As we all (should) know, one of the primary rules of firearm safety is “always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction”. How, then, does one accomplish this with a horizontal turret revolver? Even worse, the Cochran underhammer turret revolver was a percussion cap firearm. Firearms of this type were known to be at risk of “chain fire”, and if all the chambers were to go off at once, there would be multiple directions (as much as 10 depending on the model) that the projectiles would head, including back towards the shooter.
Designed by John Cochran in the 1830s, this particular underhammer turret revolver was produced in England by James Wilkinson and Son, and in the United States by the firm of C.B. Allen. In both countries, production was in the low numbers, numbering 150 or so. From what I’ve seen, English- produced revolvers of this type have a trigger guard, while American-made ones do not.
Man the Turret
Pressing the rear sight rearwards and swinging the top strap upwards and forwards released the radial disc with the firing chambers and the percussion caps, which were placed on nipples at ninety degrees to the chamber. These percussion caps faced downwards when loaded, but were kept from slipping off the gun via a shield on some versions of the Cochran. The downward orientation of the percussion caps allowed for an underhammer design.
Firing the Cochran turret revolver was not only risky but also a clunky affair. In order to not violate Samuel Colt’s patent, the Cochran revolver was manually indexed to subsequent chambers via a small spring-loaded button and tab on the top strap. Then, one had to manually cock the hammer and fire. To fire the next round, the disk would need to be manually indexed to the next chamber.
For obvious reasons, the Cochran turret revolver did not catch on, though a few revolving rifles of this design were also made. The safety hazards and shortcomings versus a Colt Paterson were just too great. Today, the Cochran turret revolver, although not iconic, is just another curious design in firearms history.