Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Vault

Treeby Chain Gun

The Treeby chain gun was a .54 caliber percussion rifle that could fire 14 rounds in rapid succession. Designed in 1854, it was unlike anything else available at the time. Only two were ever made, with the hope of receiving a contract from the British Army. The gun was tested and found wanting, and no further production was ever undertaken.

Treeby Chain Gun

Treeby Chain Gun, built in 1854

Firing the Treeby rifle requires following a specific process. First, of course, each of the 14 chambers must be loaded with powder and ball, and a percussion cap placed on the firing nipple on each one. Once the weapon is all loaded, the lever on the barrel must be rotated up. The barrel is connected to the frame by way of a very coarse thread, so lifting the barrel lever pulls the barrel forward, away from the chamber. Next, the hammer is manually cocked, which rotates the chain of chambers and indexes one into position. Then the barrel lever is rotated back down, pulling the barrel in and sealing it against the chamber. Only now can the trigger be pulled, which fires the round currently sealed up to the barrel.

Treeby chain rifle

Front view of Treeby chambers

After firing, the process repeats until all 14 rounds are expended. It is very important to lock the barrel onto the chamber BEFORE firing, and forgetting this critical step in the heat of battle could happen pretty easily, with unfortunate consequences. The manual of arms for this rifle is likely one of the reasons is was not pursued by the British Army. It also lacks any sort of usable front grip or stock, although this could have been addressed with further development.

Treeby chain rifle barrel mechanism

Treeby chain rifle barrel mechanism

Despite its somewhat complex nature, the moving barrel offers several significant benefits. First, by sealing the chamber for each shot it provides higher velocities than revolver-type designs with a gap between barrel and cylinder. The Treeby also would be very unlikely to suffer from chain-firing, in which the spark from the main chamber ignites one or more adjacent chambers (which can be a problem in percussion revolvers when they are not loaded carefully and properly). Since the chamber is fully sealed, no sparks or blast can escape in the vicinity of the open chambers.

One Treeby (which we have photos and video of) is in a private collection, and the other resides at a museum in Hampshire, UK.



You can download the complete gallery in high resolution here.

6 comments to Treeby Chain Gun

  • Noyes

    So this is where all those “chain shotguns” seen in video games come from! That’s one odd rifle…

  • say no to democide

    Now, if I had a private army or someting like that at the time this mechanical piece of art was created, I would equip my troops with this thing. Though there may be modifications, sutch as chaingeibe chains, bayonet mounts and so on. Thanks Ian for showing us this!

    • nonsensicalUserName

      I’d simply have a more conventional rifle, without the chain mechanism, and instead have soldiers carry the chambers in belt-pouches. which to some defeats the point of a “chaingun”, but seeing as it’s the 1850′s, and napoleonic tactics are basically still the doctrine of the day, (with all the misfires and confusion that come with it).

  • Baker Mike Romeo

    That is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. What a fascinating design!

  • Ian, I really enjoyed the video, and am a fan of ForgottenWeapons.com!

    There is at least a 3rd Treeby in existence. We have one that is currently on loan to the NRA Museums. Our specimen is much rougher than the one in your video with pitting on nearly all surfaces.

    Ours has an interesting additional feature – a folding vertical metal fore-grip. This is the earliest gun to have one of these that I’ve seen.

    Ours also lacks the protruding forward underneath the barrel that is shown on the sample in the video.


  • Maskman

    Rather than call it a chaingun (wherein a driven chain operates the entire firing cycle), I’d call it a fixed-belt-fed rifle.

    Looking at it, it wouldn’t be hard at all to imagine a modest redesign which re-positions the belt-drive sprocket to permit the use of a non-closed-loop belt of chambers.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>