Object Title

Pattern 1793 Royal Horse Artillery double-barrelled Pistol-Carbine

Development

In 1793 the first two troops of the Royal Horse Artillery were raised, their purpose to provide artillery support for the cavalry. This role had previously been fulfilled by the fusiliers. The new troops were intended to be more mobile than the other branches of the artillery. It was therefore thought that a weapon with a reduced barrel length would be less awkward than the existing 95.2 cm artillery carbine. These requirements led to the introduction of the Pattern 1793 double-barrelled pistol-carbine.

Henry Nock (1741-1804), an accomplished inventor and gunmaker, ran a successful business in London mentoring the talents of juniors such as James Wilkinson and Ezekiel Baker. Furthermore, he was a contractor to the Board of Ordnance and the East India Company. Nock was requested to supply 80 pistols for the newly raised troops. The design was singular, if not unique. The Ordnance minute books describe them as:

'Pistols for the Horse artillery. Double barrelled, one of the Barrels Rifled 18ins.long 13 Balls to the lb.,one detent trigger, a slide in the Left Hand Tumbler, folding elevated sight, a Shifting Butts & a Steel Rammer & the Barrels browned.'

The quote above describes this weapon as a double-barrelled pistol (muzzle-loaded), each barrel measuring 45.2 cm. One barrel was smooth bore and the other rifled, both of 13 bore. The 'detent trigger' - also known as a 'set trigger' - allows for a light trigger pull. The slide on the left hand tumbler also referred to as a 'detent' or 'fly' was to prevent the sear nose from falling into the half-cock notch. This feature was only required in a lock if set triggers were used. A detachable stock allowed the pistol to be turned into a carbine, stabilising the weapon against the shoulder for greater accuracy. The weapon had a steel ramrod and browned barrels, the latter eventually becoming standard for infantry arms in 1815.

Nock's use of the detachable stock was based on experience. Some years prior to 1793 he had made detachable stocks for similar weapons to be used by Lord Townshend's Volunteers. His Lordship had remarked upon the fact that this feature allowed this type of weapon to be 'more portable than carbines.'

The cost of Nock's weapon was £8 per pistol. This was a considerable amount of money for the time, especially when one considers the price of a common musket was £1.75.

Use and Effect

As with many 'innovative' ideas, the awkward nature of this weapon hindered its performance. At 3.52 kg, it was too heavy to be used effectively as a pistol, and was also far too long. The detachable stock was an important part of the design, and was carried in the Royal Horse Artillery's saddle holsters: the pistol in one and the stock in the other. Unfortunately even in carbine form it was not sufficiently strong or well balanced. However, the attachment of the stock would allow for a more accurate shot than if fired in its pistol form, as one would struggle to hold the weapon up long enough to aim and fire.

The idea of both a smooth-bore and rifled barrel is an interesting notion in the world of military weapons and more common in sporting firearms. In theory, the smooth-bore feature would probably be best used when the weapon was in its pistol form, for close range shots, with the rifle barrel being used for shots at a longer range. Of course the amount of strength required to use it as a pistol meant that in practice it would have been used as a smooth bore carbine, losing its function as a pistol and the advantage of a quick shot at close range.

The single set trigger was a feature which allowed the left-hand rifled barrel to be discharged with a light trigger pull. The advantage of this was to execute a more accurate shot, and reduce the 'wobble' that could occur from a heftier trigger pull. However this feature could also be seen as a disadvantage to a person more accustomed to simple and robust military designs. The set trigger was better suited to the civilian sporting world, and would have added a layer of complexity that would have complicated reliability and field maintenance.

As with other muzzle-loading firearms, the rate of fire was limited. Rifles were a little slower to reload as the ball had to be a tight fit in the grooves of the barrel, making it hard to ram the ball home. Black powder fouling made this even more difficult. One would most probably have to dismount if it was necessary to reload. Therefore, this was a weapon to discharge only when absolutely necessary. The single trumpet-pipe was intended to retain the ramrod, though the later introduction of a swivel version implies that maybe this original system wasn't entirely effective.

There is no evidence to suggest that this weapon was present on the field at Waterloo, though neither is it possible to rule out. After it was replaced in service around the mid 1790s, any action it did see was probably in the hands of the yeomanry. This was due to the development of more practical cavalry weapons, such as the New Land Pattern pistol.

Six troops of the Royal Horse Artillery were present at Waterloo. These were Bull's 1st Howitzers, Webber-Smith's 2nd, Gardiner's 3rd, Whinyate's 4th Rockets, Mercer's 5th, and Ramsay's 6th. Extracts from Alexander Cavalié Mercer's journal of the Waterloo campaign suggest that his troop fought with the rear-guard, covering the army's retreat to Waterloo. After later fighting on the far right wing of Wellington's army, Mercer's troop was moved into the thick of the battle, beating off repeated French heavy cavalry charges. His account of this action reminds us of the persistence of the French:

'The ground already encumbered with the victims of the first struggle, became almost impassable. Still, however, these devoted warriors struggled on, intent only on reaching us. The thing was impossible.'

These repeated actions against the French cavalry are now marked by a memorial on the battlefield.

Statistics

Barrel length 45.2 cm (17.8 in)
Calibre 18.2 mm (0.72 in)
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service About 1793
Loading Muzzle-loading
Overall length 87 cm (34.3 in)
Weight 3.52 kg (7 lb 12 oz)

Author

Lisa Traynor