The Arsenic Century - James C. Whorton

As 2011 is the National Year of Reading here in Australia I decided that I'd needed to start today. Each time I go to Sydney I treat myself a book from Kinokuniya. I love to browse their history section and always have to contain myself to select only one from several that look interesting. On my last visit I purchased The Arsenic Century - How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work and Play by James C. Whorton. You can read a review here.  Already I am enthralled.

Apparently there was a network of women in Essex who "placed poison and knowledge of its (arsenic) use in women's hands so they could do away with any bothersome person." Members of the community knew what was happening but did not often report their knowledge. Many women murdered their husbands and several children. These women probably don't have any living descendants today as I think they got rid of them all!

Poorer members of the community could pay Friendly Society memberships (life insurance policies were out of their league) and join burial clubs. Upon death, the cost of a funeral (and a little profit along the way)
could be met. It became common practice to enrol children in these clubs. In Manchester  there was a saying, "Aye, aye, that child will not live, it is in the burial club!" Living as we do today, this is inconceivable.

As well as being used for devious purposes, arsenic killed many Victorians via green wallpaper, cake ornaments, baby powder and pints of beer. The list goes on and on. It's a wonder anyone survived!

If you have family who lived in Victorian Britain I think this book will be a must. In fact, I'm off to bed to read more now.


  1. You've certainly got me intrigued...have to see if the National Lib has it. I am reminded about a case wherethe wife killed one child and tried for more plus suicide with Toni home perm...and that wasn't all that long ago.


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