5. From Potatoes to Poppadoms, 1843

There is a surprising honesty to this poster, from Dublin in 1843.

Most ‘modern’ recruitment and propaganda posters focus on the ‘see the world’ message: Make friends, learn new skills, visit incredible places. Evocative images than conjure up duty and desire for a better life.

This poster is more direct in its message. Join the army, and fight foreign people in a foreign land. It does not promise friendship, nor experience, nor riches (save for a potential pension). It looks dangerous, and does not ask much of the applicant, except for ‘abilities, enterprise and steady conduct’.

Except for a couple of wilty palm trees in the background, these chaps look to be having quite a miserable time. And that makes me wonder how bad things would need to be at home for the posters to encourage men to enlist.

In the 1840s, the most stable employment came from the Guinness brewery, Jameson Distillery, Jacob’s biscuit factory – and the Dublin United Tramway company. Despite this, Dublin, unlike Belfast, had not experienced the full effect of the industrial revolution, and as a result the number of unskilled unemployed was particularly high. It was also a particularly tense time politically, with the fierce agitation for repeal of the 1801 Act of the Union between Britain and Ireland.

As a young man in search of employment and purpose, perhaps this poster represented an opportunity for escape, as much as an opportunity to prosper. You can imagine a young man drinking in a dark, ancient pub, carefully weighing his options of unemployment at home or risk and opportunity abroad.

The East India Company wasn’t a new phenomenon – and had been operating since the 1600s. By the 1840s its private armies numbered in the tens of thousands. It controlled the majority of international trade. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“In its first century and half, the EIC used a few hundred soldiers as guards. The great expansion came after 1750, when it had 3000 regular troops. By 1763, it had 26,000; by 1778, it had 67,000. It recruited largely Indian troops, and trained them along European lines.[28] The military arm of the East India Company quickly developed to become a private corporate armed force, and was used as an instrument of geo-political power and expansion, rather than its original purpose as a guard force, and became the most powerful military force in the Indian sub-continent.” 

This poster is very likely the one that 22 year old Robert Mcmorran, born in Dublin 1824, saw posted in his local. Records show that Robert left Dublin to sail to India via Glasgow on the 27 April 1843 on the Duke of Cornwall. At the time, Robert was a Moulder – he made moulds for castings, brick making etc. Robert’s entry to India is recorded in the Madras Army Muster Rolls Corps of Artillery Horse Brigade Madras. His timing was fortunate – in 1845 the Great Irish Potato famine began, lasting another five years, and leading to the deaths of 1 million people.


Thank you, BBC, for this blighty potato

Robert stayed in India for the rest of his life. His son, Charles Walter McMorran was born in 1857 in India to Rebecca Carroll, age 27, when Robert McMorran was 33. It would be two generations before the family returned back to Britain.

Robert’s son Charles was a conductor with Indian Railways. A Conductor was defined as “The higher of the two appointments within the Warrant Officer rank in the EIC/Indian Army, the lower being that of Sub-Conductor . Conductors and Sub Conductors worked mainly in the Ordnance, Commissariat and Public Works Departments. Conductors were eligible for promotion to the higher grade of Departmental Officer.”



We have no photos of Robert, but we do have some information on his children and grandchildren. Cyril – the happy chap on the right in the above photo – also became a railway man.

For more about about Cyril McMillan read this blog post on Nana Mac’s Pocket Watch.



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