Alexander John Forsyth

Alexander John Forsyth (28 December 1769 – 11 June 1843) was a Scottish Presbyterian clergyman who invented the percussion ignition.[1]

Alexander John Forsyth
Alexander John Forsyth

(1768-12-28)28 December 1768
Died11 June 1843(1843-06-11) (aged 74)
Aberdeenshire, Scotland
OccupationInventor, clergyman
ChildrenMary Forsyth Reid

Gunsmiths like Joseph Manton invented more reliable forms of ignition, like the tube lock in 1814. The artist Joshua Shaw designed what is recognized today as the percussion cap, which he patented in the United States in 1822, since Forsyth had threatened his rivals in Britain with legal action. These new forms of ignition proved popular among hunters during the Regency period, who had their old reliable flintlocks converted.[2]


He was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, and succeeded his father as minister of Belhelvie in 1791.[3]

While hunting wild duck, he was dissatisfied with his flintlock fowling-piece due to its long lock time (the delay between the time the trigger is pulled and the time the main charge of gunpowder begins burning); by the time the pellets actually left the barrel, the target animal could hear the noise from the trigger being pulled and have time to either fly, dive, or run before the shot reached it.[2] He patented his scent-bottle lock in 1807; this was a small container filled with fulminate of mercury[4]

During the Napoleonic Wars Forsyth worked on his design at the Tower Armouries. But when a new Master General of Ordnance was appointed he was dismissed; other experiments had had destructive results and the new master general did not wish to see Britain's main arsenal destroyed.

Napoleon Bonaparte offered Forsyth a reward of £20,000 if he took his invention to France, but Forsyth declined. The French gunsmith Jean Lepage developed a similar form of ignition in 1807 based on Forsyth's design, but this was not pursued.


  1. Overview of Rev. Alexander John Forsyth, The Gazetteer for Scotland (2008)
  2. Ricketts, H., Firearms (London, 1962)
  3. Myatt, F, 19th Century Firearms (London, 1989) p.18
  4. Alexander Forsyth in Encyclopædia Britannica
  • "Forsyth, Alexander John" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
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