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Lost history: Gehendra-made guns sold off to US company

Lost history: Gehendra-made guns sold off to US company

Aug 25, 2011-

A page of Nepal’s military history is all but lost, thanks to the government having sold off 20 of the 19th century Bira Guns invented by Nepal’s then foremost military engineer scientist General Gehendra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. In 2000, 20 of these guns were sold off to a US-based company and only three preserved in Nepal’s museums for posterity.

The antique weapon was traded from the royal armoury of Lagan Silekhana along with over 97,800 “obsolete” firearms to US-based Atlanta Cutlery following a US$ 3.3 million deal. Other weapons included Pattern 1853 Snider Enfields, Pattern 1839 and Pattern 1842 muskets, Martini-Henry rifles, old cannons and traditional Nepali khukuris, knives and battle swords.

“The records that we obtained from Army Headquarters show 20 Bira Guns were sold in 2000 and three were preserved in museums in Nepal,” said a source at the Ministry of Defence. “Each Bira Gun was priced at US$ 1,000.”

Int’l Military Antiques has posted US$ 27,500 on its website as the sale price of a Bira Gun stating that the weapon has been restored to mint condition for the serious collector. The seller of military antiques has also transformed the Nepal-made gun into a mechanically functioning one but is offering it as a historical artifact and not as a shooting weapon. The Bira Gun, also labelled “a British model of the American Gardner machine gun” by military antique collectors, was designed in Nepal in the late 1880’s. Its invention, according to the book—The Gun of the Gurkhas published by Thurston Press in 2005—took place in the backdrop of the British and the Indian governments’ refusal to provide Nepal access to machine guns due to fears that Nepalis would copy the design. Gen Gehendra Shumsher imported machines required for the construction of the gun from Britain via Calcutta and dedicated his invention to his father Bir Shumsher, the then Rana prime minister. “We have read that the technology applied in the manufacture of Bira Guns was not even in the hand of Germans during that period,” said an army official asking not to be named. 

Due to its handmade nature, it is estimated that only 50 or fewer Bira Guns were manufactured in Nepal. Some of these could also have been sold to Singapore based military antique collectors during the 1970’s.

“The Panchayat government sold a cache of old weapons to Singapore based company in 2030 BS worth £100,000,” said the defence ministry official. “We suspect that antique weapons dating back to Nepal’s unification campaign period, and even earlier, may have been sold off.”

The sale of old weapons in 2000 was sanctioned by the Girija Prasad Koirala government with the consent of the then royal palace and National Security Council.

The US based company acquired 95 percent of the old Nepali weapons, while the remaining five percent is still stored by Nepal Army, Defence Secretary Navin Kumar Ghimire said during the parliamentary hearing on August 12.

The Ancient Monument Preservation Act-1956 prohibits tampering with, selling off or transporting and even renovating antiques older than 100 years without consulting the Department of Archaeology.

The Act, however, doesn’t list old weapons as antiques, according to officials in the Defence Ministry and Nepal Army.

Published: 25-08-2011 08:40

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