We often wish old firearms could speak, share their stories and tell us what they’ve seen. Well a Smith & Wesson revolver, recently acquired by Britain’s National Army Museum, has a hell of a story.
The National Army Museum in London, announced this week that a Smith & Wesson .44 Hand Ejector 1st Model ‘New Century’ that belong to Colonel TE Lawrence had been donated to the museum. Lawrence, famously portrayed by Peter O’Toole in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, was a British military adviser attached to Arab forces fighting the Ottoman Empire during World War One.
Lawrence is said to have taken the .44 revolver from Ashraf Bey, a Turkish officer that was part of a camel train transporting £20,000 in gold (~$2.3 million) which was probably intended to be used to bribe Bedouin forces to support the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman officer probably purchased the pistol as his personal sidearm, as his name is inscribed on the frame in Arabic.
Ashraf Bey seemingly had good taste as the Hand Ejector 1st Model ‘New Century’ was Smith & Wesson’s first pistol to be chambered in .44 Smith & Wesson Special. The Hand Ejector 1st Model, often referred to as the ‘Triple Lock’ for its three-cylinder locking point, was introduced in 1908.
The captured pistol has a 5-inch barrel and unlike other Smith & Wesson’s of the period an enclosed ejector. The revolver is believed to have come into Lawrence’s possession during Ashraf Bey’s interrogation.
Lawrence later gave the revolver to a Captain Lionel Gray, a signals and ciphers officer based at the port of Aqaba. Gray, an avid collector, is responsible for the pistol’s provenance, writing out a detail label about the revolver which remains with the item today.
The label reads: “44 S & W [Smith & Wesson] revolver presented to WL Gray by Colonel Lawrence – bearing the name in Arabic of Ashraf Bey. The latter and his following with £15,000 Turkish gold were captured by Col Lawrence in 1916.” The label continues on the reverse: “Ashraf Bey is known to have been responsible for the death of some 2,000 Armenians and this revolver was taken from his person.”
Captain Gray’s extensive archive, including Lawrence’s revolver, has been donated to the National Army Museum by Gray’s family. You can read about the revolver on the National Army Museum’s blog here.