Antique Nock Guns
Antique Nock Guns are seven-barrelled flintlock smoothbore firearms used by the Royal Navy during the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars.
Background & history of production
The Nock gun was invented by James Wilson, a British engineer, in 1779. It was named after the London-based armaments manufacturer who built it, Henry Nock, Gun Maker to His Majesty. It was a volley gun, designed for ship-to-ship fighting, as well as to be fired from the rigging onto the deck if enemy sailors boarded the ship. It was considered that the simultaneous discharge of seven barrels would destroy a tightly packed group of enemy sailors.
The gun was composed of six barrels welded together around a seventh, central barrel, with vents drilled through. The central barrel screwed onto a hollow spigot forming the chamber connected to the vent.
The gun used the standard flintlock mechanism of the time. Gunpowder ignited the central charge via a small vent. When the flash reached the central chamber, all seven charges ignited and fired simultaneously.
500 Nock guns were purchased by the ordinance department of the British Royal Navy in 1780 (for £13 each), during the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars. Another 106 were delivered in 1788.
However, the design flaws quickly became apparent when the guns were used in combat. The Nock had a powerful recoil, enough to dislocate or even break the shoulder of the gunman, and made it difficult to aim and control, particularly when trying to hang on to the rigging at the same time. The gun also sent out sparks that set fire to sails and rigging, which was one of the reasons Nelson banned snipers in the rigging during the Battle of Trafalgar. Production was discontinued in 1804.
Antique Nock guns are very rare. There are a selection of seven-barrelled flintlock guns by Nock available from this era, however, some describe themselves as Goose Rifles or Sporting Volley Guns. It may require some detective work to ascertain whether a gun was one of those designed by James Wilson for use in the Napoleonic wars.
Of the first 500 guns ordered by the ordinance department in 1780, the first 3 were rifled, but this showed itself to be unnecessary so all later models were left smoothbore. The 106 ordered in 1787 and delivered in 1788 had a double throated cock and standard frizzen spring. The notes with the gun may say when they were ordered – in 1780 or 1787. They may also state that they were for Naval purposes.
Good reference works include Howard L. Blackmore’s British Military Firearms 1650-1850 (1961), and D. W. Bailey’s British Military Longarms (1971).
Price guide and notable auction sales
As these guns are so rare, they are very valuable, usually selling for tens of thousands.
- First model Nock seven-barrelled flintlock volley gun, circa 1780, sold for £15,600 at Bonhams in April 2010.
- 32-bore second model Nock seven-barrelled flintlock volley gun, circa 1787, sold for £16,250 at Christie’s in November 2011.
- 40-Bore second model Nock seven-barrelled flintlock volley gun, circa 1787, sold for £18,000 at Bonhams in December 2009.