We’ve discussed some of the esoteric armaments that have come in the possession of Dewey Lambdin’s naval character, Alan Lewrie. In The French Admiral he acquired a Ferguson rifle. In The Captain’s Vengenace he picked up a Girandoni air rifle. At least since The Captain’s Vengeance, though possibly as early as Havoc’s Sword, he has been in possession of a pair of double barrel dueling pistols by gunmaking legend Joseph Manton.
We’re not sure of the provenance of these pistols but these pistols were the pinnacle of the gunmaker’s art in the late 18th century.
Apparently, Joseph Manton (1760-1835) was interested in firearms from an early age. By age 29 he had established himself as a standout in the field by developing a machine that enabled him to rifle a barrel with much less effort than previous. The Army’s Board of Ordnance underwrote his experiments in rifling a 6-pounder field gun but rifling is of limited advantage when firing a spherical cast iron shot and that project came to nothing.
His professional reputation was made on his sporting rifles and shotguns. His weapons were noted for accuracy and reliability. At some point he developed a romance for the double barrel weapon and many of his shotguns and rifles are of this design.
He next branched into dueling pistols, which had to be considered the top echelon of the gunmaking business. Just as he’d applied his observation of the tendency of beginning shooters to shoot high in adjusting the placement of sights on this long arms, he applied similar talents of observation to his pistols. He’d noticed that pistols tended to rise excessively when fired, lifting the forearm of the shooter. Given the slow muzzle velocities generated by the powder of the time this had a detrimental impact on accuracy. By transferring the center of gravity of the pistol farther towards the muzzle he was also able to compensate for that.
There were two other advances that came with Manton pistols. First, the gun was designed to be fired with the ball seated in a wooden “cup,” similar to what we’d today call a sabot. The purpose of this cup was to deform when the powder exploded and reduce the windage, that is, the gap between the ball and the barrel, and thereby increase muzzle velocity and accuracy. How often this device was used is anyone’s guess.
The second trait of a Manton dueling pistol was reputed to be shallow rifling etched in the barrel. Dueling pistols were required to be smoothbores because using a rifled pistol at duelling ranges of 30 yards or so was more akin to murder than anything else. The rifling in a Manton could not be detected visually and was not deep enough to be detectable with a probe. As both pistols in a set were identical, the inclusion of rifling seems to be a double-edged sword.
Unfortunately for Manton, he continued to work for the British Army in developing a new style of field gun ammunition based on his wooden sabot. While Manton plowed a lot of money he had into the project he could never come to an agreement with the British Army on what he would be paid. In the end, he was paid nothing and in 1826 he was declared bankrupt and his assets seized on the behalf of creditors.
The only photos I have been able to find of the double barrel Manton pistols are here.