A collection of firearms that trace almost two centuries of the history of the United Kingdom, the country of Nepal and the United East India Company - one of the world's first multi-national corporations - will go on display in Brownwood this week.
The exhibit featuring British and Nepalese firearms and accessories from the Ray Collection of Fort Worth will open to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Firearms Museum of Texas, located inside the Brown County Museum of History on Center Avenue. Demonstrations of the weapons are planned for 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.
"This is the only display of these guns anywhere in the United States," Steve Blake of the Firearms Museum of Texas, said. "We think there will be a lot of interest generated by this exhibit."
"The discovery of these firearms is literally rewriting history," Marcus Ray of Fort Worth, owner of the extensive collection, said. "Nobody knew they existed. Nobody knew Nepal had the manufacturing capability to produce anything like this."
"Guns of the Empire - 1776-1945" will be on display in Brownwood for the next year.
The "great treasure trove" of firearms was found stored at The Royal Nepalese Armoury at Lagan Silekhana Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal, where they had been stored for generations.
The firearms were located by International Military Antiques, a worldwide dealer in firearms, accessories, parts and ammunition located in Easton, Pa., Ray said. Its representatives found the almost hidden cache of guns, negotiated with the government and purchased the complete contents of the palace in 2003, even though much of it was not inventoried.
"Concealed beneath two centuries of dirt and grime were over 50,000 firearms, 25,000 bayonets and swords, thousands of gunlocks and parts, millions of flints and 13,000 Gurkha knives," a sign at the museum display states. "Passing the guns hand-to-hand outside the five-story palace took thousands of man-hours; then came filling 1,500 packing crates and 31 shipping containers with over 430 tons of material for shipment to America."
"I was able to acquire these firearms," Ray said. He and his wife, Judy, acquired samples of almost every type of long gun and accessory found in Nepal, including flintlock "Brown Bess" muskets exactly like those the Minutemen faced at Concord Bridge, Bunker Hill and other Revolutionary War battles. The collection also includes modern Lee-Enfield rifles that England used during both world wars.
In a strange connection with American history, the display includes two "Sharpes" type firearms that were probably made by the Confederate States of America toward the end of the Civil War. The rifle and carbine have no markings on them, not even on the sights, Ray sad. The stocks are made from furniture-grade Honduran mahogany, which was never used by either Britain or Nepal.
Ray said he has been collecting firearms since he was 18. He described his acquisition of the firearms as "an incredible opportunity," and praised the professionalism of IMA in the transaction.
"I missed my chance to get German weapons and Russian weapons," at the end of World War II and the fall of the Iron Curtain, Ray said. "I jumped right into this."
Ray said the firearms on display in Brownwood are a bit less than half of his holdings, but are representative of his entire collection. And his collection is representative of everything that was found in the palace.
He said he learned about Steve Blake and the Firearms Museum of Texas about 18 months ago after he approached another museum in the state about hosting an exhibit of just a few of the firearms, but was turned down.
"These firearms and accessories along with poster, maps and informational signs are designed to give you an overview of this exciting time in world history, as well as a look at some fascinating antique firearms," Blake said.
The schedule for Saturday's events is as follows:
• 10 a.m. - Official opening and ribbon-cutting, first tour.
• 11 a.m. - Demonstration of the loading and blank firing of muzzle-loading firearms.
• 1 p.m. - Demonstration of the military use of the Gurkha "Kukuri" fighting knife.
• 2 p.m. - Second demonstration of the loading and blank firing of muzzle-loading firearms.
• 3 p.m. - Second demonstration of the military use of the Gurkha "Kukuri" fighting knife.