Weapons of the British Army

Land Pattern Musket (Brown Bess)

Brown Bess

The name "Brown Bess" was a nickname for the British Army's smoothbore muzzle-loading Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. The origin of the name is unclear, but there are several suggestions - see below.

It was in use for over one hundred years, with gradual improvements to the design.  These included the Long Land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern Musket, Sea Service Musket and a number of others.

They were all .750 calibre flintlock muskets, and were the standard long guns of the British Empire's land forces from 1722 until 1838 when they were replaced by smoothbore percussion cap muskets - the Pattern 39 Musket. A fire at the Tower of London destroyed a large number of the flintlocks before they could be converted

Although the British Army had replaced their Brown Bess firearms by 1838, due to the large numbers that had been produced and traded all over the world, they remained in use by other countries long after this period, including the Zulu warriors fighting in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.  The Royal Navy continued to use the Sea Service Pattern onboard ship until 1854, although the India Pattern weapon was issued when serving ashore.


There is a theory that the Brown Bess was named after Queen Elizabeth 1 of England, although there is little evidence to substantiate this claim.

The term "Brown" may refer to the colour of the walnut stock, or alternatively the colour of the metalwork which had undergone an early form of metal treatment called "Russeting". Another explanation is that some mass produced weapons had their metal coated in varnish as a form of protection (the same process was used to colour the inferior wood types used on guns produced by dishonest manufacturers).

The word "Bess" is thought by some to originate from the word "arquebus" or "blunderbuss", which was a primitive predecessor of the musket.

In some circles it is thought that the name originated from the german words "brawn buss" (meaning "strong gun") or "braun buss" (meaning "brown gun"). King George 1 who commissioned the gun was from Germany.




From the 17th century to the early years of the 18th century, most nations did not specify standards for military firearms. Firearms were individually procured by officers or regiments as late as the 1740s, and were often custom-made to the tastes of the purchaser.

As the firearm became more important on the battlefield, this lack of standardisation led to increasing difficulties in the supply of ammunition and repair materials. To address these difficulties, armies began to adopt standardised "patterns".

A military service selected a "pattern musket" to be stored in a "pattern room". There it served as a reference for arms makers who could make comparisons and take measurements to ensure that their products matched the standard.

British Land Pattern Musket

Place of origin

Great Britain

Service history

In service

British Army 1722–1838

Used by

British Empire, Various Native American tribes, USA, Sweden, Mexico, Empire of Brazil, Zulu warriors


Indian Wars, Dummer's War, War of the Austrian Succession, Jacobite rising of 1745, Carnatic Wars, Seven Years' War, American Revolutionary War, British Colonisation of Australia, Napoleonic Wars, War of 1812, Texas Revolution (limited), Paraguayan War, Anglo-Zulu War

Production History



1722–1860s (all variants)


Long Land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, Sea Service Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern, New Light Infantry Land Pattern Cavalry Carbine



10.5 pounds (4.8 kg)


58.5 inches (149 cm)

Barrel length

42 inches (110 cm) - 46 inches (120 cm)


0.71 inches (18 mm) musket ball, undersized to reduce the effects of powder fouling.



Rate of fire

User dependent; usually 3 to 4 rounds a minute

Muzzle velocity


Effective firing range

Variable (50–100 yards)

Feed system



In service Barrel Length Overall Length Weight
Long Land Pattern
Long Land Pattern Brown Bess
standard Infantry Musket 1722–1768
(supplemented by Short Land Pattern from 1768)
120 cm
159 cm
10.4 pounds
4.7 kg
Short Land Pattern
Short Land Pattern Brown Bess
1740 (Dragoons)
1768 (Infantry)
standard Infantry Musket 1793-1797
110 cm
149 cm
10.5 pounds
4.8 kg
India Pattern
India Pattern Brown Bess
standard Infantry Musket 1797–1854
(Some in use pre-1797 purchased from the East India Company for use in Egypt)
99 cm
140.3 cm
9.68 pounds
4.39 kg
New Land Pattern
New Land Pattern
Issued only to the Foot Guards and 4th Regiment of Foot
99 cm
141 cm
10.06 pounds
4.56 kg
New Light Infantry Land Pattern
The detail differences between this musket and the standard New Land Pattern were a scrolled trigger guard similar to that of the Baker Rifle except more rounded, a browned barrel and a notch back-sight, the bayonet lug being used as the fore-sight.
Issued only to the 43rd, 52nd, 68th, 71st and 85th Light Infantry and the Battalions of the 60th Foot not armed with rifles
99 cm
141 cm
10.06 pounds
4.56 kg
Cavalry Carbine
Brown Bess Carbine
Issued to cavalry units
66 cm
108 cm
7.37 pounds
3.34 kg
Sea Service Pattern
Sea Pattern Brown Bess
Issued to Royal Navy ships, drawn by men as required, Marines used Sea Service weapons when deployed as part of a ship's company but were issued India Pattern weapons when serving ashore
94 cm
136 cm
9.00 pounds
4.08 kg