THE HISTORY OF MUSGRAVE
Musgrave, the former state owned South African sporting rifle manufacturer had its origins in private enterprise. The founder was the well-known late target champion, a president of Bloemfontein - Benjamin (Ben) Musgrave (1900 - 1987).
Ben Musgrave (snr) started participating seriously in large calibre target shooting during 1933. His then service rifle was the Lee Enfield in .303 British calibre. ‘Uncle Ben’, as he was generally known, in due course started experimenting with the accuracy of his rifle as a hobby. These experiments were very successful and the South African target shooting fraternity flocked to Ben Musgrave to re-accurize their rifles in his spare time. This situation continued for approximately 27 years until 1950 when the demand for Musgrave’s services become so great that he could not handle it alone anymore. He canvassed the assistance of his son Trevor, who at that stage was an apprentice at Escom in Vereeniging.
During 1952 Musgrave was awarded Springbok colours and was elected to the South African target shooting team chosen to participate in International competitions in the United Kingdom. During the competition Musgrave was introduced by Arthur Ilsley of Birmingham to the barrel manufacturer W.D Lain who was about to retire. Lain agreed to train Trevor in the United Kingdom for Musgrave in the use of the rifling machine he used, with the intention of selling the machine thereafter to the Musgraves.
Trevor completed his training and in early 1953 the machine was brought to South Africa. Musgrave moved to Douglas Valley and resigned from the South African Railways and Harbours were he had been employed until then. The building on the property was modified to become the workshop and barrel manufacturing started in all seriousness. Musgrave’s success in the field of target shooting rifles continued and after six years another son, Benny Musgrave jnr. also joined his father and brother.
During 1969 Armscor approached the Musgraves with the idea to establish an infrastructure for the manufacturing of commercial hunting rifles. The reason prompting the steps was the increasing international isolation of South Africa which eventually led to the United Nations arm embargo. The instructions to Musgrave were to develop, manufacture and market a production rifle.
Musgrave became a subsidiary of Armscor during 1971 and the first rifles appeared on the shelves in 1972. At the same time a start was made with the building of a manufacturing facility on the Jagersfontein Road just outside Bloemfontein.
The company did well during the sanction years and manufactured around 6,000 hunting rifles per year to meet the demands of the South African hunting public. It built rifles on the Vrystaat action which had been designed by Bennie Musgrave jnr, Santa Barba Mauser actions as well as the Model 80 and Model 90 Musgrave action the company designed. A few .22LR were also built and name the Ambidex.
After the democratization of South Africa and the lifting of the arms embargo, Musgrave, while under management of one Abie Koch (nicknamed Black September by his staff) could not keep its nose above the water. It was closed down. Some of its tooling was moved to Vektor, the state owned military small arms manufacturer, and the rest of its stock and assets were sold off on public auction.
In 2009, an Ermelo based businessman, Frikkie du Plooy acquired the rights to the Musgrave trade name and logo and commenced building Musgrave rifles again. Gary Barnes joined Musgrave in 2011 and with his knowledge as master gunsmith he continued the Musgrave tradition of history and quality. The Ermelo Musgrave rifles are based on the venerable CZ-24 version of the Mauser model 98 action.
A range of unique rifles from Musgrave’s custom shop includes beautiful custom rifles that were built according to customer specifications, usually sporting high quality metal components, beautiful high grade wood, inspiring engraving, metal inlet work and fine checkering.
Historic rifles were refurbished or re-barrelled here and a number of “prototype” hunting rifles built.
Musgrave is now entering a new era through innovative thoughts and modern design. We are writing a new chapter in our books with the NEW Musgrave M21 action that will be paired with a new line-up of models. Keep a look out on our Facebook page for updates.