Bradford Lozenge Poisoning Case of 1858

An accidentally poisoning of sweets, known as lozenges, became known as the Bradford lozenge poisoning case and affected more than 200 people in Bradford, England in 1858. At the time, the maker of the lozenges, a man named Joseph Neal, adulterated the sweets by adding “an article known in the confection trade as ‘daff’ or ‘daft,’ but which appears to have a number of other names in the druggist’s shop, such as ‘terra alba,’ ‘white earth,’ and ‘prepared speer.'”[1]

Bradford Lozenge Poisoning

Punch Cartoon November 20, 1858 of the Bradford poisonings titled “The Great Lozenge-Maker.” Public domain.

Daff consisted of either plaster of Paris, powdered limestone, or sulphate of lime. To understand why it was used, one gentleman wrote in to the Morning Post and explained as follows:

  1. It makes the lozenge much harder and whiter.
  2. It enables the manufacturer to sell a cheaper article than his neighbour who conscientiously refuses to use it.
  3. The price. Terra alba may be procured at 7s. per cwt. or less, while the price of fine powdered sugar is 63 per cwt; the great difference in the above prices allows a larger profit to the dishonest manufacturer.[2]

In the Bradford lozenge poisoning case instead of daff being added, arsenic was accidentally used and the first to die from this accident were two young boys. This resulted in the poisonings becoming an “all-engrossing topic of discourse, and the most anxious inquiries addressed from one person to the other in all directions.”[3] Anxiety increased as it soon became clear that the deaths of the boys was not an isolated incident.

“Report upon report of other deaths and increasing sickness was given at the police-office, and surgeons were everywhere in request, some of whom at first felt inclined to think that the illness was cholera, but soon it was ascertained … that it was … arsenic [poisoning instead].”[4]

Arsenic. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Bradford lozenge poisoning incident began on Monday, 18 October 1858. A worker of Joseph Neal’s went to the shop of a Shipley druggist, named Charles Hodgson, to obtain twelve pounds of daff. When the worker arrived, he found Hodgson sick in bed and discovered that William Goddard had been employed by Hogdson to help. Goddard talked to Hodgson and told him what the worker wanted.

“Hodgson said that Goddard had better ‘not meddle with it,’ and that [the worker] … must wait for the ‘daff’ until he (Hodgson) could attend to the order.”[5]

Goddard communicated this message, but the worker was undeterred. He pressed for the ‘daff,’ and after Goddard returned to Hodgson again, Hodgson told him where he could find the daff. Hodgson stated that it was “in a cask in a corner … and that it was a ‘white powder.'”[6] Unfortunately, Goddard went to the wrong cask and accidentally filled the order with 12 pounds of arsenic, an ingredient that is deadly a poison one that Madame Lafarge was accused of using to killer husband in 1840.

Madame Lafarge. Author’s collection.

Instead of daff, the order for the lozenges was thus created using “12lb. of arsenic … mixed with 40lb. of sugar, and 4lb. of gum-water.”[7] This created about 54lbs. of poisonous peppermint lozenges. Interestingly, Neal and his worker, an experienced sweet maker, both ended up sick after eating a lozenge, although the London Daily News noted that there was “nothing to show that either of them suspect[ed] the real cause [for their sudden illness].”[8]

Daff was lighter in color than arsenic, so the resulting lozenges were darker than usual. When forty pounds of the lozenges were delivered to sweets dealer William Hardaker, known to locals as “Humbug Billy,” he objected to the color. He didn’t want them “on the ground that they were darker … than usual but ultimately he was prevailed upon to take them at 7½d. per pound instead of 8d.”[7] After accepting the lozenges, Hardaker and his assistants sold five pounds that same night. They never suspected the lozenges contained arsenic. Hence, “the deplorable consequences and the spread of gloom and dismay over Bradford and the surrounding district.”[9]

Soon after the victims ate the lozenges, they began to experience “great retching, vomiting, pain and burning of the throat, intense thirst, pain in the abdomen, and diarrhea.”[10] Although the first cases were thought to be cholera, a disease from which Madame Récamier and countless others died of, it was soon discovered that the cause was Hardaker’s lozenges and thus began a series of Bradford lozenge poisoning cases. Moreover, people soon realized their symptoms demonstrated arsenic poisoning. Quick action was taken and antidotes given to person’s identified as having eaten the lozenges.

Juliette Récamier on her death bed. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The same night that the people were experiencing the Bradford lozenge poisoning, police began to inform people about the crisis. They gave a “warning to all persons, in every street in their various beats, who might have purchased any of the poisonous sweets … Thirty-six pounds of them were also found on [Hardaker’s] … premises.”[11] Additionally, other judicious precautions were taken:

“[T]wo bellmen [traveled] through all the streets of the town, from eleven till five o’clock, warning the inhabitants. A printer was also aroused … to print a placard cautioning the public … against using them, and pointing out their already fatal effects. Thus every possible precaution to check the progress of the poison-plague was put in operation.”[12]

Goddard was soon arrested for the Bradford lozenge poisoning cases, and some time later Hodgson and Neal were also arrested. They were charged with manslaughter. One manslaughter charge was against Elizabeth Mary Midgley, a little girl living in Bradford whose grandmother had bought the lozenges. However, the charges against Goddard and Neal were soon withdrawn and only Hodgson was tried.

At trial Dr. John Bell identified arsenic as the cause. Felix Rimmington, a prominent chemist and druggist, confirmed Bell’s findings.

“Each lozenge it [was] supposed … contain[ed] 9½ grains of arsenic, and as 4½ grains [were] considered to be a poisonous dose, each lozenge was sufficient to poison two persons … [which meant] there was sufficient poison distributed … by Hardarker … [to] kill nearly 2,000 persons. … The consequences therefore might have been more fearful.”[13]

Other trial particulars against Hodgson were reported by the Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper:

“After a witness or two had been called, his lordship said that he considered that the charges against the prisoner could not be sustained, as he thought he had not been guilty of culpable or criminal negligence. It seemed that he told Goddard to go to a particular place in the garret for the daft, but the young man in mistake had gone to another place, which which the mistake the prisoner could not be made responsible.”[14]

Despite over 200 people eating the arsenic-laced lozenges and 20 people ultimately dying, in the end, Hodgson was acquitted in the Bradford lozenge poisoning case.

The results of the trial caused the English population to be upset. The incident also proved to create critical change in the United Kingdom. That was because it contributed to legislation that regulated the adulteration of foodstuffs and resulted in the passage of the Pharmacy Act of 1868, which recognized chemists and druggists as the proper custodians and sellers of poisons.


  • [1] “The Bradford Poisonings,” in Hereford Times, 13 Nov. 1858, p. 6.
  • [2] “Poisoned Lozenges,” in Morning Post, 22 November 1858, p. 2.
  • [3] “The Poisonings at Bradford,” in London Daily News, 3 Nov. 1858, p. 3.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] “The Bradford Poisonings, p. 6.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] “The Poisonings at Bradford,” p. 3.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] The Annals and History of Leeds, and Other Places in the County of York, 1860, p. 731.
  • [14] “The Bradford Poisoned Lozenge Case,” in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 26 December 1858, p. 5.

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