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The Gunpowder Acts of the Colony of New South Wales

The Colonial Government enacted numerous pieces of legislation dealing with gunpowder during the 19th century. The most important of these, in relation to the subject matter of this website, were:

The Gunpowder Act of 1828 (9 Geo IV No. 7)

The first attempt to regulate the storage and carriage of explosives in the Colony of New South Wales was Governor Darling's Gunpowder Act of 1828 (9 Geo IV No. 7 Gunpowder Act 30 June 1828), or "An Act to Regulate the Keeping and Carriage of Gunpowder, imported into the Colony of New South Wales". The Act passed the Council on 3 July 1828.

The Act is relatively simple, with 10 sections:

The Act doesn't refer to the Ordnance Storekeeper but to "the Keeper of the Government Storehouse or Magazine".

Gunpowder Act of 1828

The Gunpowder Act of 1836 (7 Wm IV No. 7)

From the The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday 4 August 1836, page 2:

"We now come to a consideration of the second proposed bill, entitled "A Bill for better regulating the keeping and carriage of gunpowder," of which the general objects are stated to be as follows:-

The Act of 9 Geo. IV. No. 7 to be repealed.

From and after the passing of this Act, all persons importing gunpowder into the Colony, shall, immediately on its arrival, report the same at the Custom House, and also to the Ordnance Storekeeper for the time being.

Permits to be granted to such Importers or Proprietors to deposit the same in one of the Government Magazines, and the same to be entered in a book to be kept for that purpose by the Ordnance Storekeeper.

When any sale or transfer of any gunpowder so deposited shall take place, the same shall be reported to the Ordnance Storekeeper, that the same may be duly registered; in failure of which the Ordnance Storekeeper to refuse to deliver the same.

Gunpowder so permitted to be deposited to be removed only between the hours of eight o'clock in the forenoon, and five o'clock in the afternoon, from the ship or vessel in which the same may be imported direct to the Magazine.

No package to contain more than 100 pounds, and all packages to be well secured.

The removal to be at the expenses of the Importer Proprietor.

Ordnance Storekeeper to deliver the whole, or part of gunpowder so deposited on application to him made, and on payment of storage rent, and other expenses.

Penalties to be inflicted for landing gunpowder contrary to the provisions of this Act.

Amount of rent, how to be applied.

On the oath of one person of gunpowder being kept contrary to this Act, any Justice may issue a search warrant.

Penalties recoverable before two Justices by distress, half the penalty being given to the informer.

This Act not to extend to gunpowder belonging to the King.

By the above it will be seen, that is is proposed to repeal General Darling's Act, passed July 3, 1828, to regulate the carriage and keeping of gunpowder imported into the Colony, and to place the whole concern within the proper province of the Ordnance Department. There is no provision, that we are aware of, in the now proposed enactment, against which any objection can be sensibly raised. The propriety of strictly guarding against the remotest probability of accidents from the improvident use of such a combustible material as gunpowder, is too obvious to admit of any dispute, and the new Bill in that view goes not beyond bounds."

This Act was amended by "An Act for better regulating the keeping and carriage of Gunpowder" of 14 December, 1841. The amendments extended the 1836 Act to require all ships arriving in Port Jackson to land all gunpowder to the Government magazine, whether cargo or stores. Other provisions dealt with:

A further amendment to the 1836 Act was enacted in 1849, to deal with doubts that had "arisen as to the power of Justices of the Peace to adjudicate in a summary way under the said recited Act..."


An Act to authorize the destruction or sale of certain Gunpowder belonging to Merchants... 1851

The intent of this Act is described in the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 November 1851:

"... The COLONIAL SECRETARY moved the first reading of the Bill. This matter had been a subject of much consideration between his office and the Ordnance department. Gunpowder had accumulated to so great an extent at the Goat Island magazine as to endanger the city. A vessel had been hired for additional storage, but this was only a temporary measure; and among the proposed additions to the estimates was a sum for the erection of a new magazine. In the event of that sum being granted, the Government would be prepared next session to introduce a Bill for placing the system of storing merchant's gunpowder upon an entirely new footing. The object of the present Bill was to authorise the destruction of certain gunpowder which had remained so long in the magazine as to incur charges for store rent greater than its entire value."

An Act for the Establishment of the Colonial Gunpowder Magazine lately erected on Goat Island. 1852

From the preamble to the Act:

"WHEREAS the Gunpowder belonging to private individuals at Sydney has hitherto been stored in a Magazine belonging to Her Majesty's Imperial Government and under the charge of the Ordnance Storekeeper at Sydney ... And whereas Her Majesty's Government has required that such Gunpowder should be no longer kept in the said Gunpowder Magazine but has consented that a Magazine for the storage of Gunpowder belonging to the Colonial Government and to private individuals in the said Colony should be erected by the Colonial Government on the Island belonging to the Board of Ordnance known as Goat Island in the Harbour of Port Jackson to be under the control of the Governor for the time being of the said Colony but to be in charge of Her Majesty's Ordnance Storekeeper for the time being at Sydney And whereas a Colonial Gunpowder Magazine has been erected accordingly on the said Island at the expense of the Colonial Government And whereas it is expedient that such new Magazine should be established by law as the Magazine for storing Colonial Gunpowder and that proper officers should be appointed appointed for that purpose and that all payments for the storage of Gunpowder therein should be required to be made to the said Colonial Government Be it therefore enacted ..."

An Act to prevent the shipment or delivery of Gunpowder and other explosive materials and of Vitriol or other such Mineral Acids without due notification thereof. 1854

This Act extended controls over the landing of gunpowder and other explosives to all ports in the Colony of New South Wales; it was an offence to do so without prior notification to the Collector of Customs at or nearest the port of landing.


An Act further to amend the Act for better regulating the keeping and carriage of Gunpowder. 1855

This Act amended the 1836 Act by changing the landing place for explosives from Goat Island from the Queen's Wharf to "the Point near Dawes' Battery" consequent on the incorporation of the Queen's Wharf into Circular Quay.


Proposed Gunpowder Consolidation Act of 1866

This Act was not passed, although it was read in the Legislative Assembly on 16 November 1865. It's not known why it wasn't proceeded with.

The trigger for this bill may have been the opening of the Spectacle Island Magazine; the preamble to the bill suggests this:

"Whereas it is expedient to consolidate the law relating to the importation of gunpowder and other explosive substances and whereas gunpowder whether belonging to the Government of New South Wales or to private individuals has hitherto been stored in a magazine on the island known as Goat Island in the harbour of Port Jackson and whereas another gunpowder magazine has been erected on land in the said harbour known as Spectacle Island at the expense of such Government and whereas other gunpowder magazines may hereafter be erected in like manner Be it enacted..."

The Act is notable for not mentioning the Ordnance Storekeeper as in the 1836 Act; it is the Military Storekeeper who is referred to. Otherwise, it extends the 1836 Act but is not radically different from it.


Gunpowder and Explosive Consolidation Act of 1876 (40 Vic No. 1)

This is the first of the Acts discussed on this page to embody relatively modern notions of explosives safety. The Regulations issued under the Act are a comprehensive set of instructions for the operation of an explosives magazine and for the transport of explosives. The Act reverts to the earlier title of Ordnance Storekeeper for the person charged with superintendence of the Magazines.

"WHEREAS divers Acts have been passed from time to time and are now in force in the Colony of New South Wales for regulating the landing storage and subsequent removal of gunpowder from the Magazines established at Goat Island in the Harbour of Port Jackson and elsewhere in the said Colony but the said Acts do not apply to many other dangerous explosive substances some of which have been invented or discovered since the said Acts were passed And whereas all gunpowder imported into the Colony is required by law to be landed at the Colonial Gunpowder Magazine at Goat Island in the Harbour of Port Jackson but there is no enactment expressly requiring the storage of the same in the said magazine And no gunpowder can legally be landed from any magazine in any part of the said harbour other than at the point near Dawes' Battery both of which appointed places are in dangerous proximity to populous neighbourhoods And the said Acts are in other respects defective And it is therefore expedient to make other provisions respecting the importation landing storage and removal of gunpowder and of other explosive substances and otherwise to amend the said Acts Be it therefore enacted ..."

The full text of the Regulations can be read here.


Explosives Act 1902 (96 of 1902)

This Act, which replaced the 1876 Act, was to remain in force only until 1905. In character it looks back to the 19th century rather than forward to the 20th - it was probably for this reason that it was soon superseded by the Explosives Act of 1905, which was to remain the controlling legislation for most of the 20th century.

The Act refers to the defunct office of Ordnance Storekeeper, although this is defined more as a class of persons - it "means the Ordnance Storekeeper or any officer or person appointed for any special duty under this Act so far as such duty is concerned, or any person having the custody of a public magazine."

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au