Heritage

Published on January 26th, 2016 | by admin

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Drop Dead Gorgeous

How our Victorian Ancestors Were Poisoned at Home, Work & Play

It’s like something out of a Gothic horror novel: women fainting in green dresses and leaders like Napoleon dropping dead in green-painted rooms. I once saw an exhibition about the dangers of Victorian fashion. In it was a bright green ball-gown on a skeleton. This dress had been coloured with an arsenic-containing dye. Arsenic poisoning occurred frequently because arsenic was found everywhere in pre-20th century life, not just in poorly regulated dyes. It’s therefore not surprising that a headstone in Castle Bromwich graveyard led us to discover this melancholy tale.

Melancholy Tale of Poisoning of Two Brothers

It was the 10th day of April 1860 Joseph aged 15 and his younger brother George, 12, walked down the hill with a small hand-wagon to fetch coal from the railway station. The station master saw them laughing as they set off towards their home at Buckland’s End, the wagon filled with coal.
A short while later their attention was caught by something having the appearance of flour on the easel of the bridge close to the Mill of Mr Twamley.

They’d worked hard all day setting potatoes and not having eaten since breakfast decided to eat some of the substance. It wasn’t long before they started to vomit, and continued to do so at intervals, until they reached home.
About 12 o’clock, George, the youngest died in great agony. The father then set off to Coleshill to fetch Mr. Bailey, the surgeon, but long before the arrival of that gentleman, the other had succumbed to the fatal nature of the attack.

The next morning a small group set out to trace the ground the poor lads had come over and the poisonous ingredient was discovered. The mystery of who’d placed a deadly poison in such a public place, and consequently created such a dangerous situation, formed the subject of a searching investigation. The melancholy occurrence created a painful sensation throughout the entire neighbourhood, and much sympathy was felt for the bereaved parents.


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