Major Fosbery’s Automatic Revolver: History and Mechanics

George Fosbery, V.C., was a decorated British officer with substantial combat experience in India when he decided to design a better sidearm in 1895. True semiautomatic handguns were in their very early stages of development at that time, and Fosbery thought that one could have a more durable, more powerful, and simpler weapon by using a revolver as a foundation. He began experimenting with a Colt SAA, but soon moved to using Webley revolvers when he found the Colt internals insufficiently durable for his conversion.

What Fosbery did was to make relocate the barrel and cylinder into an upper assembly which could move independently of the grip and trigger of the gun. Upon firing, the energy of recoil would push the upper assembly rearwards, recocking the hammer and indexing the cylinder to the next chamber. This gave the shooter the rapid fire of a double action revolver with the excellent trigger pull of a single action revolver.

The gun was introduced at the Bisley shooting matches, where it proved quite popular as a target gun. By the time production began in the early years of the 20th century, however, semiauto handguns had improved significantly, and the opportunity for the Webley-Fosbery to be a big seller had already passed. Still, British officers were required to provide sidearms chambered for the .455 service cartridge, and more than a few opted to purchase Webley-Fosberys.

Thanks to Mike Carrick of Arms Heritage magazine for providing this Webley-Fosbery for this video! Make sure to check out his column!


  1. “using a revolver as a foundation”
    I was wondering about possibility of gas-operated automatic pistol, with gas used to cycle action, after quick search it was already patented by Westmoreland in 1959 under number US3045556A:
    please keep in mind that it was created 1950s thus say main disadvantage of revolver is lack of automatic operation not capacity.
    It seems that there is error and should be 357 instead of 375 [magnum cartridge] (that second will not fit in normal-sized revolver)

    • I have been wondering that, is it possible to design an inertia operated self-cocking revolver? I think the mechanism of the Mauser Zig-Zag should be the basis.

      • It would be interesting. In common sense, inertia operation includes no barrel backward movement, but needs an energy accumulator piece fed by the action of whole gun recoil for cycling. What kind of mission might be assigned for a zig zag cylinder in such an embodiment.

        • Just imagine…Most probably, an inertia piece of suitable size over or under the zig zag cylinder with an upright stud for rotation and a back poke for cocking the hammer. That inertia piece should float freely with minimum friction and contain respectable mass for collecting the needed motion energy, however.

          • I hope you account for muzzle rise, because that might interfere with the inertia block.

          • Nearly at the similar level as occured to the original Webley-Fosbery. Remember, it also has a much more massed upper sliding portion over the frame. However, this is Poresz’s project, not mine.

  2. A bit of cultural trivia. In the 1929 story “The Maltese Falcon” Dashiell Hammett had the fact that the killer used a Webley-Fosbery be an important clue, as the guns were rare even then. For decades after this, writers had their criminals and heroes in novels and short stories use “automatic revolver” firearms. Sometimes knowingly. Sometimes just aping what Hammett had written. So, as occasionally happens, the guns were more common in fiction than in fact. 😉

    Oh, and Hammett got it right, saying it was an 8-shot in .38. The scriptwriters in the Bogart version changed that to a .45 but kept the number of shots, which for the larger cartridge should have been six.

  3. I seem to remember a comic strip, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in the mid ’70s, by the name of “Steve Roper and Mike Nomad”, in which some bad guy had one of these – I was a unrepentant gun nerd then (as I am now) and recognized the distinctive cylinder at the time.

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