and rarity of materials and were made under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Claude Martin at Lucknow Arsenal in about 1785. In a letter written in December 1786 by Claude Martin to the distinguished British officer Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ross, Adjutant General of India, Martin asks Ross to accept this pair of pistols. The letter is preserved in the British Library (India Office Library, Home Miscellaneous series, H/741, p.117). This is believed to be one of only two known pairs of pistols made by Claude Martin with barrels and locks made of silver. 

Claude Martin was born in Lyon, France, in 1735, the son of a vinegar merchant. He enlisted in the French army and served under Bussy and Lally during the Carnatic Wars. In 1761, however, after the loss of Pondicherry, Martin was one of a number of French prisoners of war who chose to join the British forces. The circumstances surrounding his acceptance into the forces of the East India Company (EIC) are unclear but in 1763 he became an ensign and in 1764 a lieutenant.

Promoted to captain in 1766 he was placed in command of former French and Sepoy troops and for several years he was involved in surveying land taken by the EIC in Oudh (Awadh), in north-east India. While there he met Asaf-ud-daulah, Nawab of Oudh, and a friendship developed which lasted until the nawab’s death in 1797. It also led to favours being bestowed upon Martin which would lead to him becoming one of the wealthiest Europeans in India. His good fortune was enhanced by an agreement from the EIC in 1776 that he should become superintendent of the nawab’s great arsenal at Lucknow, so Martin would thereafter not only be paid by the EIC and continue to rise through its ranks, he also received a handsome stipend from the nawab. In 1779 he was promoted to the rank of major, exempted from military service and permitted to reside permanently in Lucknow.

Martin helped the nawab indulge his already huge appetite for hedonism and passion for European luxuries and mechanical objects, but he also developed several lucrative enterprises of his own. Despite this his military responsibilities were not neglected. 

He developed an enviable reputation for hard work and following his promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1782 he built up the manufacturing capability of the Lucknow Arsenal, enabling it to produce fine quality small arms and artillery. He also pursued diverse scientific interests, including building hot-air balloons. He was a good amateur artist, and he became a patron of the artists Johann Zoffany and Francesco Renaldi during their times in India. He had a keen interest too in architecture and built several residences for himself, the most dramatic of which was his famous palace, Constantia, named from his motto Labore et Constantia, ‘Effort and Consistency’. 

In 1791 Martin returned to active service by joining the forces of the British army in the war against Tipu Sultan, and in the following year was appointed aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis. 

Following a successful attack on Tipu’s camp in 1793 Martin was promoted to the rank of colonel. His final promotion, to major general, came three years later, but in his last few years he suffered poor health and on 13 September 1800 he died.

His estate was huge in both value and extent and his bequests many and generous. His most enduring gift was to create ‘La Martiniere’ colleges for the education of children in Lyon, Lucknow and Calcutta (Kolkata), institutions which are still active today. 

The memory of Claude Martin is still very much alive in India and in France due to his remarkable philanthropy, but to students of arms and armour he will always be remembered for his production in Lucknow of exceptionally fine firearms in European style.

Alexander Ross was the youngest of five sons of Ross of Auchlossan, Aberdeenshire, and joined the British army as an Ensign in the 50th Regiment of Foot in February 1760. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the 45th Regiment of Foot in September 1764 and after seeing much active service in Germany returned to England in May 1775.

He was promoted to the rank of captain in that same year and served with distinction throughout the American War of Independence. He was appointed aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis who, after the battle of Camden in South Carolina, in August 1780, sent Ross to England to deliver his despatches, recommending him to Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the American Colonies, as ‘a very deserving officer’. 

In 1781, having been promoted to the rank of major and once again back in America, Ross represented Lord Cornwallis as a commissioner involved in arranging the surrender of Yorktown. In May 1782 he was sent to Paris to participate in negotiations to permit Lord Cornwallis to leave America in exchange for the American revolutionary leader Henry Laurens, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Shortly after the end of the war Ross was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was appointed deputy adjutant general in Scotland. He was later transferred to India as adjutant general under Lord Cornwallis, who in September 1786 had been appointed India’s governor general and commander-in-chief. Ross seems to have remained in his role until around 1794, during which time he saw a great deal of active service, including the Third Anglo-Mysore War against Tipu Sultan (1789–92).

The pistols made by Claude Martin at Lucknow here, were made at the time when Ross was serving in India and when Martin was serving alongside him as aide-de-camp to Lord Cornwallis. This helps to confirm that the pistols did indeed belong to Ross, something which gives them a rare and important significance as pieces presented to a major military figure during a critically important time in the history of British rule in India.

Ross was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1793 and after his return to England, probably in 1794, he was appointed aide-decamp to King George III and in 1795 was promoted to major general and became Surveyor General of Ordnance under Lord Cornwallis, who by then was Master General of the Ordnance.

In 1801 Ross asked to be allowed to retire, as Lord Cornwallis was planning to do, but his commander of many years persuaded him to continue his military service. He was promoted lieutenant general in 1812 and became governor of Fort George and Fort Augustus, in Scotland.

After his eventual retirement Ross leased Lamer Park, near Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire, and in 1826 he was granted a heraldic crest; a laurel branch erect, proper. This device is engraved above his initials in the brass escutcheon on the lid of the case containing the Claude Martin pistols. Lieutenant General Ross died in 1827, just a year after the granting of this crest. 

Howard L. Blackmore, ‘General Claude Martin, Master Gunmaker’, Arms  Collecting, vol. 27, no. 1 (February 1989), pp. 3–12
Robert Elgood, Firearms of the Islamic World; in the Tareb Rajab Museum, Kuwait, 1995, p. 162
Rosie Lewellyn Jones, A Very Ingenious Man: Claude Martin in Early Colonial India,Oxford University Press, 1992
Rosie Lewellyn-Jones (ed and introduction), A Man of the Enlightenment in Eighteenth-century India: The letters of Claude Martin, 1766-1800, Sangam Books, Hyderabad, India, 2003
Stephen Markel, The Art of Courtly Lucknow, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2011, pp. 55 and 257, no. 111 (illustrated)
Stephen Markel, Une CourRoyale en Inde: Lucknow (XVIIIème–XIXème siècle), exhibition catalogue, Grand Palais, Paris, 2011, pp. 57 and 258, no. 116 (illustrated)

The stocks are of a dark Indian hard wood and are remarkable for the quality of their workmanship. Each is decorated with inlaid silver wire and very handsome silver furniture 

At the rear of the lock and the side plate is a scallop-shell motif while a pair of symmetrical scallop-shell and scrolling leaf motifs are placed one on either side of the barrel tang. Behind the tang is a panel with a finely carved trophy of arms. On the left side this is composed of a club (perhaps that of Hercules), a mast supporting a flag, a sword hilt with a raptor-head pommel, and the muzzle of a cannon. On the right side are two flowing banners and below it is a cannon barrel and eight cannon balls. Many features within this panel are highlighted with inlaid silver wire or larger pieces. Below this carved decoration is an oval silver escutcheon with a laurel-wreath border supporting a domed group of flower-heads. Beneath this is a draped canopy and at its centre is a sacred heart.

Below the escutcheon, in inlaid silver sheet and wire, is what appears to be a plumed turban. This sits above an engraved sheet silver panel representing a seated male figure, apparently wearing European costume. He sits on a large padded throne, behind which are banners, simple staves and ball-headed flaillike objects. The rest of the stock is covered with elegant tendril-like silver wire scrolls of remarkable symmetry.

The silver ‘cannon’ barrels are of tapered round section divided into three sections. The forward edge of the gently flared muzzle is chiselled with a band of tulip heads. Between the muzzle and a narrow band, or astragal, is an engraved panel of C-scrolls and foliage en rocaille on a stippled and gilded ground. Behind this astragal, on top of a plain central section of the barrel, is an engraved panel of a flower bud above a four-petalled flower, contained within a fern-like frond. 

On the top surface at the rear of this panel is a trophy of arms formed around an oval shield containing the Union Flag. One breech facet is engraved; L•COL•CLAUDE•MARTIN, the other; LUCKNOW ARSENAL. Like that at the muzzle, the chiselled decoration extends fully around the breech section of each barrel. The iron breech tang is also decorated in the same style.

These pistols are contained in a mahogany case divided into sections and lined with green baize in the English manner. In addition to the pistols the case contains a silver-plated combined powder and ball flask with a rounded body of flattened hexagonal section. On the lid of the case is a circular brass escutcheon engraved with the initials AR for Alexander Ross beneath his crest of a laurel branch.

Size: Case dimensions Height 7.3 cm / 2.9 in, Length 44.5 cm / 17.5 in, Depth 21.5 cm / 8.5 in, Length of each pistol 35.5 cm / 14 in, Length of barrels 20.2 cm / 8.0 in