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New Zealand Society of Gunsmiths Inc.
Promoting Excellence in Gunsmithing
PO Box 52, Kaitaia, 0441, New Zealand. Tel/Fax + 64 9 409 3835
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Spencer Repeating Carbine & Rifle Print E-mail


Te Kooti is reputed to have acquired a Spencer rimfire carbine from an American whaler and used it during part of the East Coast wars until his ammunition ran out, when he gave it to one of his warriors. It is believed several Northern Hawkes Bay settlers, and at least one "Special Constable" armed themselves with Spencer carbines in the 1860’s.

The Spencer Carbine is considered to be the first successful breech loading magazine carbine and heralded the introduction into New Zealand of the repeating firearm. This used self-contained metal-cased rim fire cartridges, having adequate chamber clearance for ease of cartridge loading, yet being able to expand when fired, sealing off the breech joint, preventing the escape of propellant gases and loss of pressure.

Once loaded the Spencer carbine can be fired seven times in ten seconds, but only fifteen times in one minute, including loading time. This can be compared with one shot in every 20 seconds for a muzzle loader (including loading time) and one shot in every 10 seconds for a single shot capping breech loader. One man armed with a Spencer carbine was considered equal to seven men using muzzle loaders.

Christopher M. Spencer was born in Connecticut, USA in 1833. He invented, patented (no. 27,393 6 March) and began manufacture of the Carbine at his Boston, Massachusetts factory in 1860. Spencer’s design incorporated a rolling block action operated by a trigger guard lever.

To load, muzzle is pointed downwards, the tubular magazine withdrawn from the butt, and seven cartridges (projectile first) are dropped into the magazine butt cavity. The tube magazine is reinserted and locked in place. This magazine contains a plunger, operated by a spiral coil spring, which forces the cartridges up to the breech end. From there the cartridge is placed in the barrel chamber when the action is worked (moving the trigger guard lever down and up to close).

M1860 Spencer Carbine

To fire the hammer is thumbed back to cock; when the trigger is pulled the hammer strikes the side plate firing pin, forcing it against the rim of the cartridge, causing detonation. The spent cartridge case is then extracted by the opening motion.


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