Swiss 1867/77 Peabody Rifle

  • Country: Switzerland
  • Ignition System: Rimfire
  • Calibre: 10,4 x 42R

The Peabody system invented by Henry Peabody had considerable commercial success alongside Remington’s Rolling Block. The type presented here is the Swiss model 1867/77. By 1865, Switzerland, like most of its European neighbours, concluded that the future of small arms lay in breech-loading guns. The recent territorial disputes within Europe had highlighted the need for a modern up-to-date equipment. The conversion of percussion rifles and muskets to the Milbank-Amsler system was progressing well, but the outcome of the battle of Königgrätz in 1866 forced Switzerland to find an immediate source of modern guns to arm its riflemen just in case one of its belligerent neighbours had a mind to annex the confederacy. At the time, the only nation able to fulfil a large order in limited time was the United States, hence in 1867, Switzerland purchased 15000 Peabody rifles chambered for thee 10,4 x 38R cartridge from the Providence Tool Company on Rhode Island to equip its elite riflemen.

The Peabody rifle is remarkable for its simplicity and strength, two qualities that no doubt account for its success. The actual firing of the shot is done by means of a hammer mounted on a traditional back-action percussion lock, which would have been a familiar site for any armourer. A slot machined into the right side of the breech block houses a firing pin which transfers the force of the hammer blow to the rim of the cartridge. The box-shaped receiver is mechanically independent from the lock and contains the breech block which pivots on an pivot pin at the rear of the receiver. Fixed to the underside of the breech block is a thick leaf spring the free end of which rests on a pin which spans the width of the receiver below the block axis pin. The free end of the leaf spring has a ridge near the tip. When the block is raised, the spring ridge is in front of the pin, biasing the block in a raised position, by pressing on the lever, the block is lowered, causing the ridge to ride backwards over the pin such that the block is biased in a lowered position. When lowered, the block also presses against the foot of the extractor, causing its tip to tilt out of its recess in the chamber.

The original 1867 rifle is 100% American made. The barrel has a round cross-section from chamber to muzzle and is rifle with three grooves. The rear sight is graduated from 200 to 800 paces. In 1877, the block was modified by the Swiss to fit a new firing pin with a smaller tip, no doubt to improve reliability. The size of the extractor tip was also reduced. As barrels became worn, a large number of rifles were rebarreled with a Swiss barrel. The Swiss barrel is instantly recognisable due to the barrel flats in front of the receiver and the four groove rifling.

The rifle is elegant, light and very easy to handle in four easy steps:
1. Cock the hammer
2. Lower the breech block
3. Load a cartridge
4. Raise the breech block

The breech block was designed for firing rimfire ammunition therefore it is quite hard to shoot with an original Swiss Peabody unless one uses converted cartridges similar to those used for shooting with the Milbank-Amsler. Fortunately, the Peabody was also produced in centrefire, most notably for the Spanish. It is therefore possible to substite the Swiss breech block with a Spanish breech block to be able to fire centrefire 10,4x38R or 10,4x42R cartridges. The two blocks are normally interchangeable but may require minor fitting.

The Peabody rifle was in use by the riflemen whist they awaited the delivery of their converted Milbank-Amsler rifles. Once these Milbank-Amsler rifles became available, the Peabody rifles were then reissued to the field artillery and engineers.