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Nock’s Volley Gun: Clearing the Decks in the 1700s

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The Nock Volley Gun was actually invented by an Englishman named James Wilson in 1789, and presented to the British military as a potential infantry weapons. This was declined as impractical, but the Royal Navy found the concept interesting for shipboard use. In 1790 the Navy ordered two prototypes made by the British gunsmith Henry Nock, and finding them suitable, proceeded to oder a total of 500 of the guns (thus forever associating Nock’s name with the gun instead of Wilson’s). A further 100 or so were ordered in 1797, and the guns were in fact issued out to various ships – although accounts of their use in combat are difficult to find.

Unfortunately for Nock, the guns presented a couple substantial problems in use. One was simply the recoil of firing. A single 32-bore (approximately .55 caliber) round ball over 40 grains of black powder is not a very impressive load, but seven of them firing simultaneously add up to a recoil comparable to 4- or 6-bore rifles, and in a volley gun weighing just 13 pounds (5.9kg). In addition, the guns did not always reliably fire all barrels, especially when dirty. This produced a conundrum: how to determine which barrels had fired and which had not? The practical result was double-loaded barrels, which could be liable to bulge or burst. For these reasons, the weapon was declared obsolete in 1805, and never appeared to play any significant military role.

The gun did receive a new wave of popular awareness in 1960, when the character of Jim Bowie was outfitted with one in the movie “The Alamo” (against all historical evidence). His easy handling of the weapon and the waves of men he was able to mow down with it brought the gun back into the popular consciousness.

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