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British History/19th cent. British India


QUESTION: Greetings, I 've been researching two ancestors, brothers born in 1840's Britain to a "gun powder maker" who both took up the same occupation. The British 1871 census shows them both conspicuously absent, but I found a child of one brother born in Bengal, India in 1870.  I still can't find the other brother but am wondering if they went to India do what?  That is my question.  As gun powder workers, how would they have been employed?  Would they have been civil workers, rather than military?  Any ideas are greatly appreciated, thank you!

ANSWER: Hello Susie.
By the 19th century the manufacture of gunpowder was only permitted in government factories or by license; so if you could let me know where your ancestors were at the time I could work out at which factory they were employed. The same applied in British India. They would probably have been civilians either working directly for the military or employed in a licensed gunpowder factory.

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QUESTION: I know the father was a gunpowder maker whose 1850 burial record has "Twickenham Powder Mills" listed under "abode," so I assume that's where he worked (and possibly died!)
Son John can be placed in 1861 in Brentford/Isleworth as a gunpowder maker, and in 1870 baptized a son in Barrackpore, Bengal, India (elsewhere cited as Ishapore).  1881 census sees him back in St Stithians, Cornwall, still working same occupation.
Son Henry can be placed living in Ponsanooth, Stythians, Cornwall, in 1875, working as a gunpowder maker. Because he is missing from the 1871 census in England, as is his brother John, who was at that time living in India, I'm assuming they were there together.   They later lived in Cornwall.
I've searched online through British India military records and have come up empty. Factory names would be great, and if you could point me in some possible research directions for India, that would be wonderful. Thank you so much for your time and knowledge.

Ishapore was (and still is) an important site for arms manufacture in India. The first gunpowder factory opened there in 1791.
Indian Army Ordnance records are held at the National Archives, if you go to and request what information they have on the workforce at Ishapore Gunpowder Factory around 1870 they might have something.

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Mark Smith


I have a good basic knowledge of British political history, but my speciality is the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland from 927 AD. Please no social history questions, it's not my strong point and I'm unlikely to answer them.


No professional experience, but a lifelong interest and access to a variety of sources of information.

"A" level in History.

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