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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Royal Gunpowder factories at the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th centuries – part II

The following should have been posted before my 1st document on the subject but I was given the article I'll be writing about after I went to the Military Archives. So, if this is a subject that interests you, please keep that in mind. Enjoy! And if you know how to read portuguese, here' the link of the magazine where I took the info from:


Taken from “As Indústrias Militares e as Armas de fogo portáteis no Exército Português ” (The Military Industries and the portable Firearms in the Portuguese Army), by Major-general Renato Fernando Marques Pinto, in www.revistamilitar.pt, published May 28th 2010.

Since the introduction of gunpowder and firearms in Europe, more particularly Portugal, that the mastery of it's production has been the main concern of the countries' rulers. It was a complicated and dangerous work and most of the ingredients needed, like saltpeter and sulfur, had to be imported.
In 1410, the Portuguese king D. João the 1st, sent a law that took away all the import taxes on fire weapons (hand guns, cannons, etc) and harness to facilitate arm the soldiers. And similar laws continued to do so all across the 15th century.
Several illustrious people were nominated to be responsible for it and also to become the Master-general on the refining of saltpeter and sulfur. And even if there wasn't a regal policy on the manufacture and industry of weapons and gunpowder, there were several private workshops around the main Portuguese cities that had to comply with simplistic safety rules. The so called ferrarias (smithies), tercenas (arsenal, armory) and armarias (armories). In fact, in Oeiras, there's a place called Tercena, exactly because of the existence of a gunpowder manufacture there, maybe even since the 13th century.
A “carta de privilégio” (a royal grant) of 1487 that made it possible to install a smithy near the river of Barcarena (even if it didn't happened immediately), where later the Royal Gunpowder Factory was build. Archaeological excavations in 2006 proved that on the grounds above today's factory an armory and smithy existed in Barcarena. But by now, the biggest part of the Portuguese weapons and gunpowder came from abroad and most of the experts cam from Spain, mostly the Biscay.
A century later and things started to change. The need to defend the Portuguese colonies started this change. The Portuguese king D. Manuel set up to build a gunpowder workshop near the existing armory, in Barcarena, in 1515, and gave it a mill driven mortars and authorization of production of saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal. The choice of this particular place I have explained in the previous post on the subject: close to a river to move the mills and transport the goods, in a valley away from the curious eye, away from villages for safety reasons, near trees to produce coal. Needless is to say that these workshops where the primitive origin of what later became the Royal Factory.
Other arsenals, smithies and armories where founded by the same king: the Tercena of Cata-que Farás, in what today is the Cais do Sodré area in Lisbon, and the Tercena of Porta da Cruz, where today the Military Museum, Archives and the General Army Staff.

Where the Tercenas were located at the Porta da Cruz during the 16th century, on the righ low corner of the picture. Atlas Urbium Proeciarum Mundi Theatrum Quintu,Giorgio Braunio Aggripinato, 1593. Picture taken from the the article mentioned above.
It's about the 16th century that the difference between common artillary gunpowder and rifle gunpowder was made.
Saltpeter came from India and Portugal imported big amounts every year (don't forget that gunpowder has a 75% of it in it's mixture). And they went directly to the refineries in Lisbon and then straight to the mills in Barcarena. One interesting note is that one gunpowder factory was built near Goa, in 1630, and had high walls for (military?) protection.
But this doesn't mean that Portugal was now free from imports. In fact, it still imported most of it's gunpowder from the Netherlands. At the late 17th century, in 1679 more precisely, the importance of rebuilding the abandoned gunpowder factory of Barcarena and to produce bigger amounts of this mixture made it possible to give a gunpowder maker a license to produce 2,400 arrobas (old Portuguese measurement unit equivalent to 1 arroba = 32 lb.) per year. And, the same way, the development of the armory was given to 2 Frenchmen for 10 year to produce rifle barrels. But this last project came to a halt when the importance of national produced gunpowder became bigger then the armory. So therefore, in 1695 the “Casa das Ferrarias” (the smithy and armory part of Barcarena) was closed definitely.
It was during the 20's of the 18th century that to the factory of Barcarena was given the name “Royal Gunpowder Factory”, the same way to the on in Alcântara, and was rebuild from scratch with 4 new mills, each one with 2 vertically rolling millstones (gauges) of limestone imported from Namur,Belgium, while the one from Alcântara was given 7 mills moved by a hydraulic system (and by “blood”, which I don't know what it means), being the project lead by the dutch Augusto Cremer. It was the highlight of these 2 factories and several people, national and foreigners, were hired to work in them. And after 1753, at the time of Cremer's death, the factories go back to be the property of the Portuguese State, more exactly to the Navy's Admiralty.

The Gunpowder Factory of Barcarena in 1775. 1st known map of the factory that Martinho de Mello e Castro, Minister of the Navy, had made. Picture taken from the the article mentioned above.

Let us make a qualitative jump to the time-period this blog is interested in, the French Invasions. As you well know, since the French Revolution, Europe's monarchies were afraid of this “new” France and allied with each other against it. And Portugal was not different. The only thing that put this country in a more fearful position, politically speaking was the whole debacle, aka the War of the Pyrenees (Roussilion) and the War of the Oranges. (for this, please read my previous post on the subject). Completely unprepared, the Portuguese forces allied with the Spanish and returned form the war having the neighboring country now as their enemy, after Spain allied with France at the Peace Treaty from Basel. This meant that we had to import weapons and quickly!
In the meanwhile, the Portuguese National Army Arsenal was in chaos, internally because of political reasons, and externally because it was ill prepared for what was about to happen. The Italian Lieutenant colonel Carlos Napion was nominated to be the general inspector of the Arsenal in 1801 and he made some changes in that area.
But with the Fontainebleau Treaty, in 1807, which allied Spain to France the whole Portuguese political and military scenario changed: France entered Portugal via the Tagus River, while Spain by land through North (Minho region) and South (Alentejo region) and in November of the same year Junot proclaimed himself as the protector of Portugal while the Portuguese king fled for Brazil. On the 29th we had no one to look after the internal administrative and military situation. If the French took over them I don't know (says the author Major-general Renato Fernando Marques Pinto that Napoleon praised Barcarena's factory when speacking about the “Legião Portuguesa”) but in 1809, the Irish General William Carr Beresford was given by royal decree (from Brazil) the title of Marchall and Commander in Chief of the Portuguese Army. This meant rebuilding the army, new weapons (baker, brownness India-pattern and land-pattern, cavalry carbines where the most common) , a.s.o. Have a look at the previous post of the Royal Gunpowder Factories, where Beresford asks about the Barcarena Factory.
The foundries, gunpowder factories and armories were reinstated, producing as much weaponry as possible. That meant that in Barcarena the arsenal on the north grounds of the factory was rebuild just in case the “lower” factory suffered an explosion. Wellington and Beresford gave high praises to the work done in these factories.

The Army's Arsenal at the 19th century. Carta Topographica de Lisboa e seus Suburbios, done under the direction of Capitão de Engenheiros (Engineers Official) Duarte José Favain in 1807. Picture taken from the the article mentioned above.

After 1814 Beresford tried to reorganize the Portuguese army (he suffered a conspiracy in 1817 by national liberals) and until 1820, when the king returned, tried to reorganize Portugal's armories, arsenals and gunpowder factories too. But the political scenario in Portugal didn't allowed much change: civil movements against and for the crown, liberal movements trying to install the 2st Portuguese constitution...
The fact was that after the war we were in no condition to produce our own weaponry, so we had to import again. And while in the mids of the 19th century, Europe was adapting itself to the new percussion weapons, Portugal still was using the flintlock system.
By 1834 the Gunpowder factory of Barcarena went under the administration of the Portuguese Tobacco Contract and not the Arsenal anymore, not for at least 15 years. And in 1850 this was the situation:
  • Santa Clara was transformed into an armory;
  • The Arsenal (which was divided into 2 sections) had it's norther foundries closed, remaining the southern active;
  • Obras de S. Engrácia” became a storage facility;
  • Santa Apolónia became the inspector's house, apprenticeship and pyrotechnic workshop;
  • Cruz da Pedra, projectile storage;
  • Alcântara maintained it's refineries;
  • Barcarena, both Northern and Southerns gunpowder factories;
  • Rilvas (Rio Frio), wood and coal storage, as well ovens to produce charcoal;
  • Caxias, warehouse for gunpowder between Beirolas and Barcarena;
  • Forte da Areia: warehouse for gunpowder from private entities;
  • Beirolas, gunpowder magazine;
  • Braço de Prata, warehouse;
  • Trem de Elvas: several different workshops;
  • Foz do Alge: smithies and foundries.

And this concludes the scenário of the Gunpowder Factories during the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. Hope you liked it, so far....


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