Like the Gatling, the Gardner gun was invented and developed in the US, It was a hand-operated weapon that had between one and 10 barrels, each of which fired once per turn of the crank. Such weapons were the precursors of the true machine gun, and could naturally deliver formidable fire power when they worked well. The Gardner was demonstrated to the US military several times during the 1870s, but although the weapon was shown to be reliable there was little interest in buying it, so when the British government invited Gardner to demonstrate the weapon in 1880 he did so, which resulted in orders from the Royal Navy and, after a delay, from the Army too.
The Gardner could come in several different models and several forms of mounting. In this HaT set the gun has five barrels arranged horizontally, which was the form used by the Royal Navy, its most enthusiastic customers. Our pictures imply there are two guns on a wheeled carriage and two on a more solid structure, but in fact all four guns in this set can be mounted either way. For on board ship the gun was often mounted on a cone-shaped affair that allowed considerable movement. The mounting in this set is a very simplified representation of this, but we are glad it was included as naval items are rare indeed in this hobby. When the gun was required for duty on land it might have been placed on a carriage such as shown above, and very likely still crewed by sailors. This carriage looks authentic and naturally allows many more possibilities for deployment of the gun, so is welcome too.
Of the figures in the set only two are really handling the gun. These are the two in the second row, with the first apparently moving the wheel of the carriage while the second is actually working the gun itself. The latter comes with a separate base, which we imagine allows for him to be inserted on deck without a base, or to stand alone with his base. His right hand is clearly meant to be holding the handle, but the handle on the gun is not high enough to meet this (unless the figure has his base removed and stands directly on the surface), and even though the plastic is soft it does not stay when it is bent. In any event, were the handle to be high enough, it would be too close to the barrel for the man to reach, so to keep the man holding the handle will require gluing them together. What is missing from this set is anyone handling ammunition. Naturally the Gardner could get through ammunition very quickly, so we thought there should have been at least one figure in the act of feeding the gun or at least bringing up more rounds.
The rest of the figures are sailors armed with rifles. Such sailors were sometimes called to serve on land, particularly if supplying weaponry and expertise such as the Gardner, at which point they were referred to as Naval Brigade, or more simply Blue Jackets. Although the Gardner was pretty reliable, it and the crew were still vulnerable to enemy fire, particularly if it were to jam, so having a number of men assigned to protect it was a common precaution. These men are clearly doing just that, although of course they can also be used by themselves too, as can the officer.
Uniforms of both ratings and officers when serving on land seem to have varied from ship to ship, so at this stage there is no absolute correct costume. These men all wear the standard 'square rig' - a frock tucked into trousers with long gaiters. The square collar is of course also worn, as is the black kerchief (technically called a 'silk'), but the latter could be worn in several ways. These figures all have it in a knot with loose ends, but all the photographs and images of the time show the ends looped up and tied. On their heads all the ratings wear the straw sennet hat with the ship’s name on a ribbon round the crown. This is a perfectly valid choice, but often such men wore their ordinary sailors cap, so HaT have included a number of extra heads with this cap so conversions can be made, which is an excellent idea. The officer wears a double-breasted jacket and the ordinary foreign service helmet, both of which were common garb for such men. The men carry rifles and have the regulation haversack and water bottle on straps. However all lack the ordinary ammunition pouches and the straps by which they were held, which would be strange for riflemen. They do, however, carry the very distinctive cutlass bayonet that must have looked so fearsome to an opponent.
The Navy replaced their Gatlings with Gardners, but soon the Gardner too gave way to the new Nordenfeldt and, later still, the Maxims. With the growing momentum of the industrial revolution weapons were becoming obsolete ever more quickly, but while it lasted the Gardner was a useful and reasonably popular weapon. This set has a fine model of the weapon, but should have had someone loading it, or at least ready to do so. The small inaccuracies with the support party are nothing too vital, and the sculpting is good with no flash, so for the most part this is a very acceptable set for one of the more unusual weapons, and soldiers, to serve Victoria and her Empire.