Real Handcannon

(r.) The .577/.600 Froncotte revolver. (Below) Cylinder with .577 and .45 ACP cartridges in chambers

Big Bore British Revolver 577

(r.) The .577/.600 Froncotte revolver. (Below) Cylinder with .577 and .45 ACP cartridges in chambers

577 Pistol

The 'thing' was a Ç-shot revolver hardly bigger than a 1917 Colt New Service. It tipped the scales at 43 ozs. and was of hinged frame construction. Engraved on its barrel rib was the inscription "A. Francotte à Liège", and the figure ".577" was stamped on the left side.

Examination showed that there was nothing about the gun that was .577". The finely rifled 7-groove barrel showed bore diameter .600" and groove diameter .620". Those familiar with English cartridges can clear this one up right away. .577 does not represent the caliber but rather the basic cartridge case used. This pistol fired a cartridge whose case was cut down from a .577 Snider or .577/ .450 Martini-Henry rifle cartridge. A more complété caliber designation, in keeping with English convention, would be ".577/.600 Pistol".

Information on the gun was very courteously supplied by its maker, Auguste Francotte. a Belgian gunmaker long famous for his high-grade double-barrel shotguns. Revolvers of this design were made in .320. .380. .450. and .500 calibers and "occasionally also in .577 caliber". They were manufactured about 1892 under the patent of Phillip Counet (gun so marked), a Francotte employee whose patent covered the ice-tong-like frame lock. It was stated that the .577 caliber was "popular with the police and pioneers going to distant colonies".

It is believed that the following will amplify this picture. In the early 1890's England undertook the task of conquering the Egyptian Sudan, which was defended by tribes under the leadership of wild dervishes. Demand arose amongst the British officers for a handgun with real stopping power to halt the fanatical onslaughts of the sword-swinging natives. Our mystery magnum may have resulted, directly or indirectly, from that requirement. Recently the author had the opportunity to examine another revolver of this caliber, a solid-frame clover-leaf cylinder job made by Tranter of England —which perhaps adds some weight to this idea.

For reloading the gun at hand, brass was cut from some solid head .577 Snider rifle cartridges. A bullet mold was made up for a Keith-type bullet, which had to be generously hollow-based to keep its weight within reason. Even so. the finished product, lubricated and sized to .619", pulled down the balance pan to 535 grs.

Being in the dark at first as to the factory loadings of the .577 pistol cartridge. I started with 25 grs. of Fg blackpowder. The general high class of workmanship of the weapon and the inscription "Acier Fondu" (forged steel) appearing on its barrel were reassuring. A load of 45 grs. of half-and-half FFg and Fg. about all the cartridge would take, appeared to be maximum and safe—not only for the gun but also for the guv behind it. I found later from the Kvnoch ballistic tables that the original factory .577 pistol cartridge had a 450-gr. lead bullet ahead of 28 grs. of blackpowder. a load with a muzzle velocity of 725 f.p.s. and a muzzle energv of 525 ft. lbs. On that basis I would estimate a muzzle velocity of 800 f.p.s.. which would give a muzzle energv of 760 ft. lbs.

Accuracy was found quite good, in spite of the fact that the gun had to be aimed quite low to compensate for the terrific jump. With the 40-gr. load, several palm-size groups were obtained at 45 ft. using the original sights 3nd holding 26" low.

Smokeless loadings were also experimented with, and about 11 grs. of #6 appeared to be a maximum safe load. TTiese smokeless loadings were abandoned however, when it was discovered that they had a dangerous tendency to blow out their bullet noses and leave a lead sleeve in the bore.

I have been asked at various times to describe what it is like to touch off one of those 40-gr. blackpowder loads in the 'magnum'. This is not easy to do. About all I can say is that it is spectacular and unforgettable. The thing erupts with a terrific boom, flash, and clouds of thick smoke, followed by a powerful arm stroke upward.—F. Von Muller.

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  • uwe brauer
    Is a handcannon a real gun?
    5 years ago
  • beato
    Can a martinihenry 577450 barrel be cut and rechambered for .45 acp?
    4 years ago

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