Volunteer Carbine by Henry Nock

Volunteer rifled carbine by Henry Nock

In about 1798, the great London gun maker Henry Nock produced a rifled carbine for the London and Westminster Light Horse Volunteers (L&WLHV). I own one and, over the last couple of years, have been finding out more about it. As part of that project, I have been seeking sightings of the carbine through a thread on the British Militaria forum at: Nock Volunteer Carbine - looking for more sightings

Research Press has kindly offered my opportunity to canvas readers, and this article asks questions of you and provides some research on these lovely Nock rifles.

This article asks questions of you and provides some research on these lovely Nock rifles.

What I would like from you:
  • Any additional sightings, or updates to those already sighted.
  • High resolution photos of Number 75 which is an unmodified example.
  • A description and photos of the sword bayonet and scabbard that accompanied the (modified) rifle.
  • Any comments on where the rifles were held prior to coming onto the market reportedly in batches of three in the 1960s.
  • A volunteer to inspect and photograph a possible example at the National Army Museum.
  • Any other information about the history and use of the rifle that you would like to share.

The rifles are all numbered on the butt plate tang with just a number (1 to 75) and no unit marking. Two examples have a name engraved on the butt plate (not the tang). In addition, some have a three digit number in the 400-600 range engraved on the trigger bow. That number is a L&WLHV soldier muster number.

The survival rate of these carbines since 1798 seems remarkable. To date, 18 examples (around 25% if the production run was 75) have been identified:

2 private collection UK (in April 2015). Trigger bow number 437 reported
7 Joe Salter (dealer), Canada circa 2009. Trigger bow number 468
12 Bonham, London April 2010 (also Christie, 2001)
13 private collection, Australia (changed hands in 2016)
15 Bonham, London April 2014 (cheek pad removed and wood inset in its place) (also UK July 2014, with trigger bow number 500 reported)
34 private collection, Australia
36 Christie, London July 2000
39 Christie, London July 2001. Trigger bow number 419. Sold again at Wallis and Wallis (UK) auction in May 2016. Front sling swivel noted as missing
41 Christie, London July 2001
42 private collection, UK. Trigger bow number 474
48 Garth Vincent Firearms (UK dealer) in February 2015
50 private collection (?)Canada and listed in Jeff Paine’s 1996 article in the Canadian journal Arms Collection Vol 34, No. 4. Butt plate also engraved Hodges 9th Troop LHV
55 private collection (?)UK and listed in Barry Chisnall’s British Non Ordnance Military Carbines (may be attributed to another militia unit). Butt plate also engraved ‘Robert Christie’. No cheek pad - may have been removed or never fitted
58 private collection, Australia circa 2004
59 private collection, UK in April 2015. Reportedly complete with original bayonet numbered to the rifle
62 private collection (?)Canada and listed in Jeff Paine’s 1996 article in the Canadian journal Arms Collection Vol 34, No. 4 (this rifle has Ordnance proofs and ownership marks but is identical to the LHV carbines in all other respects)
75 Millais Antiques UK (dealer) circa 2016. Unmodified version with 30 inch barrel, no patch box etc
?? Undeclared number. National Army Museum, London (on line collection). Not shortened, no sword bayonet bar. No/missing front sling swivel. See: Flintlock rifled carbine, 1800 (c)

Production and Modification

The Nock rifles we see today are the result of an original build followed by most being modified a year or so after production. Henry Knock was commissioned in about 1798 to produce an unknown number of rifles for the well-heeled L&WLHV. By 1798, the L&WLHV had two elements – the main one being six troops of cavalry. The second was a newly raised infantry element (“three troops”) intended to accompany the cavalry in horse-drawn carriages. The Nock rifles saw service with infantry.

The circumstances leading to the order for the Nock rifle are not clear. Nock may have been commissioned to produce a carbine to equip some of the cavalry troopers as a trial – the L&WLHV cavalry did not carry carbines, only swords and pistols. Or the rifles were intended for the carriage-mounted infantry from the start.

The rifles as produced by Nock were very much in the style of a cavalry rifled carbine. They had a 4” smoothbore section at the muzzle to aid loading in the saddle, and did not have a bayonet. A Nock rifle in the UK National Army Museum in London may be an unmodified example. And Number 75, recently sold by UK dealer Millais Antiques, is very likely another.

“H Nock patent” breech – complete with screw plug on the off side to facilitate cleaning.
Breech is hooked to allow easy removal of the barrel
As produced, the rifles were an advanced design. The rifles were fitted with the Nock chambered patent breech – essentially, the main powder charge sits in a concave section of the breech plug at the back of the barrel, and the patent breech leads the touch hole to the centre of the breech plug rather than the side. This would, at least in theory, result in a more even and faster explosion of the main charge. In addition, the Nock screwless lock could be easily disassembled with no tools or clamps beyond a turn screw, and the hooked breech and removable barrel pins simplified care and maintenance.

Screwless lock. Lined touch hole leading into chambered breech
Soon after production, the rifles were modified to better fit their carriage-born infantry use:
  • The smooth bore section at the muzzle was removed.
  • The fore end wood work was shortened to conform to the new barrel length, including necessarily repositioning the forward barrel retaining pin and moving the forward ramrod flute back about two inches.
  • The ramrod was shortened by removing a section between the swell and the palm piece.
  • Sling swivels were added (if not already present).
  • A patch box was added to the butt.
  • A cheek pad was added to the top of the butt.
  • The fixed flash guard was removed.
  • The size of the touch hole may have been reduced.
  • A bar to hold a sword bayonet was added to the muzzle, and a sword bayonet was procured (sword example required).

“The very model of a modern military rifle”

Seven groove rifling measures 1:48
(half turn in the barrel compared to a quarter turn for the Baker rifle)
In my view, the modifications only added to the utility of the rifle for its infantry role. The rifle was designed from the start with accuracy and military utility in mind. The modified rifle is shorter and 10% lighter than the slightly later Baker Infantry Rifle. The greater fall of the butt means it is much more comfortable to aim and fire than the Baker, including when lying down. The slit stock for the ramrod was only adopted by the Baker rifle after service experienced showed the necessity. Disassembly and cleaning with no special tools is a truly modern feature.

Test firing of Nock carbine 13 has shown it is at least as accurate as the Baker rifle.

The volunteer Nock rifle has a fair claim to being the best British military muzzle loading rifle prior to the introduction of percussion ignition and the Minie ball.

Contact

If you are able to assist with responses to his information request, then please email David at: nock.research@gmail.com

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