Object Title

Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine


In order to make sense of the Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon carbine, it is important to first look at its predecessors and its various incarnations.

On the 21st March 1796 a Board of General Officers met to examine complaints concerning the Pattern 1770 Heavy Dragoon carbine:

'The firelock presently in use for the heavy dragoons had long been considered to be very inconvenient, useless and cumbersome, and the Board recommended a replacement carbine of 26 inches in the barrel and musket bore, and that until such new carbine can be provided by the Board of Ordnance the barrel of the present Dragoon Firelock should be cut down to the above size 26 in so as to be reduced to a Carbine.'

The Pattern 1770 had been originally adopted for the horse grenadier guards. The overall length of the weapon was 57.25 in (145 cm), which was almost as long as certain infantry muskets, and as the above quote suggests it was impractical for cavalry use.

The carbine had a yoke sling bar with the fore-end bent under the stock to the right. Although it wasn't best practice for a cavalryman to try to obtain an accurate shot from the saddle, a carbine of shorter length would be more useful should that need ever arise. Most importantly, a shorter carbine was less restrictive for the user to carry whilst on horseback. Very few examples of this 'cut down' version of the Pattern 1770 carbine exist, which suggests that this change was not widely implemented.

The accomplished London-based inventor and gunmaker Henry Nock (1741-1804) was asked to supply the patterns and gauges for the new heavy cavalry carbine. Although this weapon is officially a Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine, it shall be referred to here as Nock's Carbine. At first glance, one would be forgiven for assuming that Nock's carbine was the Harcourt carbine. The main difference between the two is the barrel length: the Harcourt barrel is around 2.25 in (5.7 cm) longer than Nock's Carbine. The most striking similarity is Nock's enclosed lock. These were surplus following the abandonment of the plans for the Duke of Richmond's musket in 1786, and was incorporated on to Nock's version of the Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Pistol. These locks could be dismantled by removable pins rather than more time-consuming screws.

The Board recommended a straight sling bar of 7.5 in (19 cm) fitted by a bottom side nail. However, a number of these carbines in the Royal Armouries collection are fitted with either a straight rib, or a sling bar and ring. The reason for these differences could be attributed to regimental preferences, though this is purely conjecture.

The Royal Armouries collection also includes another variant: a sealed pattern version of Nock's Carbine with a two-pipe arrangement for a heavy straight rammer, as used on the Harcourt. This is not in keeping with the Pattern 1796 Carbine's button-headed rammer, with its iconic swell below the head and single ram-rod pipe.

Nock's Carbine also included his 'break off breech' feature. Patented by Nock in 1787, this invention combined a chamber in the breech plug with an extra horizontally drilled chamber from the touch hole, closed on the other side with a screw plug. This now allowed powder to be confined loosely in the extra chamber. When the weapon was primed and the powder ignited, an explosion was created due to the looseness of the powder, rather than just burning as before. The ignition and combustion of the main charge was thus much improved, increasing the speed of the projectile. In turn this resulted in the shortening of gun barrels without a significant loss in performance.

This well designed and somewhat complex weapon was considered too expensive by the Board, and by 1798 a modified version of Nock's Carbine was put into manufacture. The final incarnation of this carbine was the version most recognisable and most common, although it is still quite rare in the world of firearms. In answer to orders placed by the Ordnance in 1798, the London and Birmingham contractors supplied 26 in (66 cm) barrelled carbines featuring standard 1777 Pattern swan-necked cocks.

Alongside the absence of Nock's screwless lock, which was thought to be too expensive by the Ordnance, this version also had a number of other variances. The length of the trigger guard was shorter, with the tang being located by a woodscrew rather than a crosspin. The sling bar, which is found on most of these carbines, measured 6.5 in (16.5 cm), fitted with a loop at its forward end. This carbine can also be found without sling bars; with sling bars removed and the screw holes filled; and with or without the provision of normal sling swivels, including the butt swivel.

Nock's 'break off breech' feature was removed, along with his heavy cross pins for securing the barrel. The method of carrying the rammer was also modified, omitting the second pipe and introducing the iron button-headed rammer. This rammer had a substantial swell around 6 in (15 cm) beneath the head and sat in the single ramrod pipe. It was fitted with an internal spring bear on the rod.

Use and Effect

The two firearms available to most of the British heavy cavalry during the Napoleonic period were the pistol and the carbine. The advantage of the cavalry carbine over the pistol was that it could engage the enemy at a greater distance. By dismounting, one could engage in picqueting or take longer-range shots from a halted horse, whereas the role of the pistol was for an actual cavalry action at a closer range in the thick of battle, alongside the sword. Later in the century the carbine became the primary firearm, due to technological advances such as rifling, and pistols became more of a secondary firearm.

With the absence of Nock's 'break off breech' feature it is entirely plausible that the later version of the Pattern 1796 carbine did not have as great a muzzle velocity over longer distances as Nock's carbine, reducing the penetrative power of the projectile over greater distances.

Carbines of the period would hang on a swivel sling down by the right side of the trooper. The swivel sling was a type of belt worn over one shoulder preventing the weapon from being dropped. This accessory positioned the weapon down the right hand side of the cavalryman with the lock facing outwards, ready for use. One did not have to un-clip the attachment to draw the carbine up to the shooting position, which reduced the risk of dropping the weapon.

The muzzle of the carbine sat in a muzzle bucket or cup near the stirrup. This accoutrement prevented the carbine moving around unnecessarily when it was not in use. The weapon slotted in and out of the bucket for ease of firing.

The Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine was equipped with a 38 cm (15 in) bayonet, which weighed 369 g (13 oz). It was presumably for combat at close quarters or when needed in an emergency. It was also issued with a cartridge pouch with roller buckles which held 30 rounds. This 19 mm (0.75 in) ammunition would serve for both the heavy dragoon carbine and the heavy dragoon pistol, reducing the likelihood of putting the wrong ammunition in the wrong weapon.

Regiments such as the 1st King's Dragoon Guards (KDG), who were part of the household brigade, would certainly have been armed with the Pattern 1796 carbine. Within the collection at the Royal Armouries, one Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine has been identified and attributed to this regiment. It is unfortunately impossible to tell if this particular example saw action on the battlefield at Waterloo.

In a letter to his wife dated 7th July 1815, Regimental Sergeant Major Thomas Barlow of the KDG spoke of the heavy losses at Waterloo:

'I have already informed you the strength of the regiment that evening, which was fifteen including officers- the next morning many of our Brave Comrades joined us and many more have since, we can now muster two Squadrons 40 file each so that our numbers are reduced one half-we have been advancing into France and are now within 14 miles of Paris.'

The KDG suffered heavy casulaties at Waterloo, and out of the 570 men who had paraded on the morning of the battle only 15 men were left in action at its close. On the evening of the 18th June 1815, the remaining officers and men of the KDG shared out what little food they had left and sat together to eat it. In memory of that evening, officers and sergeants of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards dine together every year on Waterloo night in the sergeant's mess.

In one form or another, the Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine would most definitely have been present at Waterloo. It saw military service for over 30 years after its introduction, and it is possible that many were refurbished in the 1830s. Barry Chisnall and Geoffrey Davies, authors of British Cavalry Carbines & Pistols of the Napoleonic Era, have had the pleasure of viewing a Pattern 1796 carbine, which was thought to be the subject of an Ordnance conversion to percussion, and which may also have been rifled. After a few modifications this weapon's long service record supports the theory that the Pattern 1796 carbine must have been a reliable and efficient weapon to take onto the battlefield during the first quarter of the 19th century.


Barrel length 66 cm (26 in)
Calibre 19 mm (0.75 in)
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1798
Loading Muzzle-loading
Overall length 102 cm (40.25 in)
Weight 3.63 kg (8 lb)


Lisa Traynor