Updated: Jun 14, 2022
In researching my latest novella (release date: 30 November 2022), I've been led towards weaponry. In particular, I wished to find out how many balls a Regency-era pistol may fire before reloading. Answer: just the one, unless you're a king or similar.
Single-barrelled, rapid-fire weaponry wasn't readily available in England until the 1850s. However, never let it be said that this stopped earlier inventors from trying the obvious other solution: multiple barrels attached to one weapon. Volley guns as they were called, are a fascinating subject. These weapons mounted many barrels on the same frame, all to be loaded and shot at once. The balls were released within seconds of each other, via one firing pin and one tug on a trigger. Such devices actually pre-date the Regency era.
James Puckle was a lawyer and inventor. The Puckle gun hails from 1718, and had a single barrel. Behind this were ten chambers, each one designed to take a 32mm ball. There was a second Puckle gun created as well. This one shot harder blocks, rather than balls. The Puckle gun was essentially a hand-cranked revolver and was originally designed to be mounted at the sides of naval vessels.
The idea was to fire multiple volleys at attacking vessels while at sea. The gun did indeed deliver ten rounds a minute when operated by trained personnel - three times the speed of shot for any musket available to the British navy at the time. At a public demonstration in 1817, the gun managed this feat in the middle of a rainstorm but the British military remained unimpressed. The flintlock mechanism and the complexity of the gun design made it impractical for use during warfare, especially when the powder grew wet and jammed the device.
In 1779 the Nock gun was almost long enough in the barrel to be considered a rifle. Like the Puckle, it was intended for close battles aboard ship, but the ember-curled papers had a tendency to spill out of the seven barrels. On a wooden ship, with so much flammable material in close proximity, the weapon tended to cause havoc. It was a definite OH&S hazard!
The mitrailleuse (or Grapeshot Shooter):
Developed by the Belgians in 1851, this mounted weapon could shoot one hundred rounds a minute. It involved a 50-barrel canon mounted on a frame, and was fired via a hand crank at the breech. The design was finalised and finessed over the years, with a 37-barrel version finding its way to Napoleon III's battlefield in 1870. So impressed was the general with this weapon, he ordered 200 of the guns and had them built under terms of the utmost secrecy. Drawbacks included a diminished range and a tendency to be fouled by powder between rounds, but at close range the weapon was effective. It was known as the 'Hell Machine' among the allies.
My favourite - and the earliest: The Kalthoff Repeater
Before all of the above however, there was a rather elegant repeating firearm created in Germany during the 1630s. This was the Kalthoff Repeater, and while the designs were copied and reworked many times from inception onwards, the dubious honour of creating the first truly single-barrelled, rapid-fire firearm in Europe belongs to the Kalthoff clan. The weapon did make its way to England in 1654 and was undoubtedly available during the Regency period, but not easily or cost effectively.
The Kalthoff guns were custom made and prohibitively expensive, which is why we rarely hear of them. They were never mass produced for use in the army or navy, and were so delicately constructed that the failure of one single internal mechanism rendered the entire weapon disposable. That said, it was faster than the Puckle and more accurate than the others listed above, when operated by a trained marksman and kept in good working order.
The first patent was issued in 1640 by King Louis XIII of France, who specified a weapon that fired 8-10 shots before requiring reloading. In 1645 the wheellock magazine rifle was improved with a flintlock mechanism and gifted to the Danish Prince Frederik. This gun was said to have a 30-round capacity. It was the first flintlock weapon made in Germany.
My other favourite - though I'd not like to balance this one - is the pepperbox pistol. This is the one I favoured in my latest novella. Why? You'll have to read it to find out - but I will say, this type of firearm was the favoured of highwaymen haunting every heath in Regency England. Is that a spoiler? Oops...