1858 Bradford sweets poisoning
|Date||October 30, 1858|
|Charges||Manslaughter by gross neglect|
The 1858 Bradford sweets poisoning was the arsenic poisoning of more than 200 people in Bradford, England, when sweets accidentally made with arsenic were sold from a market stall. Twenty-one victims died as a result. The event contributed to the passage of the Pharmacy Act 1868 in the United Kingdom and legislation regulating the adulteration of foodstuffs.
William Hardaker, known to locals as "Humbug Billy", sold sweets from a stall in the Greenmarket in central Bradford (now the site of Bradford's Arndale Centre). Hardaker purchased his supplies from Joseph Neal, who made the sweets (or "lozenges") on Stone Street a few hundred yards to the north. The lozenges in question were peppermint humbugs, made of peppermint oil incorporated into a base of sugar and gum. However, sugar was expensive (6½d per pound) and so Neal would substitute powdered gypsum (½d per pound) — known as "daff" — for some of the required sugar. The adulteration of foodstuffs with cheaper substances was common at the time and the adulterators employed obscure nicknames ("daff", "multum", "flash", "stuff") to conceal the practice.
On the occasion in question, Neal sent James Archer, the lodger who lived at his house, to collect daff for Hardaker's humbugs from druggist Charles Hodgson. Hodgson's pharmacy was located 3 miles away at Baildon Bridge in Shipley. Hodgson was at his pharmacy, but did not serve Archer owing to illness and so his requests were seen to by his young assistant, William Goddard. Goddard went to Hodgson as he was unclear on where the daff was to be found, and was told that it was in a cask in one corner of the attic. However, rather than daff, Goddard sold Archer 12 pounds (5.4 kg) of arsenic trioxide.
The mistake remained undetected even during manufacture of the sweets by James Appleton, an "experienced sweetmaker" employed by Neal, though Appleton did observe that the finished product looked different from the usual humbugs. Appleton was suffering symptoms of illness during the sweet-making process and was ill for several days afterwards with vomiting and pain in his hands and arms, but did not realise it was caused by poison. Forty pounds of lozenges were sold to Hardaker who also noticed the sweets looked unusual and used this to obtain a discount from Neal. Like Appleton, Hardaker, as one of the first to taste the sweets, also promptly became ill.
Regardless, Hardaker sold 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of the sweets from his market stall that night – reportedly at a price of 1½d for 2 ounces (57 g). Of those who purchased and ate the sweets, 21 people died with a further 200 or so becoming severely ill with arsenic poisoning within a day or so.
Originally the first deaths—those of two children—were thought to be owing to cholera, a major problem in Britain at the time; but the growing number of casualties soon showed that the purchase of lozenges from Hardaker's stall was the cause, and from there the trail led to Neal and Hodgson. Goddard was arrested and stood before magistrates in the court house in Bradford on 1 November with Hodgson and Neal later committed for trial with Goddard on a charge of manslaughter. Dr John Bell identified arsenic as the cause, and this was confirmed by Felix Rimmington, a prominent chemist and druggist and analytical chemist. Rimmington estimated that each humbug contained between 14 and 15 grains (0.91 and 0.97 grams) of arsenic, though a contemporary account suggests 9 grains (0.5831 grams), with 4.5 grains (0.292 grams) being a lethal dose. As such, each lozenge would have contained enough arsenic to kill two people, and enough distributed by Hardaker in total to kill 2,000. The prosecution against Goddard and Neal was later withdrawn and Hodgson was acquitted when the case was considered at York Assizes on 21 December 1858.
The tragedy and resulting public outcry was a major contributing factor to The Pharmacy Act 1868 which recognized the chemist and druggist as the custodian and seller of named poisons (as medicine was then formally known). The requirement for record keeping and the requirement to obtain the signature of the purchaser is currently upheld under the Poisons Act 1972 for "non-medicinal" poisons. W. E. Gladstone's ministry of 1868–1874 also brought in legislation regulating the adulteration of foodstuffs as a result of the events.
- Whorton 2010, p. 163.
- Jones 2000.
- Davis 2009.
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- Rivington & Rivington 1859, p. 173.
- Rivington & Rivington 1859, p. 172.
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- Whorton, James C. (2010). The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-199-57470-4.