Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Cookson Repeater

In our last post, we studied the Lorenzoni Repeater, which was invented by Michele Lorenzoni of Florence, Italy. While Mr. Lorenzoni was the inventor of this repeating system, he is known to have made only a few guns (albeit, of very high quality) in his lifetime. While his family continued producing guns using his system until the 1800s, there were other people who produced many more guns using the system that he pioneered. One of these guns was called the Cookson Repeater and we will study it in this post.

John Cookson was a British gunsmith from London, who made several repeating guns using the Lorenzoni system.

Side view and top view of a Cookson repeater. Click on image to enlarge. Public domain image.

The above weapon is an example of the Cookson repeater, found at the National Museum in Washington DC. It dates from about 1686 and has the inscription "John Cookson Fecit" (Latin for "Made by John Cookson") on the top barrel. The long lever that operates the Lorenzoni repeating system can clearly be seen in the above image. It is hard to tell if the barrel is of the laminated type or the twist type. The front side is an upside down crescent and practically all of the metal on this gun is engraved with flags, drums, cannon balls, cannon being fired, muskets, pikes etc.. On the lock is a scroll bearing the maker's name and held up on the left side by the figure of an angel and on the right side by a female figure (presumably Queen Elizabeth I).

The gun has a smoothbore barrel, uses a flintlock firing mechanism and fires spherical balls weighing about 260 grains, with about 125 grains of powder. The bullet magazine has the capacity to hold ten bullets and the powder magazine holds enough powder for ten shots.

In the above diagram, we see the workings of the Cookson repeater. The bullets and powder can be loaded via a flap on the left side into the two compartments A and B. Compartment A holds the bullets and B holds the powder. The round piece C is the revolving breech block and it has two cavities D and E within it, to hold the powder and the bullet ball. When the breech block C is revolved, a ball drops into the first cavity D and the powder falls into the second cavity E. Note that the front of the cavity E has a diaphragm G in front, which divides the cavity in half. This diaphragm is there to prevents a bullet from falling into cavity E, as the width of the entrance to the cavity is too small for the bullet to fit. As the breech block is revolved all the way around, the ball and powder drop into the rear end of the bore at F. Some of the powder also dribbles into the firing pan. Moving the lever further also cocks the flintlock and closes the pan's cover (the frizzen) and the weapon is now ready to fire. The whole process of reloading a new shot only takes two or three seconds, giving its user a huge advantage over other firearms of that era.

The stock is made of a type of wood that is not found in North America. This gun appears to have made its way to Maryland, probably brought by one of the early British colonists to America.

Two images of a Cookson Repeater in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England. Click on images to enlarge.

The above two images show a fine Cookson repeater dating from about 1690, which is currently at the Victoria & Albert museum in London, England (British Galleries, room 56d, case 5). John Cookson is known to have made several repeaters and one of his guns is even marked "Fecit Londoni" (Latin for "Made in London"), suggesting that he was a London-based gun maker and he's known to have been active in the last quarter of the 17th century.

Incidentally, there is a record of another John Cookson, a gunmaker in America. This John Cookson is also known for making repeaters and is known to have lived in the city of Boston between 1701 and 1762. Some authorities say that this John Cookson was related to John Cookson from London and others say that he was the same man and had merely moved from London to Boston. Regardless, in 1756, he published an ad in the local newspaper, Boston Gazette, advertising his nine-shot repeaters. He is also known to have made some seven-shot repeaters as well.

The video below shows a Cookson-type twelve shot repeater in the National Firearms Museum.

The above repeater was made around 1750 by John Shaw, who lived in London and Boston. He is reported to have died in Boston under rather strange circumstances. Apparently, he was attempting to demonstrate the waterproof nature of one of his repeaters in the middle of a thunderstorm, when he was struck by lightning!

Since John Cookson made so many examples of repeating guns, people in Britain and America tend to know his name better than Michele Lorenzoni, who actually pioneered the system behind the Cookson repeaters.

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