페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

to vexatious removal; for in those days the landowners and tenant farmers were the only persons to find the means for the poor rate, and it was their interest to prevent paupers marrying, to prohibit their building cottages, and to require clear proof of their right of settlement in any particular parish. In 1723 an Act was passed authorising the establishment of workhouses in any village where it was thought necessary; but there was no union of parishes till far later. To give an idea of what could be done in the way of ignoring, if not of suppressing, pauperism, it may be mentioned that the whole sum for the relief of the poor in England and Wales, at the time of the incident under description, is believed to have been little more than one and a half million. The poor rates now exceed fifteen millions ; but the population, of course, has enormously increased, and the whole of the sum is not applied to the poor. The indigent had a rough time of it, because the ratepayers were anxious to keep them moving, or drive them into rude asylums, such as were the workhouses of the day, from whence they would voluntarily decamp. The turnpike trustees were, probably, most of them magistrates and justices of the peace, and exercised a general supervision over the disposal and treatment of the pauper classes. And the present inspection may well have been intended to allow of any obvious injustice and hardship being set right. The record of what occurred is taken from the Gentleman's Magazine, under date May 1773, and is imperfect in details. After business had been transacted the trustees all dined together. Only eleven names are given, but it is not quite clear that the list is exhaustive. The names themselves indicate position in the county: the Hon. W. O'Brien, Captain Needham-three others are military men-Mr. Walpole Eyre, and so on. All who were present at the dinner, except one, were taken ill. They sickened probably gradually, and, it is said, in some ten days were seriously unwell. When the Magazine was published five were dead. With regard to one gentleman, Mr. Walpole Eyre, the exact date on which he succumbed is known, from the parish register at Burnham. It was April 13. There is no mention whether inquests were held or post-mortem examinations directed, and an inquiry made for the purposes of this paper elicits that the records at the coroner's office do not go back so far, as from time to time the older papers have been destroyed. It seems desirable that the county councils should make arrangements for the preservation of inquest records, as coroners will henceforward be appointed by them, and will remain, in some degree, under their supervision. The Magazine, however, states that "from every

VOL. CCLXXIII. NO. 1940.

circumstance that can be collected” the illnesses were caught from contagion, and that their nature was of a type of disease incident to paupers ; and so it may be concluded that medical evidence was taken at the time. We know from the labours of John Howard, and the account of his life, what a scourge the so-called jail fever was at a period contemporaneous with the catastrophe under notice. Nor is there anything incredible in the supposition that a body of paupers, badly fed, badly clothed, and huddled into imperfectly drained dens, should carry with them the germs of malignant typhoid disease. The medical treatment then prevalent rendered the malady more fatal. Bleeding and drastic purgatives hastened the mischief commenced by under-nutrition and blood-poisoning.

Of course when so sad and striking an occurrence took place gossiping tongues were not idle, and a few ill-natured talkers were anxious to make out that there was something wrong either in the kitchen or the cellar at the “Castle ”-some poisonous herb, perhaps, accidentally used. It was not without precedent that monkshood had been mistaken for horse radish. One story was that the Madeira had been drawn too near the filings. But from the Magazine already quoted it would appear that the belief was generally prevalent that the cause of the fatal sickness might be traced to the inspection of the body of indigent people who were collected together at the trust meeting. It would be presumptuous to call the visitation a punishment, or to attempt to trace the hand of Providence in what befell these country gentlemen. Nothing is known of their characters, and they may well enough have been benevolent and charitable persons. But what are called the laws of nature exercise themselves irrespective of the individual who perhaps unwittingly sets them in motion. If nitre and carbon and sulphur, intimately mixed, are ignited, there is an explosion, though the spark may have fallen from the lamp of a saint. Oppression and deprivations—whether of food or of air-produce with bad constitutions a condition of blood which is contagious, and the fatal possession may be transmitted to a bishop—to anyone. There can be no question that landowners and landholders had harried and worried the pauper population, in many instances driving them from the country into the suburbs of towns, where they formed the nucleus of what are now called "the dangerous classes.” The drunkard, the thief, the burglar-ultimately, perhaps, the murderer-owe their existence, in some measure, to the shortcomings of responsible people.

And therefore when these outcasts at Salt Hill, who seemed so helpless, but were really so formidable, shook their pestilent rags,

and the rosy squires grew pale and sickened, some of them even unto death, it cannot but be admitted that there was a semblance of retribution, which might well produce serious reflections. And so much can be said without casting the least reproach on the particular sufferers.

The account which has been relied on is not quite free from a sense of the comical appearance of these famished scarecrows. That is a feeling which has now passed away. But as late as some sixty years ago the cachet of respectability bestowed by “a good coat to the back” rendered the absence of this garment a ground for ridicule. Vagabonds and paupers, and even the humbler artisans, were held to be fair game for a little—not necessarily unkind-merriment. Southey could not write the Life of John Bunyan without occasionally pausing to smile at his self-imposed task of glorifying a tinker. But, thanks to Carlyle and others, such notions have disappeared. Till within a short time back, it may be said, then, that the catastrophe at Salt Hill lived in the memory of persons who had heard of it as a local tradition, and was attributed to fever caught from intercourse with a party of infected paupers. There was no further mystery than that naturally shrouding an accident which was not very fully reported. Think of how differently it would have been treated now-pictures of the inn, pictures of the garden ; portraits of the victims, portraits of the leading indigent; the landlord interviewed, the doctors interviewed ; and the results of “our reporter's” inquiries at the different country houses, all fully recorded.

A year or two ago, however, Mr. Bentley, himself a resident of Slough, published the journal of a Mrs. Papendiek, a member of a family who were employed about the court of George III. She has much to relate of interesting people with whom she was intimate, including the Herschels and Zoffanys, who, like herself, resided at Upton. In this work appears a wholly different account of the tragedy at the “ Castle.” According to her, nineteen died out of a larger number attacked immediately after dining, and only one gentleman, who was prevented dining, escaped altogether.

The fatality was so generally attributed to the cooking that the landlord, Partridge, was ruined, and, indeed, did not long survive. She then proceeds to relate that, many years after, the whole secret came out. The widow, Mrs. Partridge, set up a school at Hammersmith, and with the assistance of her daughters did very well. In the course of time, however, lying on her death-bed, Mrs. Partridge disclosed that she knew the mystery of the fatal repast. A cook had come down from London, and proposed sitting up the night before

the dinner, as, he said, the long stewing was the great point in making the turtle soup.

He fell to sleep, the fire went out, and in the morn. ing he heated up the soup without removing it from the pan. From the acids used in the cooking verdigris was formed. This impregnated one or two other dishes, and the result was that those who partook of the soup and other tainted delicacies were all poisoned.

Now from these details it will be well first to separate those which present no difficulty and rest on the authority of a lady in every way trustworthy, and then consider the remaining ones.

It may be received at once that Partridge lost his customers. Even if the accident was not generally attributed to the dinner it is not improbable that people avoided frequenting the scene of a disaster. Innkeepers have a great objection to a death occurring in their houses, and even make a charge for the injury it causes. And there is no reason for doubting that Mrs. Partridge settled at Hammersmith, and that she finally made the confession attributed to her. Further, it may be held a fact—why should it not be so ?—that the cook went to sleep and allowed verdigris to form in the stewing-pan, and was entirely under the impression that he had caused the catastrophe. Mrs. Papendiek tells her anecdote in good faith, and it may be accepted in the same spirit. The circumstance that Mrs. Partridge kept the secret of the verdigris accounts for its not being mentioned in the Gentleman's Magazine, but it does not in any way prove that the verdigris did cause the illnesses. With respect to the number who died, it is not gathered that Mrs. Papendiek had further authority than rumour, and in her additional statement that the attacks were immediate, and that in some cases death ensued at the hotel itself, before removal could take place, there is the difficulty that when the Magazine was published in May only five were dead up to that time, and that we know Mr. Walpole Eyre did not die till April 13.

There is a curious point. Mrs. Papendiek remarks that one gentleman entirely escaped, because he was prevented dining. This seems to have been a Mr. Pote, whose immunity from any harm was remarked at the time. But what is related of him in the contemporary record? Why, that he was not present at the inspection of the paupers, but walked about in the garden. It does not seem necessary, therefore, to come to a new conclusion in consequence of the fresh information supplied by Mrs. Papendiek. The exact number of gentlemen who were taken ill, and out of them how many died, cannot be considered certain ; but little doubt need exist that Mrs. Papendiek's figures are far too high.

If Mrs. Partridge told her husband the cook's story he may have believed that the blame lay in his kitchen. If she did not tell him he may still have had to grieve over the loss of customers, and the expenses of the place may have been finally too much for him. We have seen, however, that in 1808 the “Castle” had entirely recovered its popularity. But the verdigris story, though there is no reason for doubting the perfect veracity of Mrs. Papendiek, Mrs. Partridge, and the cook, cannot be received as explaining the origin of the illnesses ;-in the first place, because the effects of that acetate produced under the circumstances described could not have been of the gravity and on the scale of what was witnessed ; and in the second, because the slow sickening and delayed development do not accord with the symptoms which would result from verdigris; and, thirdly, because the solution of the mystery offered at the time is sufficient, natural, and highly probable, fitting in better than any other hypothesis with all the known features of the

case.

If space should be hereafter accorded some curious particulars may be related concerning the old Eton procession to the “Montem” at Salt Hill ; the dinner there, and other proceedings especially connected with the “Windmill" Inn, whose dramatic end by fire may then be noted.

J. W. SHERER.

« 이전계속 »