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I agree that you should check on the British Militaria forums ...

There is a chance that your rifle is not smoothbore, but rather has a "Lancaster oval bore" - i.e. the bore is actually somewhat elliptical rather than round, with a twist to the orientation of the oval ... which imparts the spin to the projectile. If so, it would be quite a scarce item.

(Then again, it may well be an Indian Service or Gaols Service smoothbore ... or even a rifle which has been bored out to make an economical shotgun ... pictures and/or detailed description of markings would help.)
 

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The description you give of the locking mechanism on the rifle indicates that it has a Mark III action - the carbine has either a Mark I or Mark II action from the sounds of it. In fact, the "Mark" number should be stamped on the top edge of the action "shoe" - i.e. I, II or III, possibly with one or more "stars" (i.e. *) which indicate minor variations of that Mark .... see first image below ....

The Snider system was only adopted as a 'stop-gap' solution for converting existing muzzle-loading Enfield rifles to breechloaders while a 'purpose-built' cartridge rifle was being developed. The original action design actually afforded acceptable safety because the pressure is straight back when the cartridge is fired, simply forcing the breechblock against the rear face of the shoe recess. However, it was discovered that in the event of a cartridge case rupture the excessive gas escape to the rear would sometimes flip the block open .... never with any fatal consequences, or even severe injury, to my knowledge ... but unquestionably very disconcerting to the shooter!

As mentioned in the List of Changes entry for the Mark III rifle (second image below) the significantly improved locking mechanism was introduced at the beginning of 1869, and by that time the existing supply of original Enfield muzzle-loading rifles suitable for conversion had been exhausted (in part because an arsenal fire destroyed a large number) but the Martini-Henry rifle which replaced the Snider-Enfield was still a long way from adoption (that occured in mid-1871). Whereas the Mark I and II versions of the Snider-Enfield had been converted from muzzle-loaders with iron barrels, the Mark III was "built from scratch" using the improved latching breechblock and new barrels made from steel (the barrel on your rifle should be marked "STEEL" on the left side toward the rear .... ) By the way, the "List of Changes in Artillery Matériel, Small Arms and Other Military Stores" was the official record of such things for the British War Department, introduced in 1860 with a name change in 1872 to "List of Changes in War Matériel and of Patterns of Military Stores".)

It is ironic that, although the Pattern 1853 Enfield was one of the finest and most accurate military rifles of its day, the Snider conversions are notorious for inconsistent accuracy. The British War Department went through at least nine distinct variations of Snider cartridge from adoption of the system in 1866 through mid-1871 ... basically they were trying (unsuccessfully) to get the breechloading conversions to shoot with a level of accuracy even approaching that of the original muzzle-loaders. Their biggest mistake was that they kept trying to use the original hollow-base Minie-type bullet (or variations of it) which of course was less than bore diameter to facilitate loading from the muzzle. Such a bullet works as intended in a muzzle-loader - i.e. the skirt is free to expand at the instant of detonation of the powder charge, to engage the rifling right from the start. However, when the same type of bullet is confined in the mouth of a cartridge case, it cannot readily expand until the rear edge of the skirt has moved forward of the case mouth, which is really too late with black powder, as the pressure is already dropping by then.

However, keep in mind that all this was happening at the very dawn of the age of standard-issue breechloading military rifles, and they were really groping their way in the dark, so to speak. Present-day knowledge (gained from at least a century and a half working with breechloading firearms, don't forget) makes it seem obvious that the bullet used in a breechloader should be greater than bore diameter, of course. And that is the single most important bit of knowledge for getting acceptable accuracy from a Snider - though they can still be mighty finicky. Even though I can achieve much more consistent and satisfying accuracy with my Martin-Henry rifles, my Sniders remain 'dear to my heart' because of the very long period of their use as the primary-issue military longarms of Canada - from 1867 through 1896, when the "Long Lee-Enfield" (Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield) was finally adopted by Canada. (As it was, not all Units had their sniders replaced until about 1905!) Although the rest of the British Empire for the most part switched over to the Martini-Henry beginning in the early 1870's, Canada's government decided that the Sniders were "good enough", and never did adopt the Martini-Henry (though a few thousand were obtained, albeit issued only on a very limited basis if at all.) Attached (third photo below) is a composite image of my Canadian-issue MkII* three-band Snider-Enfield rifle against a backdrop of the Fort Henry Guard volley-firing their Sniders ....
 

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Ret_Marine:

No problem ... glad to help! (Actually, you'll find that those of us addicted to the old Brit guns are rather like drug pushers ... eager to get more and more newbies hooked ... ;) )

Full length brass shotgun hulls are readily available under the Magtech brand name - they are actually manufactured by "CBC" in Brazil. Although they used to be only marginally useable because they were all Berdan primed, the stuff brought in by Magtech is now all configured for standard large pistol primers. 28 gauge (at .55 caliber) is really quite a bit undersize for use in forming .577 Snider cases, whereas 24 gauge hulls are ideal for that purpose. (In fact, they must be sized down a little, though that can be easily done just using your loading dies - i.e. it isn't necessary to acquire a special forming die - and also shortened.) There are, however, a few minor detractions: rim thickness and diameter are a bit less than ideal, and they are effectively "balloon head" cases (i.e. lacking a solid web in the head), but neither of those "problems" really creates any serious difficulty - especially for occasional use and black powder loads.

Here are a few online listings for the Magtech 24ga hulls:

http://www.buffaloarms.com/browse.cfm/4,6483.htm ($18.00/25)

http://www.grafs.com/shotshell/product/170154 ($18.59/25)

http://www.midwayusa.com/eproductpage.exe/showproduct?saleitemid=679947&t=11082005 ($19.49/25)

On the other hand, cases made specifically for the .577 Snider are also available. At one time, all we could get was either Bertram brass out of Australia or Kynoch brass from the UK, and the price for either tended to run $6 or more per cartridge case - i.e. at least $120 for a box of twenty! However, Jamison International in the US has tooled up to make .577 Snider and .577/.450 Martini-Henry cases - the price (at about $2.50 each) is more than the CBC shotgun hulls, but they come to you already formed and are a "solid head" design with thicker case walls, so they will definitely be more "everlasting" .... especially if you think you may want to try some smokeless loads.

I have both the Magtech/CBC and Jamison cases. I have always been leery of attempting smokeless loads for the Snider, though others have developed such loads. If I ever tried smokeless, I would definitely do so only in a solid-head case, and limit use of such loads to a MKIII barrel and action, in any event.

Here are a few listings for Jamison .577 cases (I would caution, however, that you should first double check with the supplier to see if they really do have them in stock, because a lot of Jamison commercial brass has been on backorder, since the company got a big military contract) -

http://www.buffaloarms.com/browse.cfm/4,5736.htm ($50/20)

http://www.grafs.com/grafs/search/product/167054 ($49.99/20)

http://www.midwayusa.com/eproductpage.exe/showproduct?saleitemid=190708&t=11082005 ($49.79/20)

I am attaching images (pirated from one of the suppliers websites) of a Magtech 24 gauge hull (on the left) and a Jamison .577 Snider case ...
 

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By the way, Ret_Marine, I'd love to see pictures of your carbine, including clear closeups of the markings .... it really sounds like it may have a Lancaster-rifled bore ... :)
 

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Well, now that the pictures are up, I regret to say that this carbine is unquestionably a handmade "Khyber Pass Special" of some kind - the markings definitely confirm that. Also, the rear sight pictured is not at all like any of the sights installed on any original rifle or carbine ...

In fact, it would be a serious concern to me whether this carbine ought to be fired at all.
 
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