A more accurately depicted use of the Nock can be found in the historical “Sharpe” series by author Bernard Cornwell. Beginning with Sharpe’s Eagle in 1981, the fictional series spans titular character Richard Sharpe’s rise from the ranks to become a British officer in the Napoleonic Wars. Fans of the Sharpe series can testify to Cornwell’s firearm knowledge with his numerous (and accurate) descriptions of Brown Bess muskets, Baker rifles, blunderbusses and other period arms. It is clear that Cornwell has done his homework. He, too, was evidently inspired by the Nock’s strange legacy because sure enough, he wrote one into the story. The worthy recipient was Richard Sharpe’s sidekick throughout the novels, a burly Irish soldier by the name of Patrick Harper. Harper is given the Nock in the 1983 novel Sharpe’s Gold and the author describes it as a “squat menace” before correctly citing its manufacturer, barrel length and the Nock’s short time spent in the Royal Navy. In 1993, the BBC adapted Cornwell’s Sharpe novels into a miniseries (starring Sean Bean as Sharpe) that ran until 1997. The production crew evidently wished to remain loyal to Cornwell’s vision as a Nock was chosen to accouter actor Daragh O’Malley as he portrayed Harper throughout the series.
Field Testing The “Squat Menace”
On permanent display in the National Firearms Museum is a Nock volley gun donated to NRA by the late Robert Petersen. As a museum staffer, I was fortunate enough to have this example on-hand during my research. A Nock first model, it bears the Queen Anne-period frizzen spring not found on the subsequent second model (of which only three are known today). The barrel grouping measures 20 inches in length, bringing the overall length to 37 inches. Unloaded, the Nock weighs approximately 13 pounds, most of which comes from the steel barrel cluster. The stock is lacquered walnut with brass furniture and buttplate. Each smoothbore measures 0.46 inches, and the barrels are brazed together in a six-round-one formation. The ignition is communicated from the pan, to the outer touch hole into the central chamber where it then distributed to the six outer chambers.
The lockplate bears an Ordnance proofmark and next to the “Tower” stamp with crown, cipher and broad arrow. Stamped in the stock is the “O B” cartouche indicating approval from the Ordnance Board inspection.
The gun is the very piece carried on screen by Richard Widmark in the “Alamo.” Along with the 18th-century British proofmarks and cartouches is a stamped serial number “S595” from the Stembridge prop house, where it was kept in accession before being sold at auction to the winning bidder, Robert Petersen. Those with a keen eye can still see abrasions on the steel from the brass barrel band that was fitted to the muzzle by the movie’s prop crew.
As is the burden of investigative journalism, it was decided that I could not publish any written material on the Nock volley gun having never fired one myself. This notion was met with reluctance, for I by this point was well aware of the Nock’s tendency to dislodge shoulders and potentially fracture bone. Yet with credibility at stake, I accepted my fate. The first shot was loaded with only powder and wad so that I could anticipate the trigger pull and flash delay. The gun performed without malfunction and emitted a wide orange blossom of flame and sparks.
On the second attempt, I rammed all seven barrels (meticulously noting which had been loaded to prevent double charging) and primed the pan. Taking aim at a target some 15 feet away, my wavering hand pulled the trigger. In an instant I was able to fully comprehend the plight of those unfortunate crewmen armed with the Nock. The butt of the gun drove itself hard into my right shoulder as the barrel cluster smacked into my chin. Worst of all, only two of the seven round balls struck the target. At that moment I was just happy I made it through the ordeal relatively unscathed (save for a slight powder burn and a rapidly forming bruise.) Subsequent firing with half-charges was not nearly as unpleasant, provided one leaned in and held on tight.