Nock gun

Nock gun
Type Volley gun
Place of origin  United Kingdom[1]
Service history
In service Royal Navy 1782–1804[1]
Used by United Kingdom[1]
Wars Napoleonic Wars[1]
Production history
Designed 1779[1]
Barrel length 20 inches (510 mm)[1]

Caliber .46 inches (12 mm)[1]
Barrels 7
Action Flintlock, multiple barrel[1]
Rate of fire Seven rounds per discharge, reloading rate variable[1]
Muzzle velocity Variable
Effective firing range Variable
Feed system Muzzle-loaded[1]
A Nock volley gun in the Charleston Museum 1779-1780

The Nock gun was a seven-barrelled flintlock smoothbore firearm used by the Royal Navy during the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars. It is a type of volley gun adapted for ship-to-ship fighting, but was limited in its use because of the powerful recoil and eventually discontinued.[1]

Its bizarre appearance and operation has led to it being portrayed in modern fictional works, notably in The Alamo feature film, and the Richard Sharpe series of novels by Bernard Cornwell.[1]

History and design

The weapon was invented by British engineer James Wilson in 1779, and named after Henry 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.[1]

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 onto 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.[1]

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, 500 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 injured or broke the shoulder of whoever was firing the gun, and in any case made the gun very 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.[1]

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

Examples are available for viewing in the weapons gallery at York Castle Museum, the Hollywood Guns exhibit at the National Firearms Museum, the Royal Armouries Museum, and the Charleston Museum (SC).[1]

The Nock gun was brought to modern attention in the 1960 film The Alamo in which one is used by actor Richard Widmark, playing Jim Bowie. The gun used in the film is now in the National Firearms Museum.[1] In Bernard Cornwell's series of historical novels featuring fictional British soldier Richard Sharpe and, more recently, in the Sharpe TV series, Nock guns are used by Sharpe himself, the character Patrick Harper (a strong, burly man), and Royal Navy crewmen.[2]

In the video game Gun, the main antagonist, Thomas Magruder, uses a Nock gun during the final boss battle of the game. It later becomes unlocked for the player's use after finishing the game.

A modern version was custom-built in an episode of American Guns.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Matthew Sharpe "Nock's Volley Gun: A Fearful Discharge" American Rifleman December 2012 pp.50-53
  2. "Weapons — Harper's Nock Volley Gun — The Sharpe Appreciation Society". 2002-10-26. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved 2009-10-23.
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