Object of the Month: June 2016

Gunpowder Flasks

Before the introduction of manufactured cartridges and bullets from the mid-19th century, powder flasks were required to deliver gunpowder down the barrel of muzzle-loading guns.   The ball, bullet or shot was then driven into place with a ramrod, and secured with a cloth wad.  The process was slow and could be dangerous, especially if fragments of hot wadding remained in the barrel.  The Prussian army adopted breech-loading rifles early, in 1841, and it was said that their riflemen, lying prone, could fire five rounds for each round delivered by their Austrian and Danish opponents, who had to stand to reload their muzzle-loading rifles.

Two 19th century powder flasks have been recovered from Lismore, each in copper with brass fittings, and with an integral measure.

LISDD:2008.129 Gunpowder Flask

LISDD:2008.129
Gunpowder Flask from Port Ramsay (15 cm long)

The plain flask (129) comes from Port Ramsay and was, in living memory, kept with a ramrod, now lost.  Donated by Duncan Black, Port Ramsay.

LISDD:2014.212 Gunpowder Flask from Balimackillichan (25cm long)

LISDD:2014.212
Gunpowder Flask from Balimackillichan (25cm long)

The second flask, decorated with the head of a setter dog, was made by James Dixon & Sons, Sheffield[1], and was clearly for hunting rather than military use, probably for a shotgun.  Powder flasks were one of the specialities of the firm, which continued to manufacture them into the1960s, for the American hobby market.  The flask was found in May 2014 during the demolition of the old steading at Balimackillichan Croft.  Donated by Yorick Paine and Sarah Campbell, it would have been owned by Duncan Livingstone (1788-1879), crofter in Balimackillichan, Sarah’s ancestor.

[1]http://www.pewterbank.com/More_Marks_and_History_of_James_Dixons..21.pdf

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