Nitro Express: Hemingway’s Westley Richards Safari Gun


Words by: JPS for duncan quinn

Ask a group of sporting gents to name the world’s finest gunmaker and you’ll get a chorus of “Purdey” and “Holland & Holland”. But those in the know might tip you the wink and whisper quietly “Westley Richards, old boy.”

The company was founded in Birmingham, England’s munitions mecca, in 1812 by William Westley Richards, who was responsible for the early innovation of many rifles used in wars fought by the British Army during the 1800s. Westley Richards rifles were also extremely popular with safari-goers, including the Maharaja of Alwar, actor Stewart Granger and a certain Ernest Hemingway. The famed author was a crack shot and a fine judge of gunsmithing who saw in Richards the honesty, elegance and fine craftsmanship he tried to put into his own work.

Hemingway’s gun of choice was a Westley Richards .577 caliber Nitro Express, a big gun capable of taking down equally big game, especially in his hands. Manufactured by Richards in 1913 and weighing in at nearly 16 pounds, it accompanied Hemingway on safari in 1953 and has been described as “an absolute masterpiece” by Silvio Calabi, author of the seminal work Hemingway’s Guns. During World War II, Hemingway outfitted his fishing boat, Pilar, to hunt German U-boats, which often infiltrated the waters off Cuba. And he repurposed the .577 for the task, mounting it to the boat’s deck so he could blast the nazis back to Germany. Unfortunately he never got the chance, but it’s a fair bet the .577 would have sent them packing…

Words by JPS for duncan quinn