Bradford Lozenge Poisoning Case

Bradford Lozenge Poisoning

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

An accidentally poisoning of sweets, known as lozenges, 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]

Daff consisted of either plaster of Paris, powdered limestone, or sulphate of lime. However, instead of daff being added, arsenic was accidentally added. 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.”[2]

The accidentally poisoning killed two boys first. Their deaths quickly proved to not be 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].”[3]

The 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. William Goddard had been employed by Hogdson to help. Goddard went 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.”[4] Goddard communicated this message. 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 it was “in a cask in a corner … and that it was a ‘white powder.'”[5]

Unfortunately, Goddard went to the wrong cask. He accidentally filled the order with 12 pounds of arsenic instead of daff. The order for the lozenges was created using “12lb. of arsenic … mixed with 40lb. of sugar, and 4lb. of gum-water.”[5] 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. However, one newspaper noted that there was “nothing to show that either of them suspect[ed] the real cause [for their sudden illness].”[6]

Daff was lighter in color than arsenic, so the resulting lozenges were darker than usual. When forty pounds of the lozenges were delivered to a sweets dealer in Bradford, named William Hardaker and known to locals as “Humbug Billy,” Hardaker objected to the “lozenges 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 the 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.”[8]

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.”[9] Although the first cases were thought to be cholera, it was soon discovered that the cause was Hardaker’s lozenges. Moreover, people’s symptoms demonstrated arsenic poisoning. Quick action was taken and antidotes given to person’s identified as having eaten the lozenges.

The same night that it was discovered the lozenges were poisoned, police went out. 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.”[10] Additionally, other judicious precautions were taken: “two 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.”[11]

Goddard was arrested. Some time later Hodgson and Neal were also arrested and charged with manslaughter. However, the charges against Goddard and Neal were withdrawn and only Hodgson was tried, but he was acquitted. At trial Dr. John Bell identified arsenic as the cause. Felix Rimmington, a prominent chemist and druggist, confirmed it.

“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.”[12]

In the end, 200 people were affected by the arsenic-laced lozenges and 20 people died. But the incident proved to create critical change in the United Kingdom. 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.

References:

  • [1] “The Bradford Poisonings,” in Hereford Times, 13 Nov. 1858, p. 6.
  • [2] “The Poisonings at Bradford,” in London Daily News, 3 Nov. 1858, p. 3.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] “The Bradford Poisonings, p. 6.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] “The Poisonings at Bradford,” p. 3.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] The Annals and History of Leeds, and Other Places in the County of York, 1860, p. 731.

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