The British Boarding Axe is notable for the fact that there was only one pattern for almost the entire age of fighting sail. This was the distinctive tomahawk and although there were many variations it was not superceded until 1859 when the flared blade model replaced it, though by this time the nature of boarding actions was rapidly changing.
Gilkerson identifies the oldest known dateable axe to one excavated at Crown Point, New York -
Throughout its long life this axe retained its flattish cross-
A Shaw c.1820
Length: 28” (71 cm)
Even with many minor variations the ‘Tomahawk’ retained its distinctive look for well over a hundred years despite manufacture in different countries. It ranged from crude colonial copies to factory made versions.
The date of the axe above is unknown but it predates that on the right made around 1820 by the A.Shaw company in Britain.
Comparison of the 1859 model and the Tomahawk.
The 1859 axe was slightly heavier, had a shorter spike, but retained the flat cross-
It retained the long shaft to give a total length of 24” (61 cm) -
These axes tend to be dated and well marked with the maker’s name, and for government issue a broad arrow and an N for navy. This axe remained in service until the end of the century but was still produced for private use by Gilpin Tools up until 1930.
The latest date seen is 1899 on a naval issue and according to Ffoulks there were still 163 in naval issue in 1926. The Royal Engineers were issued this pattern in 1872 and declared them obsolete in 1897.
Makers Found on 1859 Model
Gilpin C & M (1861, 1890, 1897,1899)
Yates & Co Cast Steel Warranted
Richard Thomas, Birmingham, (1897)
Makers Found on Tomahawk Model
SARGANT, SARGENT, (1805)
Length: 23” (58 cm)
Sim Comfort Collection
Ex Hannum Collection
Pirates Lair Collection
Reddell c. 1800
Length: 24.5” (62 cm)
This British boarding axe, is clearly marked SARGANT and was found on the shores of Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario, Canada.
The shaft has been cut down to hatchet length and it was possibly re-
William Sargant was a Birmingham sword maker resident on Lionel Street in 1803. In 1815 the firm was incorporated into Woolley and Sargant of Edmund Street, Birmingham.
Tomahawk Boarding Axe
An article on British Boarding Axes is soon to be published in the Arms and Armour Magazine, by this author, to reflect more recent research.
This page will be updated to reflect that. (Last update Aug 2016).
The British boarding axe had a chisel shaped blade, with a straight or very slightly curved cutting edge.
On some axes the lower part of the axe drops away increasing the chisel angle but almost always the top of the blade stays in line with the top of the axe head.
The langets are side mounted and integrally cast and often lobe shaped and curved slightly around the handle.
Handles were between 24”-
The 1859 model is usually well marked with date, maker, N and broad arrow, while the tomahawk version is often seen with no markings. Makers name and the broad arrow mark are sometimes seen and examples are known with Sargant as the maker.