An Historical Extract for Gunsmiths

Howes2by Gary Howes
Guns and Gunsmiths editor

The following is an extract from “The Convicted Gunsmiths of New South Wales–A definitive history 1788 – 1850” by R. C. Solomon Self-Published 1990.

My son gave me this book for Christmas and I thought many of you would be interested in some of the content, which I will reproduce here at various times.–Gary Howes, Guns and Gunsmiths editor,

IMPROVEMENT IN FIRE-ARMS FOR THE KING‘S SERVICE. – The following is a letter from Col. P. Hawker, author of “Instructions to Young Sportsmen,“ to Col. Brotherton: –

My dear Brotherton. – I feel proud that you have thought me worth consulting in anything for the good of the Service, and I have therefore well considered the subject on which you spoke to me the other day – improvement in the fire-arms of the British Army. To the point then, as I hate superfluous prosing, I will begin with the old.

Flint. – We all know that a flint-gun will shoot rather stronger than a detonator; and that it will recoil less. But these are no advantages in ball shooting, because a ball will always go farther than we can command precision of aim; and the recoil from a ball is scarcely more than that from a blank cartridge. The flint, I admit, affords a simple means of loading, in which even an awkward recruit can scarcely make a mistake; but then, on the other hand, if there comes a wet day, or you have only to pile arms on a damp night, you have nothing but your bayonet to depend on when you meet your enemy. Under these considerations, therefore, I must at once turn to the detonator, and I will begin with the

Copper Cap. – Although I have every reason to believe that I was the inventor of this universal mode of firing detonating guns, yet I have my doubts as to its efficacy for His Majesty‘s Service: first, because the copper cap cannot be well applied without a new solid breeching (which would be too expensive to suit the economy of the Service): second, because a copper cap, even if well completed, requires a fine powder that will not corrode with either damp or rough usage and neglect: and third, because, if a copper cap is applied by means of brazing on a piece to the old musket (as I hear is now being done) it will for ever be liable to miss fire, in consequence of the long communication. I will, therefore, now come to what I conceive the only mode of detonating ignition that will never fail – and this is the

Copper Primer. – With this you have only to screw in a projecting touch-hole, soften the lock-plate, and, instead of the hammer and spring, braze (or screw) on the piece of iron that conducts the primer to the touch-hole: and then you may use powder that will stand all weather, and may bring in Capt. Norton‘s cartridges as the very best plan that can be adopted. –

(I say this without having seen these cartridges, and without the honor of knowing Capt. Norton, because only six weeks ago I had thought of nearly the same thing, and proved it to answer.) The only consideration, however, is the expense of the primers, because, as they, for safety‘s sake, must be drilled from solid copper – they cannot be made at the cheap rate of copper caps. The whole query for the Service, rests between utility and economy, as the one, to a trifling extent, is incompatible with the other.

Here you have my opinion as an old sportsman and coast-punt gunner in all weathers, an old soldier, and an amateur gunmaker; and I am ready to support it with anyone, from a Field-Marshal down to a shore “popper“, or journeyman lockfiler.

Most truly yours,


P. S. – I forgot to speak about the Stocks. If strength, and consequent cheapness, require them to be so straight, that I defy a man to shoot well with them, put some elevation (similar to that on a rifle) instead of obliging the soldier to incline his head over beyond the true line of aim.

N.B. – You are fully at liberty to show this letter at the Horse-Guards, or wherever you think proper.


From the Sydney Herald, 27 March 1837 p.2. Colonel Peter Hawker, author of Instructions to Young Sportsmen in all that relates to Guns and Shooting 1814 was one of the best shots of his day and a distinguished soldier.

And lastly, just for fun, here is a short scene from the movie “Comrades” (1986, Bill Douglas director) made in Australia when I was still living there. I had a couple of small “extra” roles, including this one–I am the sailor playing the tin-whistle. Boy, was I young and skinny!

3 Responses to An Historical Extract for Gunsmiths

  1. Today I was able to locate a pdf copy of the author’s book, “Instructions to Young Sportsmen.” It covers everything from the maintenance and care of flintlock and percussion guns to the treatment of mad dog bites, fly fishing, how to transport your punt over land and a whole lot more. Fascinating reading, especially for those interested in antique flintlock and percussion rifles.

    If any of you would like to get it yourself, send me an email and I’ll tell you how.

  2. Interesting article, thanks for sharing. That’s really you – the sailor playing the tin-whistle? You play that instrument very well! Watched the video clip, looks good, never seen the show though (not yet). Thanks Gary! Cheers.

    • Hard to believe I was ever that young Dana–or rather that I ever got this old! I was a folk musician for many years and play a number of instruments. Now I just sing the Blues.

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