British 1845 Pattern Naval Cutlass (1888 Conversion)
Slightly curved, unfullered spear pointed blade, steel bowl hilt with turned-over edges at the knucklebow and sword knot slit near the pommel, the outside of the hilt inset with a diamond-shaped brass plaque secured by two brass rivets through the steel. Cast iron ribbed grip, steel teardrop shaped pommel cap. No scabbard. Blade 26 7/8 inches in length, 2 7/16 broad at the shoulder, 5/16 wide at the shoulder, the cutlass ~32 inches overall.
The blade is stamped on one side at the forte with a broad arrow and ‘WD’, indicating War Department property, as well as a crown inspection stamp with ‘E’, indicating the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, and on the other side with ‘C /88’, indicating that it underwent conversion in the year 1888, and a partly rubbed crown inspection stamp with ‘B’ indicating Birmingham. The spine of the blade has what looks like another crown inspection mark, quite rubbed. Given that the cutlass underwent conversion (which would have taken place at Enfield) it is quite possible that its older markings were removed and replaced.
The outside of the guard is stamped with ‘27’, which would be a rack number – curiously the brass plaque, which often carries such numbers, has been left untouched and the steel next to it stamped instead. There are some remnants of white painted numbers on the outer guard near the base of the blade, possibly a collection number.
Experiments during the early 1840s for a new naval cutlass design to replace the venerable 1804 Pattern resulted in a design by George Lovell, the Inspector of Small Arms, being accepted in 1842. A fire at the Tower of London destroyed early stocks and the design did not enter service in bulk until three years later, hence being termed the 1845 Pattern. It was considered very successful, handling well compared to its bulky predecessor the 1804 Pattern and being simpler to manufacture.
Like many successful designs the 1845 was tinkered with in attempts to improve it further. First a version sometimes referred to as the ‘Type B’, was introduced in 1859, which had a modified guard and a blade much like the original but only 27 inches in length. Then in the 1870s the blade was judged to be the wrong shape and attempts to modify the original stocks began (Type Bs in 1871 and Type As in 1875). Converting the numerous old cutlasses in store was substantially cheaper than ordering new ones.
Many 1845s therefore had their curved 29½ or 27-inch blades altered by reforging to be straight and 25½ inches in length. This process was botched, however, by a lack of proper heat treatment after the reforging, leading to blade failures in combat, the deaths of British sailors, a public outcry and a military procurement scandal when the scale of the problem became apparent in the 1880s.
In the wake of these problems, it was ordered in September 1887 for all remaining Type As to have their blades reduced to 27 inches – this time there was no attempt to straighten the blade and it was simply ground down, which eliminated the reforging issue. This cutlass is one of these conversions.
This would be the last chapter of the 1845 Pattern, as a new pattern of cutlass was finally introduced in 1889, which had a straight blade and incorporated new features like a full-width tang that could not have been added by conversion. With the size of the Royal Navy the 1845 probably had only a few further years of service while the new type was being introduced.
The blade has numerous nicks to its edge, which has been sharpened, its faces are mainly bright but with old polishing marks overall and spotted patination. The outside of the hilt has a similar finish with some cleaned pitting too in places. The hilt and grip would at one time have been painted with black lacquer (‘japanned’) – there is none of this now on the outside of the guard, a few small areas remaining on the inside of the guard (the largest area around the brass rivets), with the losses revealing patinated steel, and a fair amount still on the grip, with flaking losses to the raised surfaces of the ribs due to handling, revealing patinated iron. A few small dents to the pommel and the edges of the hilt.