British Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine with Nock's Screwless Lock
- Product Code: FLA-2074-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
A number of world famous English gunsmiths emerged during the late 18th century to become internationally known makers; many of whom remain well known today. Names like Joseph Manton, Joseph Egg, Durs Egg and Henry Mortimer are still associated with some of the finest English arms of the period. In the case of all except Durs Egg, it is typically the fine sporting arms that the arms collector and gun enthusiast is aware of. In the case of Durs Egg, it is his interesting and sometimes revolutionary military arms that are most often remembered. Another gunsmith of the period with continued international renowned, particularly for his military arms, is Henry Nock. The preceding is my summary of Howard Blackmore’s opening assertion in Chapter V of British Military Firearms 1650-1850 regarding Henry Nock’s arms and I could think of no better way to adequately describe the importance of Nock to the English military arms industry during his active period, which was basically from 1770 through his death in 1804.
Henry Nock was born in 1841 and apprenticed to become a gunsmith. Little is known of his early life but prior to 1770 he was working as a gunlock maker, under a master gunsmith who was freed of the Gunmaker’s Company. The Gunmakers’ Company can best be described as a period union where youngsters learned their trade under master makers, eventually becoming journeymen and then masters themselves. This system is not unlike a modern journeyman plumber or electrician working under the license of a master plumber or electrician. In 1770, Nock submitted a “new pattern musket”, with a lock of his own design, to the Ordnance Department for evaluation. The design was roundly rejected, primarily because of deficiencies the board found in his lock design. Nock was not deterred and continued to make locks, with his name initially appearing in Board of Ordnance contracts for locks circa 1771. In 1775, Nock patented a new lock design, described as a “concealed lock”, which would become the basis for his “screwless lock” design. At the same time, he also patented what was his version of the “hooked breech”, a method by which the barrel(s) attached to the gun by means of hooked studs that locked into a fixed breech piece. This meant that after removing the pins or wedges, the barrel could be lifted up at an angle from the stock and removed, rather than having to unscrew the breech pin that passed through the tang. This design concept would become standard on muzzleloading shotguns throughout the 19th century, as well as on many fine sporting arms of the period. As he was not a “master” gunsmith and could not receive a firearms patent and trade under his own name, Nock joined forces with well-known London gunmaker William Jover (who was “freed” of the Gunmaker’s Company) and another partner John Green to manufacture arms utilizing this lock under the name of Nock, Jover & Green. Despite not being free of the Gunmaker’s Company, Nock’s reputation within the arms making community was skyrocketing and soon he was maintaining workshops and premises both at 83 Longacre under the Nock, Jover & Green name, as well as in the Mount Pleasant section of London and also on Drury Lane. By 1777, he was contracting to provide Ferguson breechloading flintlock rifles to the East India Company, was still working as a Board of Ordnance contractor on his own account and had organized a consortium of Birmingham arms makers to supply gunlocks to the Board of Ordnance in mass quantities. His Birmingham trade association was short lived but planted the seeds for what would become the Birmingham Small Arms Trade a few decades later. The organization also showed that he was looking towards creating a system of mass production of arms components and complete arms in a period when hand work by artisans was the norm. In 1779, James Wilson invented a seven-barreled volley gun that would become known universally as the “Nock Volley Gun”, even though Nock did not invent it. Nock was hired to produce two sample guns for evaluation by the Board of Ordnance and as such was in a prime position to receive the contracts to manufacture these arms, which he did. Wilson then suggested that Nock build an additional 20 guns for sea trials, which went well. Ordnance then paid Wilson 400” for the design and sent him packing, while awarding a contract to manufacture a total 500 of the volley guns to Nock in 1780; 480 in addition the 20 previously ordered. Seven years later, Nock received a second order for 100 of the guns, for a total of 602 (including the two original samples) being produced for the Royal Navy. The notoriety of the guns and the design created a brief interest in seven barreled guns, and Nock produced a handful of sporting volley guns with rifled bores (all of the military guns were smoothbore except for the first two sample guns). This notoriety also attracted the attention of the Royal Court and resulted in Nock receiving orders to produce some personal sporting arms for King George III.
In 1781, Nock was contracted to provide gauges for the London Proof House, an indication of his reputation within the trade for quality work, as he was still not officially a “master” gunsmith. In 1784, Nock was finally “freed of the Gunmaker’s Company” and was no longer hobbled by an official status within the trade that was below “master”, even though his work was superior to many other master gunsmiths. He established a new headquarters at 10 Ludgate but continued his practice of operating numerous small facilities for the manufacture of parts and the assembly of arms. Over the next two decades, Nock’s star would continue to rise, and the output of his company would continue to increase. In 1786, the Duke of Richmond, who had been appointed Master General of Ordnance in 1782, approached Nock regarding a design to upgrade and improve the standard infantry musket for the British military. As it was a period of peace and the size of the army had been decreased after the conclusion of the American Revolution, it was the perfect time (in the Duke’s opinion) to experiment with some new ideas. The Duke was particularly interested in the use of Nock’s screwless lock, which was an enclosed flintlock design with all the internal and moving components on the “inside” and all parts bearing upon pins, rather than screws. To this end, Nock developed two variations of what would become known as the Duke of Richmond Musket. These incorporated Nock’s screwless lock and a number of other refinements and improvements, including a small reduction in the nominal bore size from about .76 caliber to .73 caliber. Once Nock’s foot was in the door with the Board of Ordnance via the Duke of Richmond he proceeded to supply a variety of new ideas and patterns of arms, including various experimental muskets like his two-barreled smoothbore and rifle design, an experimental breechloading musket, as well as muskets of various calibers to assess the effectiveness of different weights of ammunition. The Duke was looking not only for an improved musket, but a lighter one, as any reduction in the weight of the arm would mean an increase in other equipage, provisions or ammunition that the men could carry. During this period Nock also designed and manufactured a small number of double-barreled pistols with shoulder stocks for the Royal Horse Artillery and a new pattern of heavy dragoon carbine for the Duke of Harcourt in 1793.
The Duke of Harcourt’s carbine was manufactured for issue to the 16th Light Dragoons, with 500 being set up by Nock circa 1793-1794. The guns were single shot, muzzleloading, smoothbore carbines with 28” pinned round barrels with hooked (break-off) breeches, and Nock’s “screwless’ flint lock. The guns were produced in “Musket Bore”, nominally .73 caliber, which was the bore size of the new Duke of Richmond’s Musket that Nock had designed and that the Duke had hoped to replace all of the line infantry muskets with. The overall length of the gun was 44”, it was brass mounted and had a long sling bar on the reverse to facilitate carry by the trooper from an over the shoulder sling. The 5 ““ lock was of the same pattern used on the Duke of Richmond’s musket, and featured a curved pan cover or “flash guard”. The gun was stocked to within 3 ““ of the muzzle and had a lug on top to retain an angular socket bayonet. Nock had developed a special bayonet for the Duke of Richmond’s musket, which incorporated a locking ring; a novelty and new idea for the British. The locking ring was at the rear of the socket, just forward of the reinforcement collar, similar to the system used on the French M1777 bayonet and the later Greene Rifle bayonet. The carbines were intended to take shorter bladed, 15” version of this bayonet. The carbine also introduced the concept of the ramrod channel being cut with the opening in the bottom of the stock all the way to the triggerguard. Many of the features found in Nock’s design would be used in later Board of Ordnance arms and for all practical purposes, the carbine design would be adopted in a modified form by the Board of Ordnance as the Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine a few years later.
In 1796, a new general issue Heavy Dragoon Carbine was adopted, the Pattern 1796. This carbine was born of a Board of General Officers that was convened to examine the Heavy Dragoon Carbine then in service, the Pattern 1770. In part, their report read:
“The Firelock at present in use for the Heavy Dragoons having been long considered as very inconvenient, useless and cumbersome, the Board recommended in place thereof a carbine of 26” in the Barrel and Musket Bore and that until such New Carbine can be provided by the Ordnance the Barrel of the present Dragoon Firelock should be cut down to the above size 26” so as to be reduced to a Carbine; a Swivel Bar added to it with a bend in the upper part will give an additional convenience in the carriage and to be carried But downwards. The Bayonet also to be reduced to 15 inches.”
The Board’s reference to “musket bore” appears to relate to the nominally .73 caliber bore of the Duke of Richmond’s Musket. It is worth noting here that during this period, the “bore” of the gun was based upon the number of round balls of a specific size that could be cast from one pound of lead: i.e. “16 bore” was 16 round balls to the pound, which is about .662” caliber or just shy of 17mm This is only the measurement of the projectile. The actual bore diameter of the musket, carbine or pistol was much larger, allowing for windage, cartridge paper and the fouling of the bore that occurred in battle. Thus, the ammunition was often significantly smaller than the bore into which it was loaded, but the caliber of the gun was always referred to by ammunition size and not its actual diameter.
The carbine that was adopted by the Board looked strikingly similar to the Duke of Harcourt’s carbine, with the primary differences being the 26” rather than 28” barrel, the elimination of the hooked breech, as well as the elimination of the special, large diameter pins that Nock had used in his guns. Of course, the Board did not specify Nock’s screwless, enclosed lock, instead relying on the tried and true (and much less expensive) 1777 pattern lock. Other smaller differences were the use of a flat, S-shaped “New Land Pattern” side plate (for conventional locks), as well as the new sling bar design that the Board had specified. Nock’s design had incorporated a spring system in the rammer pipes to retain the ramrod, but the new simplified pattern was relied on a swell in the ramrod’s body to retain it in the carbine’s ramrod channel. To the casual observer, however, the only truly noticeable difference would have been the slightly shorter barrel on the Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine, and in some cases the use of a conventional flint lock, rather than Nock’s lock.
A tacit admission that the Board had largely appropriated Nock’s design came the following year. In 1797, the Board ordered the necessary gauges and fixtures from Nock to provide to other contractors for the manufacture of the guns. The Board did, however, give a small 1796 carbine contract to Nock as well. These guns incorporated most of Nock’s refinements that the Board had eliminated, and are of much higher quality than most of the other contractor produced guns. However, the majority of the guns were produced by other members of the London and Birmingham gun trade, who began deliveries in 1798. Interestingly, some of those contractors would assemble the Pattern 1796 carbines with Nock’s Screwless Lock! This was due to the fact that the Duke of Richmond’s Musket project had been cancelled, but Henry Nock had delivered a number of complete locks to the Tower of London for use by other contractors in the manufacture of the Duke of Richmond’s pattern guns. The Tower, never wasteful and having a supply of very high quality (and rather expensive) Nock Screwless Locks, then issued these locks to contractors to use in the manufacture of the 1796 carbines.
The British Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine was produced with some level of variation from both the contractor and from the regiment to which they were issued. Not all were manufactured with the sling bar pattern designated by the Board, with at least a couple of different styles utilized. Additionally, some were not made with sling bars at all but with sling swivels, either singular to in pairs. One variant used a single swivel, mounted through the hole in the stock that the forward sling bar mount was intended to use. This swivel was large with a curved, U-shaped profile that allowed it to be folded up against the stock, completely out of the way. There was also some minor variation among the contractors in bore size, which was nominally to be .73 caliber according to the Board’s initial design. Nock’s guns were delivered in that caliber, but as the Duke of Richmond project had been abandoned, so had the reduction in “musket bore” to .73, with the standard nominal .76 caliber returning to favor. As such, many of the contractor produced guns had .76 caliber bores. Barrel length could also vary as much as a half-inch and with that the overall length of the gun. The Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine saw widespread use with the dragoon units during the Napoleonic Wars, with such regiments as the 2nd North British Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys), the 2nd (Queen’s) Dragoon Guards and the 3rd Dragoon Guards being issued the carbines. While the Pattern 1796 remained in service through the end of the flintlock era, by the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the early 1820s there was a general move to standardize arms issue to mounted regiments with the Padget Carbine, which had been in service since about 1808 as the standard Light Cavalry Carbine. As the Pattern 1796 was only issued to “Heavy” Dragoon regiments during the end of the 18th and the first 15-20 years of the 19th centuries, it was not as widely manufactured as some carbines like the Padget. In fact, only 16 regiments of British Dragoons were armed, wholly or in part, with these guns during the period. These included the three regiments of Household Guards, the seven regiments of Dragoon Guards and the six regiments of Dragoons. During the same period some two-dozen regiments of Light Cavalry were in service, not to mention the many additional regiments of Yeomanry and volunteer cavalry. Today, all Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbines are scarce, but those with Nock’s screwless lock are particularly rare.
Offered here is a NEAR FINE example of a British Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine with Nock’s Screwless Lock. The gun is one of the contractor assembled guns, using a Nock lock issued from the Tower that was likely originally intended for use in a Duke of Richmond musket. The carbine is 41” in overall length with a 26” pinned barrel with a .76 caliber bore. The gun is equipped with a 5 ““ Nock screwless lock that is engraved H NOCK below the pan and is also struck with a small (CROWN-BROAD ARROW) Ordnance inspection mark. The pan cover or “flash guard” is engraved with the (CROWN) / GR cypher of King George III. The top of the barrel is stamped with a set of London commercial proofs, with a (CROWN) / GP and a (CROWN) / V with an 11 gauge mark between them, indicating a bore of roughly .75 caliber. The barrel is then additionally stamped with a pair of King’s Proofs consisting of a (CROWN) / GR / (BROAD ARROW ) and a (CROWN) / (CROSSED SCEPTERS) indicating military inspection, as well as with an additional (CROWN) mark over an illegible cypher that is deeply struck. All of the markings remain crisp and are deeply struck. They are all fully legible unless the deepness of the strike has blurred them. The obverse butt is struck with a deep storekeeper’s mark that appears to be dated 1798. The counterpane is stamped with a clear inspection mark consisting of a three-pointed crown over the letter B. No regimental marking is present on the gun, but the ramrod is engraved with the rack number D / 27, indicating the 27th trooper of D troop. The gun is assembly marked with two sets of mating marks, which is not uncommon on British military arms from this period. Often one set was a general assembly mark and the other was relevant to specific component group, like mating marks on lock parts, mating the lock to the stock of the stock to the barrel. In this case, the primary or master assembly mark is four slashes: | | | |. This mark is found on the edge of the lock, on the bottom of the barrel and on the ramrod. The bottom of the barrel is additionally marked with three slashes, \ | /, which mate with the same mark in the ramrod channel, mating the stock to the barrel. The bottom of the barrel also bears a (CROWN) / 17 inspection mark.
As noted, the gun remains in about NEAR FINE condition. The barrel and lock have an old, thin coat of oil on them that had darkened to splotchy brown color. This could easily be removed with denatured alcohol if so desired. The metal remains quite smooth with clear marks throughout and shows only some lightly scattered minor surface oxidation and some very light pinpricking, mostly around the pan and touchhole. The carbine remains in its original flintlock configuration and is not reconverted to flint. The lock is 100% complete and correct and functions correctly. The lock functions crisply on both half-cock and full cock. Interestingly, an apparent part of the lock design, is that you cannot lower the hammer gently to the “fired” position. If you try to, the cock will lock securely into the half cock “safety notch”. However, if you release the trigger and do not impede the hammer travel it will fall as it should. The touchhole remains crisp and is completely unmolested. The brass has a dark patina with a greenish tone and some verdigris is present around the edges of the mounts. As this is a Nock lock equipped carbine, there is no sideplate. The lock is secured by a single sidenail (lock screw) with a brass escutcheon. The gun was not one intended to be equipped with a sling bar, as the escutcheon does not have the small extension to accept the rear of the sling bar. More than likely this was one of the single sling swivel guns, as the forward hole in the stock where the sling bar mount would have ended is empty, with the swivel missing. The wear pattern around the hole also suggests that a swivel was there at one time. This is the only piece that appears to be missing from the gun, with the balance being 100% complete and correct. The original pattern swelled shank, button head ramrod is in place in the rammer channel. It is full-length with female threads on face of the button head for cleaning accessories. The bore of the carbine remains in FINE condition and is mostly bright with only some oxidized darkening present in the last few inches nearest the muzzle. The bore is essentially free of any real pitting, but does show some scattered dirt and dust, and what appears to be a small amount of lightly scattered pinpricking. The stock remains in NEAR FINE condition as well. Were it not for a couple of small grain cracks at the forend tip, the stock and whole gun would truly rate FINE. The stock remains crisp and sharp throughout, with no indications of sanding. All edges and lines remain sharp and the markings remain clear. The stock shows some scattered minor bumps and dings from handling and use, as well as some light surface scraping around the wrist, but shows no abuse or real damage. A tiny chip of wood is missing from the sharp edge of the lock mortise, forward of the pan, but this is quite minor. There are also three, small, tight grain cracks at the forend cap; two running diagonally from the cap into the rammer channel and one emanating from the channel and running diagonally to the mouth of the single ramrod pipe. The two forward cracks are about 1 ““ in length with the rearward one slightly longer at 1 “. They are not really structural, and appear stable, but should probably have a small amount of glue injected at some point to keep them from expanding in the future. There is also a short, tight grain crack running from the single lock screw to the barrel channel, a typical issue on all sidelock arms. The stock shows a small amount of old added finish on the butt and like the metal has a coat of old, dried oil.
Overall this is a really attractive and very scarce example of a Nock Screwless Lock British Pattern 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbine. While all Napoleonic Era 1796 Heavy Dragoon Carbines are scarce, the guns with Nock’s screwless lock are particularly rare and desirable. This is a very crisp example in a wonderful state of preservation and with a fine collection pedigree. The triggerguard has a brass disc attached that reads: WELLER / COLLECTION / PRINCETON / NJ 337. John “Jac” Weller (1913-1994) was an All-American guard on the Princeton football team in 1935 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1957. He was involved in both the real estate and insurance businesses in Princeton, but his true love was historic arms and military history. He was appointed an honorary curator of the West Point Museum during the 1960s and developed new ballistics tests in 1962 that allowed him to prove that Nicola Sacco, the Italian anarchist, was guilty of the 1920 murders that he was convicted of, but that his convicted accomplice Bartolomeo Venzetti was not. He also published no less than eight books on military history, tactics and arms, including: Guns of Destiny: Field Artillery in the Trenton-Princeton Campaign, On Wellington: The Duke and His Art of War, Wellington in the Peninsula, Wellington at Waterloo and Revolutionary West Point. He also published a book about Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as an analysis of the weapons used during Vietnam. With three books specifically about Wellington’s army and the Napoleonic Wars, it would seem that this gun was likely one of his prize possessions in his extensive and well known collection due to its rarity and Napoleonic association. This will be a fine addition to any advanced collection of British flintlock military arms, particularly cavalry carbines or arms of the Napoleonic War.
Provenance: John “Jac” Weller Collection, Peter Wainwright Collection.
ON HOLD / LAYAWAY