60 children poisoned, one death, 1864

Liverpool Mercury Aug 12th, 1864



About 1pm yesterday the greatest excitement prevailed in the neighbourhood of Parliament St and Greenland St, in consequence of a rumour being prevalent that upwards of 60 children had been poisoned by eating some noxious beans. Unfortunately the rumour proved to be too well founded

It appears between 1 and 2pm a little girl named Mary Ann FOSTER was taken to the Southern Hospital by some females. The child was in great suffering, and the surgeons of the hospital were informed that she had been eating some beans which she had gathered from a heap of rubbish that had been thrown from a cart on some vacant land in Greenland St. Dr CAMERON, and Dr's WOLLASTON and EVANS, resident house surgeon's immediately attended the child, but before they had time to administer the remedies considered necessary for her, about 20 other persons arrived with children in their arms suffering the same way.

The medical gentlemen seeing that the case was an urgent one, and that the children were evidently suffering from a narcotic irritant poison, brought into requisition the whole resources of the institution, and antidotes were applied to counteract the effects of the deleterious stuff which the children had taken. The operating room at this time presented a heartrending appearance. The poor children seemed to be suffering acutely from pain, and many of them were retching violently, while their mother's and friends were crying most piteously.

From 1 to 3.30pm about 40 children were taken to hospital, one, named Michael RUSSELL, aged 6, who resided with his parents in New Bird St, died about ten minutes after he was admitted, although all means were taken to save him. This is the only case up to the present were fatal results have occurred, but several of the children are not by any means out of danger. The consequences would no doubt have been much more serious had it not been for the prompt medical assistance that the children obtained. The remedies applied were the stomach pump, emetics, stimulants etc.

The symptoms which the children exhibited were somewhat peculiar, although, they clearly showed the suffers had taken some poison of a deadly nature. The children were pale, very sick and exhausted, and when they attempted to walk they staggered about as if they were drunk, although they had the use of all their senses, the poison which they had taken evidently not producing that stupefying effect which results from taking opium. There pulsation was at first very low, some of them became feverish and drowsy, and their eyes were bright and protruding from the sockets, and in some of the worst cases the pupil of the eye was contracted. The quantities of beans which the children stated they had eaten produced somewhat different effects. In one case were a girl had eaten 12, her recovery was easily accomplished, whereas in the case of another child who stated she had eaten only 2 beans, it was for some time feared that fatal results would follow. The child who died ate, it is stated, only 6 of the beans.

From inquiries made by the police as to how the children got the beans, it appear about 11 o' clock in the forenoon a cart belonging to some person at present unknown, deposited a lot of rubbish on some vacant ground belonging to the corporation, adjoining the schools connected with Great George St, Chapel in Greenland St. Some children began to scrape amongst the rubbish and found a quantity of large, oily looking beans. The little things in their ignorance ate some of the beans as they had not an unpleasant taste, the news of the discovery quickly spread amongst the children in the locality, whose parents generally belong to the poorest class, and a number joined in the search and partook of the beans, with the results already stated.

Inspector's MOORE and SOUTHWELL, hearing of the occurrence, ordered the rubbish on the ground to be taken charge of by a number of policemen. Subsequently they caused it to be riddled, when upwards of a bushel of the beans was obtained. The master of St Barnabas School which is close by, also took a large quantity of beans from some children attending the school.

The bean found is known by the name of Physostygoma Venenosa, or "Calabar bean," is said to be used for dyeing or tanning purposes, and is a deadly poison. The rubbish from which it was obtained in so large a quantity by the unfortunate children is said by some to be ship sweepings and ballast taken from a vessel which has just arrived from the West Coast of Africa, while by others it is alleged to be sweepings of a warehouse floor, but, from the nature and appearance of the rubbish, the former seems to be the most likely supposition.

The reprehensible practice of placing in exposed places rubbish containing noxious nuts or seeds is no new thing. A letter appeared in the Mercury of the 7th July stating that a child of the writer's had been dangerously ill, from eating poisonous seeds which had been found amongst some ballast that had been carted from some vessel in the George's dock, and which had been deposited on some ground in the neighbourhood of Queen's Rd, Everton. In the present instance the rubbish was deposited in a place surrounded by dwellings of the poorer classes, whose children were likely from hunger or ignorance to eat anything that came in their way, and it was quite close to a large school, attended by numbers of children, who could not fail to see what was deposited so near at hand. No doubt the person depositing the rubbish did so in ignorance of the dangerous nature of the beans, but, looking at the lamentable consequences, it is hoped the authorities will in future take care what sort of rubbish is allowed to be deposited on waste land in and about the town.

List of sufferers

So far as can be obtained of the names of children poisoned by eating the beans, who have been taken to the Southern Hospital and the Southern Dispensary :-

At the Southern Hospital

Mary Ann FOSTER, aged 13, 9 court, Bell St.

Mary PRICE, aged 7, 4 court, Bell St.

Michael RUSSELL [dead], aged 6, 15 New Bird St.

Helen HUGHES, aged 7, 3 court, Jamaica St.

Edward DIVERS, aged 5, 11 Jamaica St.

John Knox HANLEY, aged 9, 10 New Bird St.

Mary Ann SWIFT, aged 7, 47 Jordan St.

Ellen FEARNS, aged 4, 5 court, Bell St.

Elizabeth SWIFT, aged 6, 47 Jordan St.

Bernard COSGROVE, aged 4, 3 court, Jordan St.

Winifred JANKIN, aged 6, 9 Newhall St.

Mary Ellen HOPE, aged 4, 5 court, Newhall St.

Catherine HOPE, aged 2, 5 court, Newhall St.

Mary Ann FLAHARTY, aged 10, 2 New Bird St.

Mary Ellen KELLY, aged 3, 12 Newhall St.

Caleb TILL, aged 6, 5 Crump St

David TOOLE, aged 4, 20 Greenland St

Bernard FLAHARTY, aged 2, 2 New Bird St.

Bridget BRADLEY, aged 4, 5 court, Bell St.

Margaret BUTTER, aged 6, 2 court, Crump St.

Mary HEALEY, aged 2, 3 court, Jamaica St.

Samuel PRICE, aged 6, 7 court, Crump St.

Michael HUGHES, aged 3, 3 court, Jamaica St.

Thomas DUFFY, aged 4, 18 Newhall St.

Cecilia CAMPBELL, aged 2, 9 New Bond St.

Rose Ann DOHERTY, aged 3, 40 Jordan St.

Mary Catherine WILLIAMS, aged 3, 40 Newhall St.

Thomas CONNELLY, aged 5, 1 court Newhall St.

James MACK, aged 4, 3 court, Brick St.

John M'HUGH, aged 7, 24 Jordan St.

John RONEY, aged 3, Jordan St.

James RICE, AGED 4, 16 New Bond St.

William Henry WALKER, aged 9, 18 Jordan St.

Mary Ann M'LAUGHLAN, aged 4, 19 Jordan St.

John LEAREN, aged 4, 60 Greenland St.

Mary Ann HEALY, aged 6, 28 Jordan St.

John M'GLYN, aged 7, Crosby St.

John BARNET, aged 8, 1 court, Jamaica St.

Catherine BARRATT, aged 3, 1 court, Newhall St.

John CLARK, aged 4, 5 court, Bell St.

John RONAN, aged 2, 4 New Bird St.


At the Southern Dispensary

John and Kate BRADLEY, 15 Newhall St.

Bridget BRADLEY, Allen FEARN and John CLARK, 5 Bell St.

James RICE, 16 New Bird St.

Mary Ann M'LAUGHLAN, 19 Jordan St

There are other children who also suffer from eating the beans, whose names we have been unable to ascertain.

An inquiry touching the death of RUSSELL will probably be held today before the borough corner.


Liverpool Mercury Aug 13th, 1864

The fatal poisoning case.

At the coroner's court yesterday, on the jury being sworn, Mr P. F. CURRY, the borough coroner, remarked there were four cases three of these they would be able to finish that day, but the fourth, that of the child Michael RUSSELL, aged 6, of New Bird St, whose death was said to have been caused by eating some poisonous beans, it would be necessary to have an adjournment, in order that Dr EDWARDS, analytical chemist, might have the opportunity of analysing the stomach and viscera of the deceased, lying in the Southern Hospital. The jury then proceeded to view the body at the Southern Hospital and the inquest was adjourned until Friday.

The mother of the deceased child was in court and was in great distress at the loss she had sustained. The Coroner called the attention of the reporters to the following notice, which he said at his suggestion had been issued by Major GREIG, chief constable, that they might give publicity to it, so that a similar calamity to that which occurred might be guarded against in future :-

CAUTION - Whereas several children have eaten beans or Calabar nuts which they found on some waste ground in Greenland St, and which had ended fatally in one case, parents and others are cautioned to prevent their children from eating these beans or nuts, which are of a highly poisonous nature.

[signed] J. J. GREIG, Head Constable

Central Police-office, August 12. 1864

Considerable alarm was created in the south end of the town yesterday by a rumour being circulated that a number of poisonous beans had been found in Parliament-fields. It appeared three girls named Emily WILSON, aged 6, of Melbourne St, Maria WILSON, aged 5, of Melbourne St, and Elizabeth GARDNER, aged 5, of 8 Melbourne St, who went to St Bride's school were taken to the Southern Hospital last night exhibiting the same symptoms of poisoning as those admitted the previous day. The children said they had found beans in Parliament-fields, they had eaten some and after doing so became ill. Similar remedies to those applied to the children the previous day were brought into requisition and fortunately had the desired effect, the sufferers recovered and were taken home by friends.

A woman named Mary Jane FEARNON, aged 32, of 5 court, Bell St, was admitted to the Southern Hospital exhibiting symptoms of being poisoned, she had eaten part of a bean the previous day, and was seized with pain some time after. She received every attention from the surgeons at the institution, but up to a late hour last night she was in a precarious condition.

Yesterday the police were busy making inquiries to discover the party who had emptied the rubbish containing the beans from the cart on to the vacant land. They found that the person who carted the stuff was Samuel PRICE, of 15 Crump St, the owner and driver of cart No 1859. He stated to the police he had been engaged by Mr COSTAINE, overlooker to Mr J. A. TOBIN, to cart the rubbish from the barque Commodore, which is consigned to the African Merchant's Company, and at present lying in the Queen's Dock. It appears that he knew it contained the beans but he had no idea of their dangerous nature. The police did not think it necessary to detain him in custody.


Liverpool Mercury Aug 20th, 1864

The case of wholesale poisoning

In brief :-

Yesterday at the court of the borough coroner, Mr P. F. CURRY, resumed the inquest upon the body of Michael RUSSELL, aged 6, whose parents live at 15 New Bird St, who died from the effects of the Calabar ordeal bean, some of which he had picked out of a heap of rubbish lying upon a piece of waste ground in Greenland St and eaten. Between 50 and 60 children were poisoned at the same time by eating the beans, but by the prompt attention paid to them at the Southern Hospital, the deceased was the only one who died.

The following witnesses were examined :-

Jane RUSSELL, wife of Michael RUSSELL, mother of the deceased said, on Thursday week the child who had been out to play came home about 2pm, crying and on entering the house fell to the floor, and said he had been eating some nuts which he found on waste ground close by the school in Greenland St. She took him at once to the Southern Hospital.

Thomas COSTAIN, overlooker for the Company of African Merchants, said the barque Commodore which belonged to them was discharged 8 or 9 days ago, her cargo consisted of palm oil, Calabar beans and ebony. He new nothing of Calabar beans being in the rubbish of the vessel as he had given strict orders to the porter on the quay and lumpers discharging the vessel to pick them up, as they were valuable, having seen some of them scattered about. On leaving the vessel on Wednesday week he gave orders to the foreman porter William FRITH, to send for Mr GRIFFITHS who was in the habit of buying the sweepings of the company's vessels. Witness gave no order to any carter to remove the rubbish.

Samuel PRICE, carter of 15 Crump St, said that on last Wednesday or Thursday week he was employed by one of Mr TOBIN'S workmen to remove a load of rubbish from the quay of the Queen's Basin. He received no direction where to put it, he was to receive 2s for removing it, he took it to the waste land between New Bird St and Greenland St and tipped it there. He thought it no harm to put it there as there was a hole in the ground, he noticed no beans, like those produced, amongst the rubbish.

Inspector MOORE who was early on the spot after the poisonous properties of the beans had been discovered, detailed the steps taken to prevent any more mischief, by having the rubbish riddled and afterwards removed to the soilyard Vauxhall Rd.. The same evening the carter PRICE was brought to the Jordan St, bridewell, and stated to Inspector MOORE [as stated above] Price also stated, "I was desired to take the rubbish to the north end, but the price was so small I could not afford to do so, as I get my living by my horse and cart. I laid it on the waste land at 11am."

Mr James IRVINE, general merchant, 31 Temple, Dale St [who has been to Calabar river], said the Calabar beans had been bought lately by ships as part of a cargo from Calabar. In this country a lotion for the eye was prepared from the bean. The beans varied in their effects, sometimes half a bean would poison a man, and at other times 20 would not, if a person was ejected by vomiting.

PC. James STOREY [No 802] gave similar evidence to that of Inspector MOORE. He collected a number of beans from the children and some from the master of St Barnabas School. The witness also stated that CRUMP told him he had been employed to cart the rubbish to the north end, but the pay was so small for taking it so far he thought it no harm to put it where he did.

Mr Thomas Gulston WOLLASTON, house-surgeon, Southern Hospital, stated that when the deceased was brought to the hospital he was in a state of extreme collapse, he never rallied and died within half an hour after admission. He had since made a post mortem examination on the body, and found all the organs healthy except the lungs, which were tuberculosis. The stomach and upper part of the small intestines contained a substance resembling slightly digested nuts, he attributed death to the poisonous effect of the Calabar beans taken into the stomach.

Dr CAMERON, 17 Rodney St, who was in attendance upon the children admitted to the Southern Hospital, gave similar evidence to the last witness and added that 46 children were admitted to the institution suffering from the effects of the same poison.

Mr John Baker EDWARDS deposed, I am an analytical chemist and lecturer on medical jurisprudence at the Royal Infirmary School of Medicine Liverpool, on Friday the 12th inst I attended a post mortem examination on the remains of the deceased, and removed the stomach, intestines and part of the viscera, for chemical examination. On the same day I received from Inspector MOORE a parcel of beans similar to those the deceased had eaten. The beans are those known as Calabar ordeal beans [Physostigma venenosum] I made an alcoholic extract of the beans and also of the contents of the deceased's stomach and intestines, the stomach contained 5 fl oz of fluid, consisting of a few fragments of the beans and the remains of a mustard emulsion which had been administered shortly before death. An extract was obtained which caused marked contraction of the pupil of the eye of a rabbit when applied to it externally. I applied a few drops of the aqueous emulsion of ethereal extract obtained from the intestines of the deceased to a frog's back, by insertion under the skin, in a short time the animal manifested an indisposition to movement and became very quiet. I the course of an hour it was unable to jump, in about 2hrs it became flaccid and insensible to any external irritation, although stimulated by strychnine it was incapable of being roused and soon expired, having previously exhibited very irregular respiration and pulsation. A second portion of the emulsion was exhibited to a mouse, which soon became paralysed and died within a few hours.

The Coroner summed up and said the jury had heard the whole of the evidence, there was no doubt the death of the deceased had been occasioned by him eating the Calabar ordeal bean. It was for the jury to say whether there was negligence attributable to any one connected with the discharge of the beans. There was no law with which he was acquainted that bore upon a case of this peculiar character, but he though that stringent rules ought to be adopted for the purpose of preventing men engaged in the discharge of ships allowing anything of a poisonous character to be mixed with the rubbish. In this case the results might have been frightful, but providentially out of the 46 children taken to the Southern Hospital only one had died. There was no doubt the beans had been brought in the cargo of the Commodore and extreme caution ought to be taken by the men employed in the discharge of cargoes of this nature and the disposal of the rubbish

The jury retired and after a short absence returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased had died from eating the Calabar bean, not knowing its poisonous nature. They also added a recommendation that captain's of ships whose cargoes were of a poisonous nature should be cautioned as to the disposal of rubbish.

The father of the deceased asked whether he should not have anything to compensate him for the loss of his child. The Coroner gave him a few shillings out of the poor box and told him he had no remedy against anybody, but with this RUSSELL did not appear satisfied and he and his wife talked of consulting an attorney.


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