Page 3. " Colonel Colt was on his feet a good five seconds before the carriage had come to a halt "

 Samuel Colt (1814-1862) was an American inventor and businessman, best known for his involvement in the manufacture of firearms. He is associated in particular with the development of revolvers.

Colt first travelled to England in 1835 in order to seek a patent for his newly-designed revolver; he returned in 1853, when this novel is set, to open a gun factory in London.

By the time Colt died in Hartford, Connecticut, aged 47, his fortune was estimated to be worth $15,000,000.



Page 3. " a mighty rank of Italianate façades "

The Italianate style of architecture was a nineteenth-century version of the classical style, first developed in England by the architect John Nash around 1802 and later promoted by Sir Charles Barry in the 1830s, although the latter is perhaps best known for his involvement in the Gothic Palace of Westminster. It synthesised Italian Renaissance architecture with contemporary aesthetics, and was a popular choice for those wishing to emphasise the imperial grandeur of nineteenth century Britain.

Page 3. " the Colonel's mustard-yellow barouche "
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBarouche - Credit: Pelikana


A barouche was a four-wheeled carriage popular in the nineteenth century. Usually drawn by a pair of horses, it contained two two-person seats, facing each other, which were sheltered by a hood that could be drawn up or folded down, as with a modern convertible car. They were extremely fashionable vehicles.

Page 4. " Storekeeper of the Ordnance "

The Principal Storekeeper of the Ordnance, sometimes known rather less grandly as the Ordnance Clerk, was an official British civil service position, subordinate to the Master-General of the Ordnance and a member of the Board of Ordnance. This Board was responsible for supplying the Royal Navy and British Army with military supplies, from ammunition to artillery to military maps. The Storekeeper was responsible for maintaining the stores of military supplies.

Although the Board and its officials were abolished in 1855, its legacy continues to this day, in the form of the Ordance Survey, the United Kingdom's national mapping agency.

Thomas Hastings was the historical Storekeeper at the time this novel is set. As well as being a respected Naval officer and expert on guns, he was also a painter.

See here for a list of other holders of this office.

Page 6. " his feet placed apart like a Yankee Henry VIII "

In the famous portrait of the Tudor King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein, the king can be seen in this pose.

Page 6. " Lord Clarence Paget was in the later part of middle age "

Like Thomas Hastings, Lord Clarence Paget (1811-1895) was an historical figure. A Naval officer, he was a younger son of the first Marquess of Anglesey, Henry Paget, who fought at Waterloo. After serving as secretary to the Master-General of the Ordnance, he was promoted first to Rear-Admiral of the Red and then Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, one of the most prestigious commands in the Royal Navy.

Page 6. " a twist of tarred rope "

American Civil War era twist tobacco
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAmerican Civil War era twist tobacco - Credit: unforth

Chewing tobacco was the most popular form of tobacco consumption in the United States until the early twentieth century, when cigarettes took over. The habit still persists in rural parts of the southeastern states. Chewing tobacco comes in four main types: plug, loose leaf, tobacco bits and twist tobacco, favoured by Colt. Twist tobacco consists of spun and rolled tobacco leaves formed into long strands, like ropes, and tied into knots. This was the most popular type of chewing tobacco in the nineteenth century.

Page 7. " the American gun-maker lifted out a revolving pistol "


1851 Colt Revolving Pistol, Navy Model
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike1851 Colt Revolving Pistol, Navy Model - Credit: Hmaag


Revolving pistols, or revolvers, were a leap forward in the development of guns as they allowed the shooter to fire several shots before the pistol needed to be reloaded. Although Colt is not recognised as the sole inventor of these guns, he is credited with their widespread adoption.



Colt's Colt 1851 Navy revolvers, 'six shooters', were made by machine in factories, and therefore had interchangeable parts, allowing for the guns to be repaired quickly and easily. They were also cheaper to produce, as they required fewer skilled workers within the factories. They have come to be associated with the Wild West in America.

Colt Navy Model 1851 / 1861 Revolvers, partially stripped
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeColt Navy Model 1851 / 1861 Revolvers, partially stripped - Credit: Hmaag
Page 8. " named for the Texas Navy, my very first customers of any note, who used my guns to crush the Mexicans at Campeche "

 The Texas Navy was the navy of the Republic of Texas, which existed from 1836, when it broke away from Mexico, until its incorporation into the United States in 1846.

When Texas revolted, it found itself at war with Mexico, who initially refused to let it secede. During this war, the Texas Navy was instrumental in preventing Mexico from recapturing the Republic. The ensuing Battle of Campeche is thought to be unique in seeing Mexican steamships fighting against Texan sailing ships. A scene from this battle is engraved on the cylinder of the Colt 1851 Navy Revolver to commemorate the Navy's use of Colt's Paterson revolvers.

Page 9. " the Colt stand in the Great Exhibition two years before "


The Great Exhibition of 1851 was designed to show off the industrial and cultural achievements of the Western world. It was housed in the Crystal Palace, a temporary structure built in Hyde Park in London (the structure was then moved to Sydenham Hill, where it was destroyed by fire in 1936).

It was while researching the great exhibitions of Victorian England that Matthew Plampin became inspired to write his first novel, The Street Philosopher.


Page 10. " I witnessed it for myself against the Seminoles down in Florida, and the Comanche "

The Seminoles are a Native American tribe originating from the area now known as Florida. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act forced them towards Oklahoma. When the Seminoles resisted, holding out in the Everglades, they provoked the Second Seminole War, the longest war in U.S. history until Vietnam.

The Comanche are another Native American tribe, a large nation from New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and other states. They were involved in a long-running series of wars with Texas from 1820 to 1875, as European settlers slowly colonised their traditional territories.


Comanche portraits
Public DomainComanche portraits


Page 10. " Your unfortunate war against the rebellious Kaffirs "

Colt is referring to the events of the 8th Xhosa War, which ran from 1850 to 1853 in South Africa. The British Army engaged with the Xhosa in support of Boer settlers who had moved to the area. The ensuing wars lasted, on and off, for a hundred years, from 1779 to 1879.

During the 8th Xhosa War, Xhosa forces under the leadership of Maqoma gathered at Water Kloof (Watercloof Ridge), a forested area which was easy to defend. Over the next two years, they inflicted heavy losses on the British troops under Sir Harry Smith. In 1853, the Royal Navy ship HMS Birkenhead was wrecked while bringing reinforcements, mostly from 73rd Regiment (Edward's cousin's regiment), which lost a great number of men.

Prominent modern Xhosa include Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Page 18. " heading off towards Savile Row "

Savile Row is a road in London's Mayfair, famous for its men's tailoring shops. The road itself dates from the 1730s, and is the origin of the word 'bespoke' (meaning a suit which was to 'be spoken for' by a particular individual). It still attracts clients from around the world; earlier customers include Winston Churchill and Lord Nelson.


Google Map
Page 19. " you haven't heard of John Colt, the axe-murderer of New York? "

This is a true story, though it happened on 17th September 1841, not 1842 as Richards claims. John Colt, a New York bookkeeper, fell into an argument with his neighbour Samuel Adams over a loan. They began to fight, and Colt hit Adams with a hammer and killed him. Panicking, Colt cut up Adams' body with an axe and packed it into a shipping crate, which he then attempted to have shipped to St Louis. However the smell of the decomposing body alerted the sailors on the ship to the crime, and Colt was caught.

Colt was tried and sentenced to death for his crime. He asked to be allowed to marry Caroline Henshaw, with whom he had been living, and they were granted permission to wed before Colt's execution; Samuel Colt was one of the witnesses at the ceremony. Just before the execution could take place, fire broke out in the prison where John Colt was being held. Once the fire was under control, Colt was found dead in his cell "with a dagger in his heart".

The murder is mentioned in Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener. There is an excellent account of the case at the Murder by Gaslight website.