Looking to get the holiday season off with a bang? London gunsmith Henry Nock’s volley gun is likely the biggest one the Charleston Museum has to offer - at least in its small arms collection. Nock fashioned only 600 of these formidable weapons beginning at the turn of the 19th century fulfilling a contract with the Royal Navy, who were constantly in need of close range and effective weaponry for use in the Napoleonic Wars. Sporting seven barrels, each approximately one-half-inch in diameter (or .50-caliber), one squeeze of the trigger discharged all of them simultaneously; the resulting spray of lead intended to damage an opposing ship’s rigging or “…disrupt formations of men.”
Nock succeeded in producing an intimidating gun. However, despite its moderate success when fired from atop a ship’s main mast down on to the enemy’s deck, the volley gun was certainly not without some notable shortcomings. As one can guess just from looking, the volley gun is quite the heavy firearm weighing in at a hefty 12 pounds (add an extra pound when fully loaded). Additionally , with seven large-bore barrels all going off at once, it produced a vicious recoil that could - and in some instances did - disable the poor sailor firing it (i.e. separated shoulders and the like). Worse still, its massive discharge and muzzle flash was known to spit flames from the muzzle for several yards, creating a significant danger of setting one’s own sails on fire. The Royal Navy ultimately judged its volley guns too dangerous for use by 1802-03, leaving Nock little choice but to abandon his design.
Weaponry Wednesday: Each Wednesday we post an object (or group of objects) from the Charleston Museum’s diverse weapons collection. Many Weaponry Wednesday items may be on permanent exhibit in our armory or elsewhere in the museum, but some pieces rarely see exhibition, temporary or permanent, but are well worth sharing. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on WEAPONRY WEDNESDAY! Also, we always want to learn more about our collection - if you have some insights on a piece, please feel free to share! #WeaponryWednes