A Brief outline of the system
The Snider system was adopted due to the clear need for the Board of Ordinance to adopt a rifle for a new era. Muzzle loading is a relatively slow process compared to using a cartridge so a new system was sought, though there were many doubters within the British Military - making Britain one of the last major powers to adopt a breach loading rifle.
In 1863 the Board Of Ordinance opened a competition for inventors and gunsmiths to put forward ideas to be submitted to convert the Pattern 53 rifle to a breach loading system. The Jacob Snider system proved to be the best and most cost effective method of conversion, but it was arguably never more than a quick and convenient stop gap before a better solution could be found. The Snider system was used to convert tens of thousands of P53 Mk 4 rifles (which now makes unconverted military issue P53 Mk4 rifles quite rare), as wall as 'new made' Snider rifles.
Seven breach loading systems were considered in December 1864 and January 1865 - Green's, Shepard's (versions 'a' and 'b'), Snider's, Storm's, Wilson's & Westley Richard's.
After testing some of the conversions proved to have weakened the stocks but all the breeches were sound though Snider's proved to be the strongest followed by Storm's (Shepard's system was excluded as the ammunition was considered to dangerous to use!).
In 1864 the Board of Ordnance appointed a Select Committee and the Snider system was swiftly adopted with the first breech loaders being issued in 1865 to British forces. Much improved in 1867 by the use of Colonel Boxer's center fire brass bodied cartridge, the 'new' rifle system shown to be highly effective in the Abyssinian Campaign of 1868.
The system utilized a hinged breech block with an internal firing pin assembly that permitted the use of a self contained cartridge of lead bullet in cardboard, and after 1867, brass casing. The breach system went through four adaptations (covered below) due to concerns and problems with the breach block opening when firing.
This highly efficient conversion system prolonged the active life of the P-1853 rifles up until 1871 when the Martini Henry system was adopted. Snider rifles saw continued use throughout the Empire but were officially obsolete by the late 1880s, though undoubtedly it was used for some years after in colonial armies and police units. Indeed I recently read an article which referred to Snider's being issued to home defence volunteers in Australia as late as WWII......though this is unsubstantiated!
To give the reader some appreciation of the advantages of a breach loading system, the volume of fire a service muzzle loading Enfield could undertake - It took 7 minutes and 20 seconds to fire twenty rounds....The snider took 2 minutes and 35 seconds giving the soldier with a breach loading rifle a significant advantage over his muzzle loading enemy.
As a note Jacob Snider died shortly before his system was adopted so he never got to see the far reaching effect that his invention was to have.
MkI Designed for the original Pottet cased round - The breech has a rounded rebate for case rim.
MkI* The MkI's were altered to use Boxer case ie the breech rebate altered to square.
MkII* As per MkI* but newly built that way rather than altered from MkI.
MkII** Purpose built, the breech block design was changed to strengthen the system.
MkIII Purpose built, with steel barrel
and locking lug mechanism for securing breech which replaced
the latching pin of earlier models.
Finally to 'date' Snider can be relatively easy, I say can, as the stamp was not always used. However (unless the Snider was built from new) the date on the lock is the date of manufacture of the Enfield rifle and the date of the conversion is sometimes stamped under the barrel, near the breach and will look something like 3/66 (ie March 1866).
The genealogy of Snider Rifles can be found on the following links:
The final link, although never coming remotely close to a 'sealed pattern' is an interesting foot note to how the British standard Enfield Pattern 53 arm conversion was used to great effect in the Empire.
Although not covered on this website there are of course the various Carbines that were developed to suit different situations, Corps and regiments:
Snider-Enfield Mk I Prototype Engineers Carbine - July
1866 - Flat hammer
Snider-Enfield Mk II** Engineers Carbine - October/December 1866 - Cupped hammer
Snider-Enfield Mk II** Artillery Carbine - May 1867 - Cupped hammer
Snider-Enfield Mk III Artillery Carbine - January 1869 - Flat hammer
Snider-Enfield Artillery Carbine Mk IV - 1885 and 1891 - Flat hammer
Snider-Enfield Mark II** Cavalry Carbine - May 1867 - Cupped hammer
Snider-Enfield Mark III Cavalry Carbine - January 1869 - Flat hammer
Snider-Enfield Yemanry Carbine Mark I - July 1880 - Flat hammer
Snider-Enfield Mk II** Irish Constabulary Carbine - July 1867 - Cupped hammer
Snider-Enfield Mk III Irish Constabulary Carbine - January 1869 - Flat hammer
Snider-Enfield Convict Civil Guard Carbine - September 1867 - Cupped hammer
Snider-Enfield Gaols Carbine - 1881 - Cupped with Mk II*** and Flat with Mk III
Reference: .577 PATTERN 1853 RIFLE MUSKET AND SNIDER ENFIELD by Ian D. Skennerton