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 The Pigeon Pie Incident

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Petty Officer Tom

Petty Officer Tom

Posts : 137
Join date : 2017-02-05

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PostSubject: The Pigeon Pie Incident   The Pigeon Pie Incident EmptyFri Jun 14, 2019 6:12 pm

THE PIGEON PIE INCIDENT
by Tom Hyde


On the morning of May 14, 1879 Her Majesty’s Troopship Tamar was 8 days out from the Cape of Good Hope on her way to Portsmouth with 374 passengers, among which were invalided troops from the Zulu War, wives and children of soldiers, and naval men returning to Portsmouth.  HMS Tamar had initially arrived at Durban on 11 March with the 57th Regiment from Ceylon, and then brought the 2/21th Battalion from the damaged “City of Paris” to Durban on 31 March, and the replacements for the 1/24th Battalion, from the sunken steamer “Clyde” on 11 April before being released to return to England.   On the morning of the 14th several of the saloon steward’s mess became seriously ill after having eaten cold pigeon pie.  A ship’s surgeon was called for and emetics administered to induce vomiting.  One of the sick, 25 year old Domestic 2nd Class William Patrick Corbett, employed as a Ward Room Steward, subsequently died the following day, May 15th..   It was determined that the men had eaten the pie two days earlier, May 12th, for their breakfast.  An official inquiry was held aboard ship as to the cause of death, and an autopsy was performed by Staff Surgeon Leonard Lucas, the senior naval medical officer.  Doctor Lucas removed the contents of the deceased’s stomach and had them sealed up and brought back to Portsmouth.  The doctor listed “cause of death” as antimonial poisoning, and it was believed that the pie had been poisoned.  Whether intentionally or inadvertently had yet to be determined.  Upon arrival of Tamar at Portsmouth on June 9th the ship’s Captain, William Liddell, informed the Admiralty of the incident.  Newspapers carried the story and their articles varied from the sensational “Who poisoned the pigeon pie” to those waiting for the answer to come from a “Court of Inquiry.”  The Admiralty ordered an investigation, and the contents of the deceased’s stomach were sent to Netley Hospital for analysis.  The results of the investigation were reported in the newspapers beginning on July 15th.  Rear-Admiral Robert Hall, Naval Secretary, wrote “Sir, - My Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty have had under their consideration the circumstance attending the death of William Corbett, mess steward of H.M.S. Tamar, on 15th May last, as reported by Captain Liddell in his letter of that date, and I am to desire that you will inform Captain Liddell that portions of the deceased’s viscera, received from Staff-surgeon L. Lucas, have been carefully examined and tested for the presence of mineral poisoning by Deputy Inspector General Macdonald, M.D., at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, and that no trace of poison could be detected.  Dr. Macdonald further reports that the case would appear to be one of choleraic diarrhea induced by mephitic poisoning, possibly caused by the pigeon pie spoken of in the staff-surgeon’s statement; for although two officers had previously partaken of it without any ill effect, poisonous changes are known to take place in cold pies, and especially in those made with game, by simply keeping or lying by for some little time; the symptoms in such cases closely resemble those narrated in the papers.  Under these circumstances my Lords have decided to take no further steps in the matter.”

References:
“Medal roll of the Naval Brigade who served in the Basuto and Zulu Wars.” ADM 171/40, National Archives
“The British Medical Journal”, Vol. 2, No. 968, July 19 1879
“The Hampshire Advertiser County Newspaper”, July 19, 1879
“The Medical Times and Gazette”,   July 19, 1879
“The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times”, June 14, 1879
“The Western Daily Press, Bristol”, June 11, 1879
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barry

barry

Posts : 911
Join date : 2011-10-21
Location : Algoa Bay

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PostSubject: Pigeon-Pie incident   The Pigeon Pie Incident EmptyMon Jun 17, 2019 6:10 am

Hi Pot,
Thanks for posting. Another previously untold  very interesting  AZW story .
However, I would speculate that the real cause of the poisoning was  more likely Salmonella based. Salmonella derives from all decaying or putrid avian sourced  food stuff and if left untreated, is lethal. Salmonella could have also been the cause of the fatalties in the Helpmekaar field hospital too,  which patients had been foraging previosly in the rubbish dumps at Rorke's Drift.


regards

barry


Last edited by barry on Mon Jun 17, 2019 7:06 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Petty Officer Tom

Petty Officer Tom

Posts : 137
Join date : 2017-02-05

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PostSubject: Re: The Pigeon Pie Incident   The Pigeon Pie Incident EmptyMon Jun 17, 2019 1:42 pm

barry,

I agree with your thoughts on the cause of the poisoning was Salmonella, and wondered why the doctor, Deputy Inspector General MacDonald, did not identify it as such.  After your post I did a little research and found that the bacteria  Salmonella was first discovered in the 1880s and it wasn’t until 1900 that the bacteria was given the name “Salmonella.”  I think that Doctor Mzcdonald correctly identified the cause of death, but did not use the term that we are familiar with today.

Tom
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