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Place of Origin: Maratha Confederacy (India)

Date: 18th Century

Rocket Length: 233mm (9.17 inches)

Rocket Diameter: 44mm (1.73 inches)

Reference: 425

Status: Not Available

Full Description:

This exceptionally rare and unusual object is an early kind of rocket that was deployed by a range of Indian armies as early as the 17th century. This example comprises firstly a long blade of Indian manufacture (though it is made in the style of a European rapier – note especially the forte and medial fuller). This is bound at the hilt-end with leather cords to a cylindrical steel case covered with red fabric. A crescent-shaped spike extends from the top-end of the case, whilst at the bottom-end is a short hole or nozzle used to hold the fuse. Gunpowder is kept within the cylindrical casing, so that upon firing, the entire piece would have been launched at great speed into enemy lines, wreaking havoc especially on crowded clusters of infantrymen.[1]

These rockets are found only rarely – perhaps unsurprising given their original function. And others preserved in both the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich, London, as well as the Bangalore Museum in India, show similar though ultimately varied forms to the present example.[2]

But how can these discrepancies in form – between the present example and those preserved within museum collections – be explained, particularly with respect to this rocket’s place of manufacture? Though the invention and production of such weapons has consistently been attributed to the Kingdom of Mysore and the forces of Tipu Sultan (1751-1799), both the contemporary literary evidence and the museum comparanda mentioned above strongly suggest that the present piece must possess a different history.

A written source, in this case, is able to provide vital insights as to the origins of our example. During his travels throughout southern and western India, James Forbes, an English bookkeeper, noted of a Maratha military camp as follows: “The war rocket used by the Mahrattas which very often annoyed us is composed of an iron tube eight or ten inches long and near two inches in diameter. This destructive weapon is sometimes fixed to a rod iron, sometimes to a straight two-edged sword, but most commonly to a strong bamboo cane four or five feet long with an iron spike projecting beyond the tube to this rod or staff, the tube filled with combustible materials (…)”[3]

This description precisely matches the structure of the present piece, and in tandem with a range of other sources, confirms the theory proposed by Nidhin G. Olikara – for whose instructive article we are grateful and give thanks – that rockets of this particular form were in fact made and used by the Maratha Confederacy.[4]


Sir William Farington - Worden Hall, Lancashire, England


[1] For further discussion of their use, for example, in the Anglo-Mysore Wars, see: H M Iftekhar Jaim & Jasmine Jaim (2011), “The Decisive Nature of the Indian War Rocket in the Anglo-Mysore Wars of the Eighteenth Century”, Arms & Armour, 8:2, 131-138.

[2] The second of the two illustrations that comprise the item no.12 in this catalogue also depicts a rocket of similar form (the caption reads bahmna, which is very close to bahn, the traditional word for a rocket or ‘fire arrow’).

[3] James Forbes & Eliza R. Montalembert (1834), Oriental Memoirs: a narrative of seventeen years’ residence in India, London, pp.359-360.

[4] Nidhin G. Olikara (?), “Changing Timelines: On the discovery of a fine 18th-century Maratha Rocket and its implication on the evolution and use of Rockets” (Forthcoming).


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