Deadly Dessert

While doing a bit of research for the piece on Victorian era “Murder Bottles,” I happened across the fantastic, Come Step Back In Time blog. The blog is written by historian Emma Muscat, who is also working on a project focusing on the history of blancmange.

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, circa 1888

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, circa 1888

During the course of her research, Muscat discovered numerous accounts of food leading to death, particularly that of toxic substances contained in blancmange, (which, by the way, is a lovely dessert!). On Come Step Back In Time, she shares two stories that cite poisoning and deaths resulting from the dessert:

A Providential Escape – A few days ago one young family of the Hon. A. Ellis, residing at Bognor, were, together with the governess and two maids, nearly poisoned, owing to their having eaten some blancmange, a part of which was coloured a bright light green; very fortunately this green part had an unpleasant taste, which prevented their eating more of it. The medical man who analyzed the remaining quantity found it to contain a verdigris powder. Whilst he had it in a liquid state he dipped into it a knife, which became instantly covered with this green copperas, and he asserts that there was a sufficient portion of this poisonous powder in the quantity analyzed to kill six persons. As it is, the two maids and governess and one of the children are still suffering from its dangerous effects. It appears this powder for colouring the green part had been purchased from a pastrycook in london but it is to be observed that such an article ought never to be sold for such purposes, and this has been inserted as a caution to the public.

(The Blackburn Standard, 18th February, 1846)

Poisoning at a public dinner – great excitement has existed at Northampton, in consequence of the sudden illness of 20 out of about 60 persons who attended a public dinner at the New Hall, which followed the ordination of the Rev. G. Nicholson, B.A., as the minister of the Ring-street dissenting chapel, in the room of the Rev. T. Milner. The viands were of the usual substantial kind, and before the cloth was removed some of the gentlemen were seized with sickness and vomiting, while others were taken ill at a later period of the entertainment. One of them, Mr Cornfield, an accountant in the town, expired at five o’clock on Thursday morning. The dinner was provided by a Mr Franklin, at whose house the whole of the cooking utensils were seized by order of the magistrates. At the inquest held on the body of the deceased, the medical witnesses stated that they had detected copper in the green colouring stuff which coated the blancmange used at the dinner. A verdict of “Manslaughter” was accordingly returned against Mr Franklin, by whom the dinner was provided, and against Randall, the cook.

(The Examiner, 17th June, 1848)

Postings of the original stories and the piece by Emma can be found here.

Emma can also be found on Twitter @emmahistorian

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