By Dr Dirk Ziesling. Published in DWJ (Deutschland Waffen Journal), April 2016.

Wonderful article on the mysterious Baron Amédée Thornton De Mouncie who played a major part in the development of the British Enfield Mark I revolver.

Translated from the original German.

Reproduced for research purposes only.

Copywrite remains with Dr Dirk Ziesling and DWJ (Deutschland Waffen Journal).

Click HERE to view the original article in German

British Nobleman

The representative of an old noble family haunts British revolver history. To date, it has not been possible to uncover all of Baron Thornton de Mouncie's secrets, even though his activities were significantly linked to the development of modern revolver systems.     

The Thornton family has its origins in Norwegian Vikings who migrated to Great Britain in early times. The name comes from a settlement that was surrounded with thorny bushes to protect against attackers. Since this was often the case, the name Thornton is quite common in the British Isles. The noble family of the same name settled in the county of Yorkshire. In family coats of arms you can find three green thorn bushes surrounding a black angle on a silver background. An aristocratic coat of arms usually also includes a Latin motto. In the case of Thornton this is: “Fideli tut amerces” – in German: “The true ones will be rewarded.”

During the 17th century, part of the family emigrated to North America. The architect William Thornton was one of the best-known representatives there. In 1793 he was commissioned to build the Capitol in Washington. Another Thornton branch went to Hamburg and produced John Thornton (1764 - 1835), a merchant who operated throughout Europe.

Origin of the Mouncie family. The name Mouncie comes from one of the Norman families who took possession of England in 1066 in the wake of William the Conqueror. The name is derived from the town of Monceaux in Normandy. A branch of the family settled in Sussex and held the title of Lords of Herstmonceux there. Over the centuries, several modified name forms emerged, such as Mounsey, Mounsie, Mouncy or Mounceux, which also included settlers in North America towards the end of the 17th century.

Thornton de Mouncie family. The name is made up of two ancient English families and also includes roots in France. The English industrialist Count William Thornton de Mouncie (1784 - 1861) returned there at the beginning of the 19th century. He first married the frenchwoman Therese Charlotte Gabrielle Le Lievre de Saint Remy. She also came from a very old noble family, but died in 1821, probably as a result of the birth of a son. His name was Leon (1821 - 1898) and he had a military career in the Second French Empire. In the German - French War 1870/71 he led an infantry division as a brigadier general. In 1875 he became division general. He was then made head of the cavalry school, general inspector of the remonten (young horses) and president of the military commission for horse hygiene.

His father William acquired the Caratel Castle near the town of Louisfert in Brittany. After the death of his first wife, in 1823 he married Jeanne Aimee Louise de Cougnacq (1804 - 1858), who was born in Baltimore (USA) and whose family had a right of settlement in Santa Domingo (Haiti). This marriage resulted in three more sons: Edmond (1824), Louis (1831) and finally Amedee (1838). Edmond Thornton de Mouncie inherited the title of count and became the future lord of the castle.

Amédée Thornton de Mouncie. Amédée Thornton de Mouncie was undoubtedly the black sheep in the family. As the youngest son of a count, he was allowed to hold the title of baron and also received a certain share of the inheritance. However, according to his own statement, he lost a large part of his fortune in a court case.

It is also on record that he married a certain Louise Guays on February 11, 1858. This wedding was officially announced by his parents. But when one of his sisters-in-law died in 1885, all other family members appeared in the mourning list - but Amadee was not mentioned. By this time the Knight of Fortune had already expanded his escapades to England.

Here he first tried to protect the rights to the invention of a bandsaw in 1873 with patent specification 1094. However, the provisional application remained because the further necessary steps were not taken. Incidentally, the Frenchman J. L. Perrin had already invented the bandsaw as such in 1854.

Because of his origins, some doors were open to Thornton de Mouncie both in the French-speaking part of Europe and in England. However, he plays a rather questionable role in the history of weapons. To this day it has not been made clear what his relationship was to the Belgian weapons designers whose inventions he wanted to exploit. The question remains whether he was an official distributor or a shameless intellectual property thief. The fact that he did not turn to Belgium gunmakers for the production of prototypes, but rather to English gunmakers, supports the latter assumption.

As reported in DWJ 12/2006, the Belgian Jean Warnant created the basis for the perfect revolver lock in 1875. In the minimum configuration, you only need four parts, which act as a safety spring lock. In addition to the single and double action function, they also ensure that the hammer tip retracts from the cartridge base.

Baron Thornton de Mouncie successfully applied for a patent for this invention in Great Britain on August 14, 1876, with the drawings accompanying this patent (number 3206, “Pistols.”) depicting exactly the revolver system that Warnant had patented in Belgium. The patent specification shows that the applicant had moved his residence from Paris to London, Victoria Street.

On October 26th of the same year, de Mouncie received a supplementary patent (number 4163 “Revolving Cylinder Pistols.”). It describes a case ejector for tilt-action revolvers. Thornton didn't include a drawing, but the description is detailed. Two guide pins are even mentioned, which are intended to ensure the correct position of the star-shaped extractor for rim cartridges on the front of the drum.

In October 1877, de Mouncie turned to the British War Ministry and asked for an official statement on the samples that he had already made at the beginning of the year by the gunsmith Walter Scott in Birmingham. These were six-shot centerfire revolvers with a closed frame, external case ejector and the aforementioned four component lock. he Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield was commissioned to carry out the testing. There they found the design to be noteworthy, but the execution was inadequate and needed improvement before more extensive testing could begin. Thomas Perry, manager of the Enfield rifle factory, also suggested in February 1878 that a fifth lock component be added to make the lock work smoother. Baron de Mouncie had model revolvers modified in this way manufactured by the well-known English company Tranter.

Regardless of this, he appeared on May 3, 1878 with another patent application. Under the number 2161 the title “Improvements in Firearms” was noted. The address was given as Hill Street, Rutland Gate, County of Middlesex. A title of nobility is not mentioned, instead the applicant described himself as a “gentleman”.

Three inventions were addressed in this document: By changing the main spring of a revolver lock, the trigger resistance should be reduced and increased striking power achieved at the same time. For this purpose, a slot, recess or groove in the tongue should serve, and a pin riveted into the frame cover plate should act as a guide for this recess. The second point concerned a cartridge extractor for revolvers. The axle in the center of the drum, which had a star-shaped attachment, could be moved by a suitably shaped slider. The final part of the application was for a lock to prevent gas from entering the breech. Presumably this vague wording did not refer to revolvers, but rather to single-shot rifles. Overall, the information was more than poor and drawings were completely missing. So it happened that the patent claims lapsed because the applicant did not provide the required specifications on time.

In the meantime, Thornton de Mouncie had met Michael Kaufmann, to whom on June 5, 1878 he transferred all rights to his most important patent, No.3206 of 1876. In the years that followed, the Baron tried in vain to capitalise on this transaction and even brought legal proceedings against Kaufmann. The costs of this led him - according to his own statement - to bankruptcy, so that in 1889 he received a summons because he owed his creditors 4,848 British pounds - several hundred thousand euros in today's value. He did not attend the first court date due to illness, but in a final session on December 19, 1890 he was able to settle the claims and the lawsuit against him was dropped.

Amédée Thornton de Mouncie must have been a downright unlucky person. After the marketing of firearms patents did not work, he tried - also unsuccessfully - to make money with an invention to improve horse bits ("Bit for horses", British patents 7834 and 23597 from 1884).

Later he wanted to do business with a butter factory in Normandy. He failed at that, as did his investment in a coal mine in southern Russia. The exploitation of a new process for producing tinplate in England also failed due to the premature death of the know-how bearer.

The Baron developed a particularly bizarre idea in the French capital in 1880. There in April he founded the “Société des vacheries des squares de la ville de Paris”, a society of cow herds in the squares of the city of Paris. The ostensible plan was to keep cows in eight public places in order to bring milk to the city children. The clever nobleman had shares worth two million francs issued and, at the same time, claimed municipal funds worth 100,000 francs per year. But he ruled out any responsibility for himself. It took seven months without a single cow sighting before the city administration became skeptical and canceled the contract.

In 1895 Thornton was also one of the directors of a newly established shipping line called “The Thames Express Steamboat Company Ltd.”, but of which no other activities are known other than the name.

During all these years he commuted back and forth between Paris and London. In the French metropolis he found support and accommodation with a nephew in the Malakoff district. In 1876, Amédée married again in England. In London, his second wife hosted him in the Chelverton Road district of Putney. It is, however, conceivable that Mrs. Thornton initially denied any relationship to her husband to investigators, as bankruptcy proceedings were initiated against him for the second time in 1903. His creditors now asserted claims amounting to 834 British pounds.

His lawyer initially tried to fend off the lawsuit, pointing out that his client was not a British citizen. However, this objection was not accepted and the aspects of the first bankruptcy were instead recapitulated. The Baron then stated the essential facts of his life story and swore an oath of disclosure. The proceedings were stopped with an official report from November 1904.

In March 1908, Amédée died at the age of 70 in the London district of Kensington. He had obviously found his way back to his family, as his older brother Louis died in the same place in the same year.

Infringement of the Thornton-Warnant Patent.  After taking over the usage rights, Michael Kaufmann officially described himself as the owner of the Thornton patent for revolvers. Together with Julien Warnant (a brother of Jean Warnant), he granted British patent 5031 (December 9, 1878) for the revolver lock, referred to as “Improvements to de Mouncie's patent”. This consisted solely of the fifth lock component that Thomas Perry had suggested.

The engineer Michael Kaufmann was based in London, Wellington Street Strand, but was also registered in Belgium, initially in Liège (Rue de la Joie, 2) and later in Brussels. Between 1878 and 1889, eight patents were registered there under his name. The first, entitled "Improvements applied to the revolver system of Jean Warnant" (46368 dated October 15, 1878), corresponds to the British patent of the same year. All other patents concerned revolver locking and locking mechanisms and were also associated with those from Great Britain. Ultimately, Kaufmann's revolvers ushered in the era of Webley revolvers, which were to be part of the standard armament of the British armed forces from 1887 onwards.

When the British government distributed a premium for the development of the Enfield revolver after 1880, it was Jean Warnant who received a share of the 1500 pounds. He had apparently been identified as the rightful recipient - neither Kaufmann nor Thornton de Mouncie were considered.

Incidentally, the situation surrounding Warnant's invention was also quite diffuse in the German Reich. One of the first imperial patents was granted under the number 384 on July 27, 1877, with the simple title "Revolver lock". The applicant was the edged weapon manufacturer Peter Daniel Lüneschloss from Solingen, but Warnant's revolver was described and drawn. The patent received positive attention and was described in detail in Dingler's Polytechnic Journal in 1878.

Surprisingly, another patent followed in 1877 under the number 496 with almost identical content and the name “revolver pistol”, submitted by a certain Dr. Adalbert Karl Heymann from Berlin, living at Behrenstrasse 58. He was admitted to the bar at the district court and probably acted as a patent lawyer. His client is unknown.

Real Pieces. The locking mechanism of the two break barrel revolvers corresponds to the first, four-part Warnant system, which was patented by Amédée Thornton de Mouncie in England in 1876. The star-shaped case ejectors also feature the double guide pins described in British Supplementary Patent 4163.

The inscription "THORNTONS PATENT" can be found in the same script on the smaller weapon on the cylinder strap and on both larger weapons on the left side of the frame. The reduction to this part of the name may have made sense on the other side of the English Channel - after all, Kaufmann also called himself the “owner of the Thornton patent”.

The cylinders each hold six cartridges in .380 or .450 caliber. On the left side is the characteristic hinged side plate, which also forms the upper part of the grip. As shown in the patent journals, the plate is locked above the grip by a spring-loaded slide. The cylinder, barrel and frame bear the contemporary proof marks from Birmingham. Unfortunately, there is no clear information about the manufacturer or manufacturers. The larger model is stamped with the letters “HC” on the barrel and “JD” on the cylinder. The cylinder of the smaller revolver bears a marking that can be interpreted as “IHM”; A stamp that was previously on the barrel is no longer legible. These abbreviations were apparently added by the suppliers of the individual components, although they could well have come from Liège.

In both cases, after opening the side flaps, you will discover a remarkable utensil. One end can be used as a screwdriver. The other resembles a tiny wrench due to its fork shape but is designed to handle the powerful mainspring. Both legs can be pressed together with the special tool to make removal or reinstallation easier. Interestingly, the original patents describe and show how the specially shaped head of the cylinder spindle can be used for the same purpose. However, since break-barrel revolvers in this form do not have removable cylinder spindles, a different solution had to be found.

The weapons in question could be products of the mysterious connection between Jean Warnant and Amédée Thornton de Mouncie - if they were not break-barreled weapons. This reveals another oddity: both the tilt-open lock and the ejector system are inventions that can be attributed to Léonard Warnant-Fransquet. This brother of Jean Warnant, received a Belgian patent on January 3, 1877 for the characteristic locking of the frame bridge with a spring-loaded push button and another on December 10, 1877 for the case ejector, which automatically returns to its original position. It is conceivable that this invention was intended under point 2 of de Mouncie's last, failed patent application.

The creation of the Thornton revolvers shown here gives rise to further speculation: the tilt barrel features appeared exactly at the time when the Baron was trying to sell Jean Warnant's new type of revolver lock in England. The French-English nobleman could have unfairly tried to deprive several members of the Warnant family of the fruits of their labor. On the other hand, it would also be conceivable that this is an early example of intra-European cooperation between changing partners. However, the true background is unlikely to be ascertained.

DWJ - Conclusion

Already in the 19th century it was not unusual for an inventor to have his interests represented abroad by a representative. The language barriers alone were reason enough for this. A nobleman of French-English origin could therefore have been the ideal middleman for the Liège weapons designers. Although Baron Amédée Thornton de Mouncie apparently did not take on this role in a serious manner, his name was nevertheless reflected in English revolver history.


Sources and Literature.

  • Taylorson, A.W.F.: The Revolver 1865 - 1888, Bonanza Books, New York, 1966.
  • Chamberlain, W.H.J. and Taylerson, A.W.F.: Revolvers of the British Services 1854 - 1954, Museum Restoration Services, 1989.
  • Patent information and genealogical data from the author's archive.

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