Air Rifles in the AoS
I am currently about half-way through "On the Company’s Service" by Ellis K. Meacham. This is the second in the Percival Merewether series centered on the HEIC Marines centered in Bombay, India in 1807.
What I found interesting was Merewether’s discovery of some Girandoni air rifles in the hold of a captured French privateer. I had never run across such a device set in any Age of Sail novel before and wondered if it was real or just fiction.
Bartolome (or Bartolomeo) Girandoni did actually invent such a weapon in 1787 and they were purchased by the Austrian Army. In this novel, they were supposedly captured by Napoleon and supplied to at least one of his privateers. Thus the entry into Meacham's story line. I am looking forward to seeing how they help Merewether to succeed in his assignment.
The stock of the rifle is, in reality, an air cylinder. There are extra cylinders with a pump and a special mold to make shot supplied with each weapon. Twenty 45 caliber shot can be loaded at one time. The cylinder contains enough force to fire all 20, one at a time, with only a simple movement of the lock to slide a new shot into the barrel. Thus, 20 shots can be fired in a minute. This rapid loading, repeating, weapon has very little noise, no flash, and no smoke. The muzzle velocity of the shot is nearly the same as a regular musket.
I can see where this rifle would be of immense value to a clandestine land operation or even during a ship-to-ship or boat-to-ship boarding action. At least one of these went on the Lewis and Clark land expedition westward across America to the Pacific in 1804-1806.
for two animations showing the rifle's operation and the pump.
for some general information of the history of the rifle and how it fit into the Lewid and Clark expedition. Don't miss the footnote information too.
Has anyone seen this in any other fiction or non-fiction naval book of this era?