Fosbery’s Pump Shotgun

Today’s post and photos were provided by guest author Miles Vining – thanks, Miles!

Lieutenant Colonel George Vincent Fosbery VC is primarily known for his most famous contribution to military small arms in the Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver which served Great Britain in the First World War. His most significant civilian contribution was the “Paradox”, which was a technique of rifling the last two inches of a shotgun barrel and thus allowing a common barrel to shoot both normal bird shot and solid slugs with relative accuracy out to 200 meters. It was so innovative that even the prestigious gun maker Holland & Holland took up incorporating it into some of their shotguns of the period. The Webley-Fosbery was phased out of service after World War One and Paradox production numbers declined in the 1930s, with none were being manufactured after World War Two. Fosbery was in dire financial straits when he died in 1907, despite his achievements –  his grave is that of a pauper in England, marked by a wooden cross and a single plate that says “V Fosbery” and a bible inscription below it. But there is one design that was absolutely ahead of it’s time that Fosbery invented but never saw in mass production. It was the Fosbery Slide Action of 1891.

Fosbery 1891 Slide Action (photo by Miles Vining courtesy NFC, Leeds, UK)
Fosbery 1891 Slide Action

Fosbery began his venture into rifle designs in the late 1860s to compete for the service breechloader trials that eventually the Martini Henry would win. (Ed: details of Fosbery’s breechloading design) In the initial trials of 1867, he was up against the likes of Remington, Burton, Peabody, Martini, and Henry (separate submissions). This award carried with it a £600 award for winning, £1000 for submitting, and 1,000 rounds of ammunition along with £300 to cover the testing expense. Fosbery’s magazine and action designs were very complicated and involved a wrap-around magazine similar to a Johnson M1941. Later on, he designed another breechloader in 1885 as United States Patent No. 356311 and he intended the magazine to be used in other designs of the period to include the Lee bolt action and Spencer pump-action. His second magazine design, that of United States Patent No. 366,211 involved a box magazine that used scissor shaped springs to push the follower up. This development in designing rifle actions and magazines led way to his shotgun.

Patent No. 11,339 was filed by Fosbery in 1891 for a slide action magazine fed 16 bore shotgun. The purpose of the shotgun is not known, he could have it intentioned for riot control forces because of it’s rapid firepower or for the sporting market. Knowing that pump action and slide action firearms have never been very popular in Great Britain, it was probably intended for the former.

Fosbery 1891 Slide Action, right side
Fosbery 1891 Slide Action, right side – note that the magazine is missing (photo by Miles Vining courtesy NFC, Leeds, UK)
Fosbery 1891 Slide Action, left side
Fosbery 1891 Slide Action, left side – note that the magazine is missing (photo by Miles Vining courtesy NFC, Leeds, UK)

The surviving example evaluated seems to be constructed in Britain. Apart from it being a magazine fed shotgun (revolutionary in 1891) the outstanding feature of the weapon is it’s bolt head. It has a rotating 6 lug bolt head, operated by the pump handle on the stock. Common knowledge states that Eugene Stoner borrowed his bolt head design from Melvin Johnson, but where did Johnson get his design from? Fosbery’s rotating bolt head was patented almost 40 years before Johnson even began work on his rifles and light machine guns. Even down to the position of the extractor and ejector. There is evidence of a Scandinavian rotating bolt lug system design that predates Fosbery’s but the date and name of said design are not known at this time.

Fosbery's rotating bolt design
Fosbery’s rotating bolt (photo by Miles Vining courtesy NFC, Leeds, UK)

The bolt head leads to another innovation and that is of the pump action slam fire. It was common of slide actions of that time period to be manufactured without a battery safety, so if a shooter kept his finger depressing the trigger as the slide/pump was pushed forward, the instant the bolt would go in battery, the hammer would fall and the shell would go off. This could be handy in a rapid fire scenario but if only one shot was expected it could be a rude awakening. Fosbery used a description of this feature within the patent referring to a different breech closing device than the rotating bolt one, but it is still a similar design.

Another design feature that is possibly connected to modern designs is that of the slide/pump itself. If observed closely, the operating rod that the pump controls has a shape that is unmistakably similar to the operating rod on John Garand’s M1 rifle. Although there is no toggle lock system, the rod is secured to the pump and the bolt itself through 4 screws, 2 at either end of the rod.

View into the chamber of Fosbery's slide-action shotgun
View into the chamber of Fosbery’s slide-action shotgun (photo by Miles Vining courtesy NFC, Leeds, UK)

Two elements are missing from the example in the pictures, and that is the barrel and the assumed magazine. The barrel is a Winchester 16 bore barrel made in 1909, so thus the configuration of the original barrel is not known. The barrel must have been changed out by one of the owners after some years of ownership. All designs point to the use of a box magazine as the boxed shape of the trigger guard allows one, there’s magazine catch points, Fosbery had a number of magazine patents and the design doesn’t include room for a tubular magazine. But the biggest problem is where is the magazine! The example in the pictures does not come with one so if there ever was one, it is now lost to history.

Markings on the replacement barrel
Markings on the replacement barrel (photo by Miles Vining courtesy NFC, Leeds, UK)

Today only two examples of the Slide Action of 1891 exist to the author’s knowledge. One is in a private collection in Florida, and the other is in the National Firearms Center in Leeds, England. The latter example is shown in photographs by the author. Much of this information is from pages 45-47 in the book Paradox – The Story of Colonel G.V. Fosbery, Holland & Holland and The Paradox Rifled Shot and Ball Gun by David J. Baker and Roger E. Lake, an excerpt from “American Artisan and Patent Record” Jul 17 1867. Also conversation with Doug Wicklund, Curator, NRA National Firearms Museum.