Poisoned By Ice Cream

The citizens of Victorian London lived with all manner of dangers. Some of those dangers were very visible and they caused a huge amount of furore whenever they came to the fore, and caused more terror amongst the population at large than they actually warranted.

The Jack the Ripper murders could be said to fall into this category; after all, the Ripper was only a danger to a certain type of woman in a certain part of London, and yet his murders struck terror throughout the entire country, and impacted on the lives and mental well-being of many who were not, and never would be in danger from him.

But, it was the invisible dangers that people should have been afraid of, as these probably claimed the lives of more people than a lone assassin stalking the streets of Whitechapel ever could or would.

Take the food people ate, for example.

It was a commodity that everyone depended on, and yet the dangers lurking in it could, quite literally, cost unsuspecting consumers their lives.

On Tuesday, 28th August, 1888, The London Evening Standard published the following report on an inquest that had been held the previous day which highlighted how even something as seemingly harmless as ice-cream could pose a threat to the lives of those who consumed it:-


“Dr. Thomas held an inquest yesterday at the St. Pancras Coroner’s Court as to the death of Louisa Minnie Fairservice, aged three and a half years, whose parents reside in Meesden-street, Kentish Town.

Louisa Fairservice, the mother, stated that the Deceased, who was a healthy child some twelve weeks ago, was given a teacup and sent out to buy ice cream from a stall in the street.

She brought back some cream and lemon ice cream, some of which Witness, the Deceased, and two children partook of.


The two other children, after partaking of the ice cream, were taken with vomiting and pains in the stomach.

The following day the Deceased became ill, and complained of severe pains in the stomach, and Witness took her to Dr. Bennett, who prescribed for the child.


She afterwards took the girl to the North-West London Hospital, Kentish Town-road, as an out-patient, after which her condition got worse, and she lost flesh, besides which a rash came out on the body, which they thought was measles.

Witness afterwards called on Dr. Bennett to attend to her daughter, but she got worse and died on Tuesday last.

The Coroner said that he believed that persons making ice cream with lemon juice used acid.


A Juror said that he should like to know whether the Deceased had been eating haddocks, because within the last week several persons had been admitted at the hospital suffering from vomiting and a rash on the body, like measles, which was supposed to be due to the fact that the fish, before being cured by the vendors, was allowed to become partly decomposed.

The Mother replied that her daughter had not eaten haddock.


Dr.Bennett said that when he first saw the child it was suffering from enteric fever and partial paralysis, which showed symptoms of lead poisoning.

A Juror said that many of the ice-cream vendors kept their ices in lead pots, and lead poisoning might have arisen from it.

The Coroner said that might be so, and he believed that other cases similar to this had taken place.

If anyone went to the district of Eyre Street Hill and saw how the ices were made, they would not be likely to eat the ices.

It was important that the ices should not be made of milk that had been allowed to get sour, and it was also important that the water should not have been contaminated.


Dr. Bennett stated that, in his opinion, the death of the Deceased had been caused by exhaustion from enteric fever, probably caused by lead poisoning after eating ices.

There must have been some irritant poison in the ice cream, and the other children were only saved by vomiting.

Last year he attended, for over three months, a boy who had taken six glasses of ice cream.


The Jury returned a verdict of Death from Exhaustion, following enteric fever, probably caused by eating ices purchased in the street, and they recommended that the sanitary authorities be called upon to purchase ice cream from street vendors with a view to their being submitted for analysis.”