Dating from the dawn of mechanical warfare, this triumph of Victorian engineering was designed by the Swedish inventor and industrialist Helge Palmcrantz although it was marketed under the Nordenfelt brand by his financial backer, Thorsten Nordenfelt. More accurately described as a volley gun rather than a true machine gun (which implies continuous fire), the Nordenfelt boasts a complexity of timing which is comparable to the mechanical cam operation and timing of a Babbage analytical engine.
Available in a range of calibres from .45 to 2.2 inch, the present example is a product of what was perceived at the time as a new threat from fast-moving motor torpedo boats. The Nordenfelt was amongst the earliest design of mechanical repeating gun and was rivalled to a greater or lesser degree by design such as the Montigny, Galing, Hotchkiss and Gardner. For the extensive naval trials concerning the anti torpedo boat gun, the main rival was Hotchkiss. The Nodernfelt consistently outclassed the Hotchkiss in terms of accuracy, reliability, rate of fire and ballistic capability against armour plate. The 1 inch bullet fired by this gun was of solid steel with a hardened tip and brass jacket to grip the shallow rifling.
The Royal Navy and other colonial navies purchased Nordenfelts but by the mid to late 1880s, they were being superceded by newer 'Quick Firing' guns. Despite being deployed in some numbers, very few survive today with only a handful of four-barrelled naval Nordenfelt guns known to survive in museum collections. Two examples are held by the Royal Armouries, Leeds, (one formerly in the Ministry of Defence Pattern Room Collection), Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower, Gosport, and one in the United States at the Untied States Army Ordnance Museum. It is conceivable that the present example is the only example of a four-barrelled naval Nordenfelt in public circulation.