oxalic acid poisoning – 1835

While searching the British Newspaper Archive, I found an interesting bit of WELLINGTON family history linked to the sad death of a 46 year old shoemaker called Edward PINKARD, as reported in The Western Flying Post and Sherborne Mercury, 1 June 1835.

YEOVIL. – Last week an inquest was held by Mr. Caines at Lymington, on the body of Edward Pinkard, and from the evidence it appeared that the deceased having felt unwell the previous night, desired his wife to get some salts in the morning; and she taking what she considered to be a paper of salts from the cupboard, mixed it with water, and gave it to him, the greater part of which he swallowed, and complained of a burning in his throat. He then exclaimed he had taken poison, on which the wife immediately sent for a surgeon, but before he could arrive he was a corpse. The man, who was a shoemaker, had been in the habit of keeping oxalic acid for the purpose of his business, and which was given him by his wife in mistake. Not the slightest blame could be attached to any one, as it is probable that the paper in which the acid had been kept must have been changed, which led to the sad catastrophe. A very malicious report was circulated of the salts having been purchased, without a label, of Mr. Wellington; but the wife fully proved that the acid had been in the house a long time, and was not bought in Yeovil at all. – Verdict, “Accidental Death.” – An Advertisement of Mr. Wellington’s refuting this malevolent rumour will be found in our first page.

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Public notices and statutory declarations by George Wellington, Mary Pinkard and George Edwards Wellington stating that the late Edward Pinkard “didn't buy it from us!” . [The Western Flying Post and Sherborne Mercury, 1 June 1835]

Statutory declarations by George Wellington, Mary Pinkard and George Edwards Wellington stating that the late Edward Pinkard “didn’t buy it from us!” . [The Western Flying Post and Sherborne Mercury, 1 June 1835]

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TO THE PUBLIC

A Report having been industriously circulated, that Edward Pinkard, who died at Lymington, on the 19th instant, from taking Oxalic Acid, had purchased such Acid at my Shop for Epsom Salts, the Saturday previous, I beg to state that the said Edward Pinkard did not purchase at my Shop any Salts or Oxalic Acid at the time stated, and that no mistake can possibly arise from the purchase of either of those articles at my Shop, because Epsom Salts are invariably weighed up in large quantities at a time, in white paper, bearing the following copper-plate label: – “Purified Epsom Salts, from G. Wellington, Chemist and Druggist, Yeovil;” whilst Oxalic Acid is invariably sold in blue paper, and a plain label: – “Oxalic Acid Poison” affixed to it. In order to remove all unpleasant impressions that such a wilfully malicious report might have occasioned, I beg to call the attention of my Friends and the Public to the Certificates underneath, which must at once convince all reasonable and unprejudiced persons that the mistake, so much to be deplored, did not in any way originate with me or at my Shop. The Original Certificates may be seen at my Shop.
GEO. WELLINGTON. Yeovil, 25th May, 1835.

_________

This is to certify, – That my late husband, Edward Pinkard, who died on the 19th instant, from taking Oxalic Acid, or some other Poison, by mistake, did not purchase the same at the Shop of Mr. George Wellington, Druggist, Yeovil, when he was there in the Saturday previous, as has been reported; nor did he say, nor do I know, that he bought it at Mr. Wellington’s Shop at any other time, the same having been in the house several weeks previous to my husband’s death, and he being in the habit of buying drugs at several shops. That the paper containing the poison taken by my husband has no label on it; that I have frequently seen Salts in the house which my husband purchased at Mr. Wellington’s Shop, and that the same was always labelled with a printed label.
Dated this 25th day of May, 1835. MARY PINKARD.
Witness JAMES MILLS, Lymington.

__________

This is to certify – That Edward Pinkard, late of Lymington, who died on the 19th instant, came to the Shop of Mr. George Wellington, Druggist, Yeovil, on the 16th instant; that I then served him with the articles he wanted, and that the only goods he purchased were some Hair Oil, for the use of his daughter, who had lost her hair, and some Garden Seeds.
Dated this 25th day of May, 1835. G. E. WELLINGTON.

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Oxalic Acid in solid form is a fine white crystal that dissolves in water to a colourless solution. It is mainly used as a cleaning agent, especially for the removal of rust. It is also used as a bleach and dyeing agent for leather and cloth, and is most likely what the shoemaker used it for. Oral consumption, inhalation or prolonged skin contact of Oxalic Acid causes burns, coughing, wheezing and inflammation and oedema of the larynx and stomach. A lethal oral dose can be as low as 15 to 30 grams.

Oxalic-Acid-comparison-Epsom-Salts

Oxalic Acid has a similar crystal form to Epson Salts (Magnesium Sulphate).

Magnesium Sulphate, commonly known as Epsom Salts, can be safely used externally and internally. A 1% solution of Epsom Salts is a safe and easy way to increase sulphate and magnesium levels in the body as it aids in the treatment of aches and pains.

As the images above show, it would be quite easy for Mary PINKARD to mistake a packet of Oxalic Acid for Epson Salts if it were not clearly labelled as “Poison”. The poor man must have suffered an agonising death.

Speculation and rumour would have been rampant upon the news of the poisoning of Edward PINKARD. A malicious rumour was circulated in the district that the poison was bought from my great-great-great-grandfather George WELLINGTON’s chemist shop; and that he or one of his staff had supplied the wrong product, or had failed to label the packet correctly.

We all know how quickly rumours spread and I can imagine someone jumped at the chance to tarnish the reputation of a successful business rival with malicious gossip. George WELLINGTON must have felt the damage to his reputation and business keenly in the two weeks following Edward PINKARD’s death. He wrote and had published statutory declarations from himself, his son George Edwards WELLINGTON and from the shoemaker’s widow Mary PINKARD repudiating the malevolent rumours.

There is one other person mentioned in this tragic affair who you have to feel very sorry for. What of the reputation of Edward PINKARD’s unfortunate daughter?

…the only goods he purchased were some Hair Oil, for the use of his daughter, who had lost her hair, …

Was it absolutely necessary for George Edwards WELLINGTON to go into so much detail in his declaration? The poor girl had just lost her father and now the whole of Yeovil knew she is bald under her bonnet. It was very inconsiderate of George to include that fact in his statement as he knew first-hand how damaging rumours and gossip could be.

You may also like to read:

two penny worth of arsenic

diseases and remedies of the 1800s

the chemist shop that time forgot

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Sources: British Newspaper Archive; Wikipedia Magnesium Sulphate, Oxalic Acid.

susanah’s journal – yeovil 1835

From the journal of Miss Susanah Wellington (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somersetshire. Her diary includes copies of letters and a record of the last few years of her life.

Susanah's beautifully neat copperplate writing is still readable after 180 years.

Susanah’s beautifully neat copperplate writing is still readable after 180 years.

We left the house at the shop early in September 1835 which was the same summer as I left school and commenced teaching.

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Susanah turned sixteen in the summer of 1835, she had finished her schooling and began teaching music lessons in Yeovil with her sister Jane. They taught the pianoforte and most likely music composition, harmony and voice accompaniment.

1835_paris_couture

The latest fashions for young ladies in 1835.

Pigot’s Trade Directory of Somerset 1830 lists George WELLINGTON, – Chymist and Druggist, Borough, Yeovil. Susanah’s father had a chemist shop in the Borough, which was in the centre of the market town. The family must have lived in the second and third storeys above the shop.

A pencil sketch from about 1810 of the Borough, Yeovil showing the Market House and Shambles. The artist is standing roughly where King George Street meets High Street today. Above the sign of the Greyhound Inn on the right can be seen a sign for a Grocer, Chemist, Druggist.

A pencil sketch from about 1810 of the Borough, Yeovil by G E Madeley, shows the Shambles on the left and the Market House to the right. George Wellington’s ‘Chymist and Druggist’ shop was situated in the Medical Hall visible behind the old Market House and the sign of the Greyhound Inn on the far right.

Susanah doesn’t tell us where in Yeovil the family moved to in 1835. They probably relocated to a larger house to accommodate their growing family.

Between 1835 and 1845 George WELLINGTON was expanding his business. He was in partnership with his eldest son, George Edwards WELLINGTON, and they opened a second shop in Glastonbury in about 1838. The General Directory for the County of Somerset 1840 lists George WELLINGTON & Son, Chemists & Druggists and also Grocers & Dealers in Sundries, with businesses in High Street, Glastonbury and the Borough, Yeovil.

High Street,Yeovil, Somerset - showing the Mermaid Inn and Fleur-de-Lys Hotels - 1839 by Henry Burn. On the far right is a Chemist, Grocer, Druggist shop.

This 1839 painting of High Street, Yeovil by Henry Burn (1807–1884) shows the Mermaid Inn archway and large overhanging sign on the left. The building on the other side of the street is Granger’s chemist and druggist shop.

The Wellington family relocated to Glastonbury for a few years in the late 1830s. Susanah developed consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) and died there in June 1838.

The 1841 UK Census records the Wellington family living back in High Street, Yeovil. The household listed George WELLINGTON with six of his children – Jane, Fanny, Rosa, Lucy, Rebecca and Ellen. His wife Elizabeth was vacationing in Weymouth with her ladies maid, and his youngest son Frederick was away at boarding school. Also listed in the household were staff and servants – a druggist’s apprentice, three young shop hands and a ten year old female servant.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney. Pigot’s Directory – Somersetshire 1830; General Directory for the County of Somerset 1840; UK Census OnlineThe History of Yeovil’s Pubs by Bob Osborn.

susanah’s journal – letter to mrs eason

From the journal of Miss Susanah Wellington (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somersetshire. Her diary includes copies of letters and a record of the last few years of her life.

Letter to Mrs Eason, April 1835

Letter to Mrs Eason, April 1835

The copy of the letter the young ladies of Mrs Eason’s School wrote
to Mrs Eason when they presented her with a desk.

Yeovil April 1835

Dear Mrs Eason,

You undoubtedly feel very surprised at your presence being requested at this time. Need we tell you that your increasing kindness to us has long ’ere now made an indellible impression on our minds and we have frequently wished to testify how highly we appreciate it, by some memento of our affection.

We have found some little difficulty in deciding on something that would be as useful as ornamental, and we trust that we have at last selected an article which will be agreeable to your own taste. Allow us then to present you this desk as a small token of our united love and respect.

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1835 was the year Susanah WELLINGTON turned fifteen and the last year of her schooling. The graduating class gave a gift to Mrs Eason, the principal and benefactor of the school in the spring of 1835.

The desk may have been a portable table-top writing slope similar to one used by Jane Austen to write her manuscripts and letters.

Jane at her writing desk in a scene from the movie Miss Austen Regrets, starring Olivia Williams.

Jane at her sloped writing desk in a scene from the movie Miss Austen Regrets, starring Olivia Williams.

Small table-top writing desk from the Jane Austen Society of North America Photo Courtesy of the British Library [www.jasna.org/persuasions/announceP30.html]

Small table-top writing desk from the Jane Austen Society of North America. [Photo Courtesy of the British Library]

Or it’s possible it was a small ladies writing desk called a cheveret, which stood on dainty legs and had several drawers to hold paper and correspondence. They were often topped with a detachable book carrier. The lower drawer was fitted with compartments for pens and ink-wells.

George III satinwood cheveret, with a removable book carrier with fitted drawers. Estimated price today of £1500-£2000. [www.liveauctioneers.com/item/3026266].

George III satinwood cheveret, with a removable book carrier with fitted drawers. This beautifully-made piece is worth between £1500-£2000 today.

Everyone of good standing needed a handy writing desk. Letter writing was a daily ritual and an art form. Letters were the social media of the 1800s. It appears to me that Susanah’s transcriptions of letters were her study of correspondence suitable for any occasion. She was learning what to say, and also how to say it.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydneyJournal transcription by Terry HASTINGS. The British Museum website. Jane Austen Society of North America.

susanah’s journal – samson and sampson

From the journal of Miss Susanah WELLINGTON (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somersetshire. Her diary includes school lessons, letters and a record of the last few years of her life.

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SW_BMD2_p48&49

In 1835-36 Susanah recorded details of some of her mother’s family. Her mum was Elizabeth WELLINGTON [née SAMSON] (1794-1865), the second wife of George WELLINGTON (1781-1847), Chemist and Druggist of Yeovil, Somerset.

I have found baptisms and marriages for this family recorded in parish registers as SAMSON and also SAMPSON. It often depended on which spelling the minister or parish clerk thought was correct. There are also a variety of spellings for first names. Susanah, Susannah and Susanna; Elizabeth and Elisabeth; Gerard and Gerrard.

Records show later generations of SAMSONs adopted the ‘P’ to become SAMPSON. Susanah spells the name SAMSON, I know from her journal she is quite literate and would have received the information ‘first-hand’ from her mother, so that’s the spelling I am using.

Elizabeth Samson died November 15th 1833, aged 69 years*
Gerard Samson died January 8th 1835, aged 78 years*
*Proverbs 14th 26 verse.  * I Corinthians 15 chap. 58 verse.

Elizabeth SAMSON [née GROVES] (1764-1833) and Gerard SAMSON (1757-1835) were Susanah WELLINGTON’s maternal grandmother and grandfather. They lived in Wayford, about 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) south-west of Yeovil in Somerset.

The Bible references may be the sermons delivered at their funerals, but more than likely they are inscriptions on their tombstones:

In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and his children shall have a place of refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
I Corinthians 15:58

Levi Samson died August 17th 1835.

Levi SAMSON (1789-1835) was Susanah’s uncle, her mother Elizabeth’s older brother. Levi was 46-years-old when he died and was buried at Wayford, Somerset.

St Michael & All Angels Church at Wayford, Somerset

St Michael & All Angels Church at Wayford, Somerset

My Uncle Tom was married the 31st December 1835 and
My Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom left Wayford April the 1st 1836.

Thomas SAMSON (1806-1879) was another uncle. There is a record of a marriage licence being granted to Thomas SAMSON of Wayford, Somerset and Anne WARREN of Monkwood in the chapelry of Marshwood, Dorset on 28 December 1835.

If Tom’s wife was Anne, then who was Aunt Mary? Why did Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom leave Wayford three months later? An entry in Susanah’s Journal dated 16 January 1837 may help clear up this puzzle:

My Papa, Mamma, Aunt Mary, Uncle Smith & Tom went to Ludney to settle the Wayford business.

Aunt Mary is likely to be Mary SAMSON (a sister to Levi, Elizabeth and Tom). Upon the death of their father Gerard SAMSON in January 1835 the family estate would have been willed to the eldest son William SAMSON (1784-1851) or divided between the many children.

When Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom left Wayford in April 1836 they may have received a share of money after probate was granted on their father’s estate. It appears that they all returned in December that year to finally settle the division of the assets. I think this warrants further investigation, I might be able to find a record of the will or probate.

Sarah was married January 9th 1836.

Sarah was Susanah’s half-sister and the daughter of George WELLINGTON and his first wife Elizabeth EDWARDS. Sarah WELLINGTON married James DAVIS at the parish Church of St John the Baptist in Yeovil on the above date. Witnesses to the marriage were her brother George and sister Sophia WELLINGTON and James’s sister Ann DAVIS. Sarah was born in 1812 and died in 1902 in Hampshire at the age of 90.

Parish Church of St John, Yeovil. Its large arched windows let in so much light it was called ‘The Lantern of the West’.

Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Yeovil. Its large arched windows let in so much light it was called ‘The Lantern of the West’.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydneyYou can read other posts on members of the WELLINGTON family here: george wellington’s letters; susanah’s journal – births, deaths and marriages. The National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

susanah’s journal – mottos

I found this page in Susanah’s journal a bit of a curiosity. A few strange words and shapes ruled off at the top and the rest of the page is left blank.

SW_Letter_mottos_full

When I first looked at it I could not make out any of the words except “Mottos” at the top. I think it may say a rose” to the right of a little doodle of a flower losing a petal. The only other English words I could see were “change” and the word in front of that might be Jane” – but the rest I couldn’t decipher.

SW_Letter_mottos_closeup

 Then the Eureka moment – it’s in French!

 “Je ne change qu’en mourant”

translates to

I change only in death

or

I will remain steadfast until death.

The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck – these are very prophetic words. The page is undated but sits chronologically within the notebook between 1834 and 1835. Susanah WELLINGTON was fourteen or fifteen-years-old at the time and had experienced her fair share of death. You can read more about the circumstances in these posts: susanah’s journal – births, deaths and marriages and diseases and remedies of the 1800s.

Terry HASTINGS is my distant cousin who was custodian of Susanah’s Journal before passing it on to me for safe keeping. I emailed him to share what I had discovered and to ask for his thoughts on what it might all mean. Terry replied with the following:

“Susanah was probably conversant in French through her education. It was considered an accomplishment of young ladies of the era and fits well with the music she both taught and learned at Mrs Eason’s school. “I change only in death” indicates awareness of her fate, resignation to her end and expectation of a heavenly reward for what must surely have been a pure and blameless life.

“The strong religious tone of the diary also complements the French motto, presaging the immortality of Susanah’s convictions. It was God’s will and she would therefore accept it. In an age when premature death was common, perhaps this was a consolation for the dying.

“The emblem of the rose is significant too isn’t it? It’s undefiled beauty is gradually withering just as a young lady’s life is gradually deteriorating.”

A poem and song The Last Rose of Summer by Irish poet Thomas MOORE would have been popular in the early 1800s. Moore wrote it in 1805 and Sir John STEVENSON set the words to music in 1813. 

‘Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

The words reflect the shortness of life and the ‘bleak world’ the rose inhabited. This is more than likely the message to be found in Susanah’s little rose sketch. The circle with the initials is still a mystery to me.

“Vous” (You)
O. L. P. or O. J. P.
“Mes” (My)
I. D. or J. D.

It may indicate a secret love interest or could be simply a tribute to her loving family. The initials are perplexing as they do not seem to relate to anyone mentioned before in the journal or any other family members. As Susanah had great faith it might be a religious motto. Capital D at the end may stand for “Dieu” (God).

If you have come across anything similar and you can shed light on these little encryptions, please let me know. I would be grateful for your help.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. Her diary includes school lessons, letters and a record of the last few years of her life between 1832-1838. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney. Many thanks to Terry HASTINGS for his contribution to this article.