Dutch Beaumont-Vitali 1871/88

1875
  • Country: Netherlands
  • Ignition System: Centrefire
  • Calibre: 11 x 52R Beaumont

The Beaumont rifle is the first purpose-built cartridge rifle to be used by the Netherlands. The Dutch briefly used percussion firearms converted using the Snider breech loading system but this was only a temporary measure while the trials for the new rifle held. The rifle presented here is a Beaumont-Vitali model 1871/88 as it has been retrofitted with a 4-shot Vitali box magazine. This rifle was manufactured by P. Stevens of Maastricht which was contracted to produce the majority of Beaumont rifles.

Edouard de Beaumont designed the bolt and receiver which has very clean smooth lines with few sharp edges. The bolt is particularly aesthetic with no gripping surface on the cocking piece and bulbous bolt handle. The most famous feature of this bolt is concealed in the handle, namely the mainspring. Contrary to early bolt action rifles using coil springs as mainsprings, the Beaumont uses a flat V-shaped spring, the body of which is sandwiched between the two halves of the bolt handle. One of the arms of the spring is longer and protrudes down into the bolt body and pushes against a rib on the firing pin to bias it forward. An obvious consequence of this design is that the bolt handle could not be bent for use on cavalry carbines, which is why the Dutch cavalry and artillery were armed with licence built Remington rolling block carbines.

The bolt face has an extractor claw on the right side and a sliding ejector, added when the rifle was converted into a repeater, on the left side which results in a firm ejection to the right horizontally out of the receiver. The top of the chamber is drilled with two holes to vent gas away from the shooter in the event of a case rupture. This is a common feature in first generation bolt rifles as early brass cartridges were of varying quality.

The Beaumont underwent a few changes in its life. A safety catch on the receiver was abolished in 1876 for example. This rifle was originally built in 1875 so the plugs used to fill in the safety catch fittings are just visible on the rear right of the receiver.

The rifle chambers the 11x52R Beaumont cartridge . A more powerful version of the cartridge was introduced in 1878 with a heavier bullet, which resulted in the need for a new rear sight for longer ranges. The rear sight was designed by the French army captain P.J in de Betou and sighted up to 1800m. The rear sight elevator has a small sliding tab which when pushed forward prevents the sight from being set below 250m. Why this is there is a mystery to me.

In 1888 it was decided to modernise the rifle to make it a repeater. After various trials it was decided to adapt the Italian Vitali non-removable box magazine already used on the Italian Vetterli rifles. To fit this magazine it was necessary to cut a well under the receiver which weakened the stock in this area and it is not uncommon to find Beaumont-Vitali rifles with a stock repair in the magazine area. Another feature that was added at the time was the magazine cut-off switch on the left of the receiver. Pressing this switch causes a small flap to protrude into the top of the magazine, thus preventing further cartridges from feeding. The magazine could be loaded through the receiver with 4-round speed loaders just like the Vetterli-Vitali. Smokeless powder had been around for 2 years when this refit occurred so it is quite unusual that they chose to update their old rifles rather than go for a new smokeless rifle.

The bayonet for this rifle is a socket bayonet with a cruciform blade. The early version of this bayonet has a one-piece locking ring which was later changed to a two part locking ring fastened together with screws. The naval version of this rifle mounted a sabre bayonet similar to the Chassepot bayonet.

The Beaumont can be found in various configurations, the three main types being divided into rifles for the army, navy, and colonial troops. The navy and colonial models were never fitted with the Vitali magazine. The colonial versions were blued with the exception of the bolt to help against corrosion due to the humid tropical conditions of the Dutch colonies. The only blued parts on the army rifles are the rear sight elevator and magazine. A small number of slightly shorter and lighter cadet versions were also produced as well as modified gallery rifles chambered for 6mm Flobert.

The rifle is beautifully made. All the parts are quite bulky and have clearly been made to a very high standard which gives it reassuring solidity. The length and weight of the rifle makes it very pleasant to shoot with, and it performs well. The edges and markings are as fresh as the day it was made in 1875. The Dutch must have been very strict with their cleaning drills or they were rarely used as it is very rare to find a Beaumont in poor condition.