Editor - Staff Writer

   Smoke Signals

                   Sep./Oct. '10


This gun has always been an interesting design, just its appearance would make ones blood run cold.


The Nock gun was a seven-barreled smoothbore flintlock firearm used briefly by the Royal Navy [1] during the Napoleonic Wars. A volley gun originally designed for ship-to-ship fighting, its use was limited and eventually discontinued because of inherent flaws in using it.

  • [1]From the beginning of the 18th century until well into the 20th century it was the most powerful navy in the world, playing a key part in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power from 1815 until the early 1940s.

History and design

The weapon was invented by British engineer James Wilson in 1779, and named for Nock, the London-based armaments manufacturer contracted to build the gun. It was intended to be fired from the rigging of Royal Navy warships onto the deck in the event that the ship was boarded by enemy sailors. Theoretically, the simultaneous discharge of seven barrels would have devastating effect on the tightly packed groups of enemy sailors.

The Nock gun was made popular due to its appearance in the movie "The Alamo" and also seen in Bernard Cornwells's "Sharpe Series", in which the character Patrick Harper (a strong, burly man) wields an ex-Navy Nock gun.

Nock Gun
Type Volley gun
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service Royal Navy 1790s-1804
Used by United Kingdom
Wars Napoleonic Wars
Production history
Designed 1779
Barrel length 20 inches (510 mm)

 Chamber length .52 inches (13.2 mm)
Ignition Flintlock
Rate of fire Seven rounds per discharge, reloading rate variable
Muzzle velocity Variable
Effective range Variable
Feed system Muzzle loaded

The volley gun consisted of seven barrels welded together, with small vents drilled through from the central barrel to the other six barrels clustered around it. The central barrel screwed on to a hollow spigot which formed the chamber and was connected to the vent.

The gun operated using a standard flintlock mechanism, with the priming gunpowder igniting the central charge via a small vent. When the flash reached the central chamber, all seven charges ignited at once, firing more or less simultaneously.

The first models featured rifled barrels, but this made loading a long and cumbersome process, resulting in all following models being manufactured with smoothbore barrels.

Deployment and Use

During the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars, 635 Nock guns were purchased by the Royal Navy. However, attempts to use the gun during combat quickly revealed design flaws. The recoil caused by all seven barrels firing at once was more powerful than had been thought, and frequently broke the shoulder of whoever was firing the gun, and in any case made the gun extremely difficult to aim and control. Furthermore, officers were reluctant to issue the guns during battle out of fear that the flying sparks would set fire to the surrounding rigging and sails.

A smaller, lighter version was produced, which shortened the gun's range, but the recoil was still too powerful for sailors to feel comfortable using it. The few models purchased by the Royal Navy were removed from service in 1804.

An example is available for viewing in the weapons gallery at York Castle Museum and The Charleston Museum (SC).

WikipediaŽ Free Encyclopedia



If you were on the wrong end of this weapon wouldn't you think twice about boarding a Royal Navy ship! I would think many changed their thoughts of engaging the British Royal Navy in ship-to-ship fighting.


Buck Conner


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updated  09/10/2010   

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