Unsolved Murders

Patrick McNulty

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Date: 18 Jan 1901

Place: Manchester

Over 70 people died from drinking arsenical beer around November and December 1900, and January 1901.

The poison was later traced to a form of impure sulphuric acid used in the ingredients created by substitutes for malt and hops.

The poisoning wasn't noticed for months, as many victims had been noted heavy drinkers and their ailments were initially put down to being due to alcoholic neuropathy.

By the end of the third week in November 1900 it was reported that there had been 1,119 sick paupers under treatment at the Manchester Workhouse Infirmary in Crumpsall, compared to 1,099 at the end of the previous week and 858 in the 47th week of 1899, illustrating the startling increase in the number of people receiving medical relief due to the epidemic of arsenical poisoning and it was estimated at the time that there had been about 500 people suffering from the disease in the city and borough.

It was noted that the disease, or the effects of the arsenical beer were gradual and took time to work their evil effects and that when death occurred that all traces of arsenic might have disappeared.

At an inquest on 14 February 1901, a juryman asked the Coroner why a beer retailer should be held responsible for the death and the Coroner replied  that the beer retailers were certainly legally responsible, and had already in several cases been fined for selling impure beer, but that the penalties had been light because it was considered an offence of a more moral than legal character as they had been, prior to the scientific investigations, quite ignorant of the dangerous nature of the liquid they were selling. However, the Coroner added that it was then unlikely that any poisonous beer was being sold, or had been sold for some time.

On 29 November 1900 the Sanitary Committee of Manchester City Council intimated that persons selling beer found to contain arsenic would be prosecuted. It was stated that in cases where the simple test for arsenic was not being carried out by brewers that their negligence was culpable.

The known victims were:

  1. Alice Booker (29 November 1900)
  2. Annie Hart (20 December 1900)
  3. George Rudd (20 December 1900)
  4. Mary Jane White (20 December 1900)
  5. James Malony (reported 2 January 1901)
  6. Margaret Monaghan (reported 2 January 1901)
  7. Margaret Norton (reported 2 January 1901)
  8. Mary Lea (reported 2 January 1901)
  9. Mary Jane Dyer (reported 9 January 1901)
  10. Ms McCabe (reported 9 January 1901)
  11. Patrick McNulty (reported 18 January 1901)

On 5 January 1901 it was reported that the Manchester Coroner had 25 cases to deal with, although six more cases were reported at the Manchester Infirmary and three more at Withington Workhouse Hospital the following day.

It was eventually concluded that in total more than 6,000 people were poisoned and 70 people died.

Following the incident, the London Gazette announced on 9 February 1901 that a Royal Commission was to be set up to inquire into the question of arsenical beer.

On 8 December 1900, the following poem was published:

When Alcohol was growing old
His vigour giving way,
He, by a stroke of luck, we're told.
With Arsenic met one day.

The brothers had a friendly chat,
Reviewing days of yore,
And Arsenic, it was then agreed,
Should take his business o'er.

So Arsenic now with freshening zeal
His poison spreads around,
And in the place of Alcohol
He covers all the ground.

"But how is this," the townsmen cry-
Whilst back and knees give way;
"Whence comes this weak and sickly feel?
Good Brewers! tell us, pray."

"Oh," say the Brewers, "it is naught,
For much the same's the liquor;
With the same elements it's fraught,
It only kills you quicker."

A report in the British Medical Journal contained an article on epidemic peripheral neuritis traced to arsenical contamination of beer-making materials, which stated:

Samples of beer were obtained on November 19th from a shop to which one case of illness could be clearly traced, for purposes of experimental investigation. We had no difficulty in satisfying ourselves of the presence of arsenic in our samples. Specimens of every article used in the brewery concerned were obtained and examined, arsenic being found in one sample of glucose (out of three) and in a sample of inverted sugar on November 22nd. It was ascertained that both these substances were purchased from the same firm of sugar manufacturers. Their works were visited on November 23rd, and samples of everything used examined, and it was found that the only sulphuric acid used was loaded with arsenic. The sulphuric works were visited on November 24th, and it was ascertained that the sulphuric acid was the ordinary commercial sulphuric acid prepared from arsenical pyrites. In all, 62 samples of various kinds were examined for the presence of arsenic. The results were examined for the presence of arsenic. The results show that there is no arsenic present in any substance which cannot be traced to the use of this impure sulphuric acid.

Brewing had traditionally used either malt or hops, which was more expensive and manufacturers had started to use sugar as a replacement.

It was reported on 29 November 1900 that the sugar then largely used in brewing came either from low grades of cane sugar or from some cheap form of starch, most commonly the starch of Indian corn. It was stated then that, in both cases, that the conversion into brewing sugar was affected by treatment with sulphuric acid and that modern sulphuric acid was made from iron pyrites which yielded sulphur on roasting, but that it also contained arsenic which was volatile at the temperature employed and that consequently arsenic was passed over with the sulphuric vapours which then led into an acid chamber where it finally appeared, sometimes in very considerable quantity, as an impurity in the resulting sulphuric acid. 

As such, it was noted that it was in that light clear to see how the arsenic in appreciable quantity, via the use of the arsenical sulphuric acid to convert their maize starch, was able to get into the beer. It was further noted however, that in the awareness of that process, that there was no excuse for brewers to use arsenicated sugar without knowing about it and that it was their responsibility to ascertain for themselves as to the purity of their ingredients, and that if they had no chemist on the premises capable of conducting the exceedingly simple and conclusive tests for arsenic, then their negligence was culpable.

At around the same time, the Manchester City Coroner,  who had recently investigated the case of a woman who had prior to her death been subject to violent vomiting and diarrhoea, symptoms that were suspected of being due to arsenic poisoning, said that beer sellers attended the risk if they sold beer, without first ascertaining whether or not it contained poison, which resulted in death, and that he would not hesitate to tell a jury that they must consider whether or not it amounted to criminal negligence.

He noted then that all beer was under suspicion and that none should be sold without a guarantee, noting that analysis for arsenic was a simple matter and would only cost a few shillings, but adding that to his mind, the indifference of some publicans and beer sellers was astounding.

It was stated that there was no doubt about the diminished sale of beer in Manchester around the time, with the majority of drinkers not venturing on their favourite beverages unless it was bottled, and of the best Burton brands. In particular, it was stated that local beer had been having a decidedly bad time, with the effects of the scare being felt at all breweries in the Manchester district, with one brewery stating that they were selling nearly a thousand barrels a day fewer than before the discovery of arsenic in beer was made, which it was noted, meant that more than 500,000 people had stopped their indulgence in ale of one particular brew, which it was noted could be true considering that the brewers served not only Manchester and Salford, but also dozens of other towns in a 25 mile radius.

It was further noted that small beer houses, where licences for beer alone were held, had suffered greatly from the scare, whilst the larger houses and hotels hardly felt the loss on account of the fact that most people took to drinking spirits and wines.

Arsenical beer was also reported in Shropshire, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Huddersfield and London as well as other places.

On 10 December 1900 at Ulverston, 400 barrels of beer were destroyed.

On 17 January 1901, the manager of a licensed house in Wolverhampton was fine £25 for selling beer that contained one-third of a grain of arsenic to the gallon. It was heard that the proprietors of the brewery that owned the house, immediately they had information of the contamination, had told all their managers to return all stocks for destruction and be supplied with liquor instead, but that the landlord had failed to act promptly on the notice.

The following day, 18 January 1901, the landlord of the Post Office Inn in St Michael Street, Shrewsbury, a house belonging to the Lichfield Brewery Company, was convicted for selling beer contaminated with arsenic. The court heard that an inspector had called and taken samples of beer on 7 and 14 December 1900 and sent them away for analysis whereupon  they were found to contain one part of arsenic for every 500,000 of beer. However, the landlord said that he had no idea that the beer was contaminated, as was the supplier, and it was thought that an oversight might have been made by the clerk that had sent out the instructions for all sales to be stopped and that the landlord had been overlooked.

The landlord was fined £3 altogether and his license was not endorsed.

Also, in Salop, the landlord of the Fox and Duck Inn in Pave Lane was charged with two offences committed on 5 and 11 December 1900 when beer was supplied that was found to contain arsenic. It was noted that after the first sample was found to contain arsenic that the landlord was warned on 8 December 1900 and he promised to stop selling it, but he said that on 10 December 1900 his brewer's agent sent him a telegram saying that he could sell from the last three hogsheads. However, when his beer was again sampled on 11 December 1900, it was again found to contain arsenic, with an analyst stating that each sample was found to contain not less than the equivalent of one-eighth of a grain per gallon. The bench then found that he had not used due diligence and found him guilty and fined him £5.

It was later stated that in all, 23 taverns and public houses were prosecuted for violations under section 6 of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875.

An inquest held on 26 January 1901 at Manchester on two more women that died from arsenical poisoning resulted in the jury censuring:

  • Messrs Groves and Whitwell, brewers.
  • Messrs Nicholson, chemists.
  • Messrs Morris, analysts to Messrs Bostock, the sugar people.
  • Mr Cook, the chemist.

However, the Coroner said that he disagreed with the censure of Messrs Groves and Whitwell.

Another case brought about concerned the Farmer's Brewery Company (Limited), in which it was heard that the tenant of the Sun Inn in Everton, which was owned by the Farmer's Brewery Company, had been given placards by the brewery that he exhibited in his smoke rooms and other places, which read:

Pure ales and stout; brewed only from malt and hops supplied by the Farmers' Brewery Company (Limited), Everton, Bawtry.

The landlord said that he had had the cards for about 12 months and that on 28 December 1900 an inspector came and took samples of the beer, telling him that it was for the purpose of analysis.

The inspector, who was under the Food and Drugs Act for Notts County Council, said that he sent the samples off to the Clerk of the Peace, who later sent him a telegram stating that the samples proved to be highly arsenicated, and instructing him to stop sales.

He said that when he saw the Chairman of the company and the secretary and others, that the Chairman remarked in the presence of others that he knew they had been using sugar and that there was no use in denying it.

When at the brewery the inspector was told that they had been using glucose from Bostock's, but that they had none left as they had sent it all back by the secretary’s orders

A man that had been a regular drinker at the Sun Inn gave evidence as to the effects of peripheral neuritis that he had suffered from, which included pains and tingling of the hands and feet and soreness of the eyes. He said that he was told that he was ordered to abstain from beer and that about a month later he was better.

Other evidence was heard and the bench found the case proved against the brewer and the owner was fined £20 and costs. A number of directors were also convicted, during which a section of the Public Health Act was read out, which read:

No person shall mix, order, or permit any other person to mix any article of food with any ingredients injurious to health, with the intention that it should be sold in that state.

It was then submitted that if it was proved that the directors did permit the brewer to mix glucose with beer, that it should not be any defence to say they did not know it was injurious to health.

Minute books for the company were then produced that showed on 13 December 1900 the company resolved unanimously that:

All ale and stout be brewed by the company shall be made from malt and hops.

However, it was then read that on 26 January 1901 at a directors meeting that they resolved unanimously that:

All beer condemned by the authorities, and any that is strongly arsenic, shall be destroyed.

The bench then convicted all the directors and fined them each £10 and costs.

At the same time it was noted that Messrs Bostock, sugar refiners of Liverpool, then had £100,000 of sugar upon their premises that was contaminated with arsenic and that it was quite useless to them.

Following the epidemic, Messrs Bostock went into liquidation. They did however, sue Nicholson & Sons for damages, for breach of an implied condition under the Sale of Goods Act 1893 and they were awarded the price of the contaminated acid and the value of their spoiled products, but no special damages were made for the loss of goodwill or the damages claimed by the brewers, incurred by using the contaminated product in their sugar's manufacture. It was noted that Nicholson & Sons survived the scandal but were later acquired by B Laporte.

An article in the Medical Press and Circular described the symptoms of arsenical poisoning from beer drinking:

The patients are invariably beer drinkers, although some admit partaking of spirit in addition. Both men and women are affected, the latter generally suffering most severely. In most instances the patients have sought assistance on account of the weakness and pains in the limbs. They describe their sensations as like 'pins and needles', ‘numbness', 'prickling', 'like walking on hot bricks', 'scolding'. Some complain chiefly of their difficulty in walking. In more advanced cases they declare themselves as 'paralysed' and quite unable to get about. In some few the pains are more general. One woman came complaining that she and her mother had 'rheumatism all over'. Many seek advice on account of 'rashes' and 'itching' of body, but generally, the poorer patients affected have not been particularly observant of their pigmentation. In some persons, however, the increasing darkening of the skin has been the chief feature to attract notice.

Not a few complain of 'smarting of the eyes', 'a cold in the head', 'running of the eyes and nose', or even 'influenza'. One woman complained bitterly that her eyes were 'always running, and scalded her cheeks'. Many have 'gone hoarse'. In some few cases a history of 'vomiting' has been given. Not a few say that their hands and feet are 'getting thick'. Numerous cases have presented herpetic and other skin eruptions. A doctor describes the 'general aspect' of the cases. 'This', he says, 'in a well-marked case is very characteristic. Frequently, but by no means always, the appearance is 'alcoholic'. The face is usually dusky, the eyes watery, and often with tears visibly overflowing. Sometimes there is distinct puffiness, especially about the eyelids. Walking is usually difficult, and the patients progress in a gingerly or ataxi manner. In bad cases there is much general wasting. The temperature in severe cases may be raised'.

On 12 February 1901 the Local Government Board issued a report on what it described as the recent epidemic of arsenical poisoning.

Following the epidemic, it was noted that it was thought that thousands of people had been being poisoned by arsenical beer in the previous few decades.

It was noted that the gradual introduction of the cheaper ingredients, and the move away from higher quality barley malt, had been controversial and had given rise to the Pure Beer Movement, an inquiry to look into the matter, which ran from 1896 to 1899, but which concluded that brewing substitutes were not deleterious materials under the Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875 and that further legislation was not required.

There was another outbreak of beer poisoning in Halifax in 1902 in which three people died.

Although there were a number of convictions under the Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875, no one was tried or convicted over the deaths caused.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Wikipedia

see Leeds Times - Saturday 05 January 1901

see Nottingham Evening Post - Thursday 06 December 1900

see Bradford Daily Telegraph - Wednesday 05 December 1900

see Western Times - Saturday 09 February 1901

see Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Thursday 14 February 1901

see Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 11 December 1900

see Tyrone Courier - Thursday 20 December 1900

see Ludlow Advertiser - Saturday 26 January 1901

see Leominster News and North West Herefordshire & Radnorshire Advertiser - Friday 18 January 1901

see Lowestoft Journal - Saturday 08 December 1900

see Sheffield Evening Telegraph - Thursday 17 January 1901