The volley gun consisted of seven barrels welded together, with small vents drilled through from the central barrel to the other six barrels clustered around it. The central barrel screwed onto a hollow spigot which formed the chamber and was connected to the vent.
The gun operated using a standard flintlock mechanism, with the priming gunpowder igniting the central charge via a small vent. When the flash reached the central chamber, all seven charges ignited at once, firing more or less simultaneously. The first models featured rifled barrels, but this made loading a long and cumbersome process, resulting in all following models being manufactured with smoothbore barrels.
During the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars, 500 Nock guns were purchased by the Royal Navy. However, attempts to use the gun during combat quickly revealed design flaws. The recoil caused by all seven barrels firing at once was more powerful than had been thought, and frequently injured or broke the shoulder of whoever was firing the gun, and in any case made the gun very difficult to control. Furthermore, officers were reluctant to issue the guns during battle out of fear that the flying sparks would set fire to the surrounding rigging and sails.
A smaller, lighter version was produced, which shortened the gun’s range, but the recoil was still too powerful for sailors to feel comfortable firing it. The few models purchased by the Royal Navy were removed from service in 1804.
The Nock gun was brought to modern attention in the 1960 film The Alamo in which one is used by actor Richard Widmark, playing Jim Bowie. The gun used in the film is now in the National Firearms Museum. Nock guns can be seen in realistic period films including Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and fantasy films Jonah Hex and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
In Bernard Cornwell’s series of historical novels featuring Richard Sharpe and, more recently, in the Sharpe TV series, Nock guns are used by the character Patrick Harper.
In the video game Gun, the main antagonist, Thomas Magruder, uses a Nock gun during the final boss battle of the game. It later becomes unlocked for the player’s use after finishing the game.
A modern version was custom-built in an episode of American Guns.