City of Liege

City of Maastricht

The arms industry in The Netherlands and Belgium in the 19th century

An introduction to a reconstruction of a piece of industrial heritage

 

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While "Liège" survived, "Maastricht" fell into oblivion 

 

 

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The history of the weapons industry for portable firearms in The Netherlands is infested with legends and myths. This is particularly true for the arms industry in Maastricht. Time for a further investigation. This site focuses on answering the following question: What aspects have contributed to the rise and fall of the arms industry in Maastricht in the nineteenth century, and how did these aspects influence each other? From this several research problems follow. At its core it is simple: Where did the Dutch army get its  rifles and pistols from? How were these purchase and production processes interrelated and who were involved? In this we have to remember that The Netherlands included Belgium up to 1830. Which  means LIÈGE, the ancient industrial hart land of fire arms production. But what after the Belgium secession? 
In the times of the Dutch Republic guns were produced in the factory at the Dutch town of Culemborg, which was finally closed by orders of Napoleon. At the birth of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Prince William of Orange bought his arms in Birmingham England: the so called 'Brown Bess' musket, not to be confused with the the 'Baker rifle'. After the Kingdom was well established there was only one place to go: Liège! Where else? The Brown Bess was fazed out and replaced by an improved version of the French Model 1777.

 

French model 1777 corrigé

   Brown Bess flintlock musket

The French model 1777 corrigé as in use by the Dutch army.

 'Brown Bess' musket

After the Belgian secession, the Liège factories were lost for the Netherlands. The gun factory of DEVILLERS was looted. Other manufacturers like MALHERBE and DE MALHERBE GOFFONTAINE saw their trade lost. The former gun factory at Culemborg no longer existed, and the GUN SHOP at Delft was nothing more than a workshop. The government therefore addressed to the company SPANGENBERG in SUHL Germany. But also Dutch companies were favoured with orders. As relations between Belgium and the Netherlands were somewhat stabilized, the Walloons came back in the race for the orders.

Petrus StevensTechnological advances and political developments in the international arena forced the Dutch government in 1840 to choose for the new percussion system, which replaced the old flintlock. Due to economic reasons they decided to transform the rifles and pistols already in use. In 1841 the contract was awarded to the Maastricht great entrepreneur PETRUS REGOUT. Petrus Regout
It took just a year before Regout quitted. The 'failure' of Regout led to the creation of the Gun Makers Workshops in Maastricht. But when the government took the decision to eliminate them, the Maastricht businessman PETRUS STEVENS started a factory of his own late 1849, which was fully operational in June 1850. The headquarters was located in Maastricht, the gun barrels were produced in a mill in Oud-Vroenhoven. Unlike Regout Stevens was not unacquainted with the manufacturing of weapons and weapon components. As early as in 1836 he was already active in this field.
The Enfield rifle with the English version of the Snider system. Publication of 1868After the death of Stevens in 1863, his works gradually declined. Although the company was involved in the transformation of rifles from muzzle loaders to breech loaders according to the system Snider. A fine example of 19th century weaponology! But the days of integrated production were no more, while assembling took over more and more.

In 1869 the army was busy testing new real breech loaders with a smaller calibre, which had to replace the recently introduced Snider Rifle. The tests well underway a third Maastricht citizen came out of the blue. Finally the weapon presented by him came out on top. When that model was adopted for various army units, EDOUARD DE BEAUMONT, who had no plant of his own, had the rifle manufactured in the Manufacture Impériale d'Armes in St. Etienne France. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 messed up things, so the production was shifted to Suhl and continued by a consortium consisting of Messrs. SIMSON, LUCK, GÖBEL, SCHALLER en BORNMÜLLER.

 

Edoaurd de Beaumont

Edouard de Beaumont was a jack of all trades. But what made him standing out of the crowd, was that he earned international fame. For years he was said to be the inventor of the Beaumont rifle. However on March 24, 2006, during a symposium of "De Vereniging Edouard de Beaumont", Mr W.A. Dreschler showed the world an American patent from 1870: "Be it known that I, John Joseph Cloes, of Liège, in the Kingdom of Belgium, have invented a new improvement in Breech-loading Fire-arms". Cloes did it as the inventor, but also as "assignor to Edward de Beaumont, of same place." This ended all previous speculations regarding the question whether De Beaumont was or was not the inventor. On his term Cloes was inspired by the French gun designer Antoine Chassepot and the Mauser - Norris system.

System Chassepot in 1866However, also the arms factory P. Stevens Maastricht, now continued by his four sons, experienced a revival when it was favoured with orders for the Beaumont Rifle. This to great dismay of the De Beaumont. Several court cases followed. De Beaumont took Stevens to court for violating his patent, and lost. Chassepot was send back to Paris after loosing against De Beaumont in a similar case. Eventually all lost. The production of the Beaumont rifle quickly came to an end. Although Stevens did get some orders for revolvers for officers, the factory declined rapidly. After Emile Stevens died in 1879, the factory was sold to… Edouard de Beaumont and his partner Leonard Soleil !
 

Beaumont-VitaliCommotion arouse when in 1888 the government was on the brink of awarding a contract to Francotte of Liège for the third big operation that century: the transformation of the Beaumont rifle into repetition according to the system of the Italian Vitali. Backed-up by the media this contract eventually went to Maastricht. However this could not save the factory. In 1890 Edouard de Beaumont bought his partner out. Not being able to come up with innovative products, activities virtually came to a standstill. An attempt by a third party to establish a new factory in Maastricht, was a shot to nothing. Hence with the demise of Edouard de Beaumont in 1895 a long tradition of gun making in Maastricht dating back to the 17th century came to an end.


Beaumont rifle with safety palAccording to the German Börsen-Zeitung in 1875 the Beaumont rifle was amongst the five best military rifles in Europe at that time. Next to the Mauser (German), the Werder (Bavarian), the Berdan (Russian) and the Gras (French). A choice out of twenty six different kind of breech loaders at that time in use by the various European armies.
A lot of 'action' the Beaumont rifle (fortunately) did not see. One of the few wars it has been in was the Aceh war, which raged on and off between 1873 and 1914 in the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. First praised for its user friendliness and his impact, later disliked because it was already outdated. In 1895 it was replaced by the Mannlicher rifle M95. Nowadays it remains a collectors item.
Next to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) both Stevens and De Beaumont were also ordinary traders and marketed a wide range of other products both for the professional as for the consumer market such as bayonets, machetes, sables and shotguns.

The 'Geweerwinkel' in Delft was gradually moved to Hembrug. Hence the government finally got what it always wanted: A arms factory within the fortress Amsterdam. The “Artillerie Inrichtingen”, as it became known, was a modest factory, but the introduction of an assault rifle called the MR10, the predecessor of the famous American M16, could have made something big out of it. But again due to ‘circumstances’ this was not going to be. Finally this gun production facility came to a close in 1963 as the government awarded the order for  the new rifles to FN in the Liège area. Full circle!


Jean GosuinAppeal: Your remarks and contributions will be highly appreciated.  

 

To the right: Mr Jean Gosuin (1746-1808), one of the most important arms dealers and manufacturers in Belgium during the age of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Courtesy of Mr Benoit Gosuin)  

 

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