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CHAP. V.

FIREARMS.

EARLY NOTICES OF HAND-GUNS. MATCH-LOCKS, WHEEL-LOCKS,

AND PISTOLS. - MUSKETS. MUSKET-REST. SPANISH BARRELS. — INTRODUCTION OF GUN-TRADE TO BIRMINGHAM. — MARKING AND PROVING GUNS. — FORGING GUN-BARRELS. PATENT SKELFS. — MESSRS. JAMES AND JONES'S PATENT. ENGLISH AND INDIAN TWIST BARRELS, STUB BARRELS. BORING GUN-BARRELS. -BREECHING AND STOCKING GUNS. BURNISHING AND BROWNING BARRELS. RIFLES. -FRENCH AND ENGLISH MUSKETS. —EXTENT AND CELERITY OF FIREARMS AT BIRMINGHAM. —GUN-LOCKS. SAFETY LOCKS. PERCUSSION PRIMING.

It is a remarkable fact, that notwithstanding the substitution of cannon for some of the more ancient instruments of warfare must have so totally altered the various modes of military attack and defence, nevertheless the very era of the introduction of these formida. ble engines appears to be involved in absolute obscurity. Since, however, such is the uncertainty which attaches to the invention of heavy ordnance, the effects of which must necessarily have been so signal, we are by so much the more prepared to expect that the date of the origin of the smaller firearms will be placed in proportionate uncertainty. Beckmann supposes that the use of gunpowder itself first became known in Europe in the thirteenth century, about the time, indeed, when the methods of preparing the various sorts of Greek fire began to be lost ; nor does it seem improbable that the idea of employing the more powerful of these compositions in projectile engines may have originated from witnessing, in the first instance, the common effect of both combustibles upon being inflamed in such cylinders as might happen to be employed in those close sieges, when fire, though not balls, was commonly enough emitted. These fire cylinders, which became the archetypes of the first artillery, were composed of iron strips placed together longitudinally, and firmly hooped with stout iron rings ; cannon thus constructed are still to be seen, preserved as curiosities in European armories. It will easily be supposed, either that the charges introduced into such guns must have been lighter than those now in use, or that mischief from the bursting of the piece must frequently have happened : balls, however, generally of stone, and of a very large diameter, appear to have been shot from this apparently frail kind of ordnance with considerable success ; at least, this is a received opinion, though stones were frequently thrown with catapultæ and other engines.

The earliest intimations of the unquestionable use of cannon are generally admitted to belong to the annals of the fourteenth century. It has been said that the English army used four pieces of cannon at the battle of Cressy, in 1346. What sort of guns they were, which were used in these instances, we are not told; they may have been pillars of brass, cast hollow, or even the hooped cylinders of iron rods already mentioned, most likely the latter.

The idea of rendering portable, and of exploding in the hand, an engine constructed on the principle of the cannon, could not be expected very obviously to present itself even to a military mind, and therefore the first indications of the use of firearms occur long after the introduction of great guns. Two things would have to be considered in attempting the construction of a portable gun: in the first place, to make it as much lighter than an ordinary cannon as might be deemed consistent with safety and effect; and, secondly, to discharge it by the most manageable process: the union of these desiderata appears first to have been secured in the ancient but necessarily clumsy arquebuse. The first portable firearms were discharged by means of a match, which in course of time was fastened to a cock, for the greater security of the hand while shooting.. In a warrant of Richard III. we find mentioned, “ 28 hack busses, with their frames, and one barrel of touch-powder.” We likewise, about the same period, meet with “ cross-bows of steel,” the strings of which were detained and released by means of a trigger; which contrivance is supposed to have suggested the origin of our common gun-locks, and was first applied to the effecting a contact between the fire and the priming in the old matchlocks.

Afterwards a firestone was screwed into the cock, and a steel plate or small wheel, which could be cocked or wound up with a particular kind of key, was applied to the barrel. This "firestone” was not at first of a vitreous nature, like that used at present for striking fire, but a compact pyrites, or marcasite, which was long distin. guished by that name. But as an instrument of this kind often missed fire, a match or fusee was for a long time retained along with the wheel, until men, observing the tendency of the friable pyrites to efflorescence, affixed a vitreous stone to the cock of the lock, resembling, on the whole, that universally in use, until a recent chemical discovery so generally superseded the flint itself.

In Germany, these arms were called büche, hackenbüchse, and arquebuse; the first of these names having, in the opinion of Beckmann, arisen from the oldest portable kind of firearms having some similarity to a box. “ The hakenbüchsen,” says that author, were so large and heavy, that they could not be supported in the hand; it was, therefore, necessary to rest them on a prop called bock, or a buck, because it had two horns, between which the piece was fixed with a hook that projected from the stock.” A figure and description of the hackenbüchse, the bock, the wheel, and key, may be found in Histoire de la Milice, par Daniel, printed at Amsterdam in 1724. And at Dresden there is still preserved an old büchse, on which, instead of a lock, there is a cock with a flint stone placed opposite to the touch-hole, and this flint was rubbed with a file until it emitted a spark. From the passages of writers, collected by Daniel, it is concluded that these hakenbüchsen with a wheel were invented in Germany towards the beginning of the sixteenth century.

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Pistols, which were also at first fired with a wheel, are supposed to derive their appellation from Pistorium, a town in Tuscany, where they were first manufactured previous to 1544, in which year the REITERS, a description of German horsemen, were armed with them, and distinguished in military language as pistoliers. De la Noire, who served under the emperors Francis I. and Henry II., says that the Germans first employed pistols. Daniel mentions, that he saw an ancient pistol, which, except the ramrod, was entirely of iron. In the singular old Highland pistols, some of which exhibit such beautiful workmanship, the stock is generally of metal, and the butt end so shaped, that the pistol, when fired off, can be used as a very serious weapon at close quarters. The Highland pistol, although not used by any of the British regiments, is still worn by every person who wishes to be considered fully dressed and accoutred in the ancient garb. Mr. Gleig observes *, that “ the year 1471 is remarkable for the introduction into this country of the hand-gun, the rude forerunner of the present firelock. To Edward IV. and a corps of 300 Flemings, with whom he landed at Ravenspurg in Yorkshire, were the English indebted for their earliest knowledge of this weapon, though it came not into ge. neral use for some years afterwards. It was a cum. bersome shapeless machine, of very small bore, and discharged in the most awkward manner, which, besides carrying to less than half the distance of a long bow, 'occupied a very long time in loading. We cannot, therefore, wonder that a people so expert in archery should have treated it for a while with absolute con. tempt; indeed, we hear no more of it from the day of its arrival till the siege of Berwick in 1521. Even then, however, hand-guns were far from superseding the ancient national weapon of the English yeomen ; and it was not till the time of Henry VIII. that the improvement in their construction rendered them comparable, as implements of annoyance, either to the long

* Brit. Milit. COMMANDERS, vol. i. Cab. Cyc.

or the cross bow." Our author elsewhere adds, that specimens of every kind of fire-arms known in this country since the date of the siege of Berwick in 1521, are to be seen in the Tower of London.”

The musket, the most serviceable and commodious firearm used in the army, is said first to have made its appearance at the siege of Rhege, in the year 1521. Beckmann supposes that muskets received their name from the French mouchet, or the Latin mouchetus, which signifies a male sparrow-hawk. This derivation he thinks the less improbable, as it is certain that various kinds of firearms were named after ravenous animals; such, for example, as falconet, an ancient 1}pounder. He proceeds, “ that the lock was invented in Germany, and in the city of Nuremberg, in 1517, has been asserted by many, and not without probability; but I do not know whether it can be proved that we are here to understand a lock of the present construction. In my opinion, the principal proof rests on the following passage from an unprinted chronicle by Wogenseil : 'The firelocks belonging to the shooting tubes were first found out at Nuremberg, in 1517. It is certain that, in the sixteenth century, there were very expert makers of muskets and firelocks; for example, George Kühfuss, who died in 1600, and also others, whose names may be seen in Doppelmayer. I must not omit here to remark, that many call the firelock the French lock, and ascribe the invention to these people ; yet as, according to Daniel's account, the far more inconvenient wheels on pistols were used in France in 1658, it is probable that our neighbours, as is commonly the case, may have only made some improvement in the German invention. In the history of the Brunswick regiments, it is stated that the soldiers of that duchy first obtained, in 1687, Alint-locks, instead of match-locks. In old arsenals and armories, large collections of arms with the wheel are still to be seen. Major-general von Trew and Mr. Oivenus had the goodness to show me those still preserved in the arsenal at Hanover. Those which

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