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“Death from Eating Poisonous Mushrooms”

Accounts of Victorian poisonings involving bath buns, lozenges, and chocolates in several posts this week reminded me of a newspaper report that only made it into the footnotes of my thesis. Unlike the aforementioned accounts involving deliberate/accidental adulteration or malice, this case demonstrates the danger of eating foraged food.

On 22nd September 1860, the Ipswich Journal reported on a “distressing affair” of a coroner’s inquest held in the town on two siblings, Thomas Boothroyd, aged 15, and Adelaide Boothroyd, 13. They had both died as a result of eating poisonous mushrooms. Recently widowed, Sophia Boothroyd, recounted to the coroner’s court:

Thomas and Adelaide Boothroyd are my children…On Sunday last (9th inst.), I fried six mushrooms for breakfast, which my son had brought home the previous evening, having as he told me gathered them in Stoke Park [where he worked]. Myself, Thomas, Harriet, Elizabeth, all my children ate of these mushrooms, but Adelaide was not present and a piece was saved for her. The mushrooms were all small and I saw nothing in them to excite my suspicion.”

That evening the entire family began to suffer from sickness and diarrhoea. The mother stated, “All my children seemed better on Monday morning, the sickness had ceased but not the purging.”  However, on Tuesday Adelaide began to decline and on the Saturday morning Thomas died “and his sister shortly afterwards.”

Called to give evidence to the coroner’s court, Mr G.C. Edwards, surgeon, stated:

Mrs Boothroyd, her son Thomas, and daughter Harriet had medicine off me for diarrhoea during the week. I had not seen any of the family until this morning [Saturday], except Mrs Boothroyd, whom I saw Tuesday. I was called upon this morning about nine o’clock by Mrs Boothroyd, who said ‘Thomas is dead, and I am afraid the girl is dying’. My assistant went at once, and I attended by ten o’clock… Adelaide was dying; she was screaming with pain, and insensible. I have heard the evidence given, and the symptoms detailed, and as seen by myself, are quite consistent with death from poisonous fungi.” He therefore saw no reason to perform a post mortem examination.[1]

Returning a verdict of ‘accidental death’, the jury appended “that a great deal of caution should be exercised by persons eating mushrooms.”

Notes:

[1] Post mortem examinations were still quite uncommon at this time in Ipswich, a large part, no doubt, due to a lack of adequate facilities.

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