Divorce, a legal impossibility in England until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, didn’t deter people from experiencing marital woes and seeking separation. However, the methods employed were far from what we would consider civilized today. In those times, the sentiments and desires of women held little weight. If a man found himself dissatisfied with his partner, he had the audacity to bring her to the market, treating her as a mere commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.
The scene must have been heart-wrenching and undeniably tragic. Yet, astonishingly, these auctions became public spectacles, drawing crowds eager for entertainment, despite the undeniable pain and humiliation endured by the individuals involved. It’s a grim reminder of the societal norms and disregard for human dignity that once prevailed.
The United Kingdom was overwhelmed with orphans at the time. According to writer and historian Sarah Wise (via Spitalfields Life), 30,000 children were living on London streets in 1869. Moneyed philanthropists set up some schools to teach the kids practical skills, but it was simply too hard to teach and 'employ' all of these children.
One woman named Annie Parlane MacPherson started an emigration program. She founded the Home Children scheme, sending poor and orphaned children to other colonies of the British Empire. Thousands upon thousands of these kids were sent to farms or homes around the world to be laborers or domestic servants.
Lethal Food Additives
Move over MSG and food coloring because Victorian food additives were in a league of their own. In an attempt to achieve that coveted whiteness, bakers would sometimes incorporate chalk and alum into their dough, while more unconventional ingredients like pipeclay, plaster of Paris, or even sawdust found their way into the mix.
If you thought that was concerning, wait until you hear about brewers who, when low on hops, resorted to adding strychnine—a toxic pesticide—to their beer. And let's not forget about the ever-present lead, which seemed to be everywhere. From red lead used to color Gloucester cheese to copper sulfates employed in preserving fruit, jams, and wine, the Victorians certainly had a knack for unwittingly inviting danger into their diets. Yikes indeed!
The Grave Robbing Career
To understand biology, scientists, doctors, and aspiring students needed real human bodies for study. However, the question remained: where would they obtain these bodies? While some science enthusiasts might be willing to donate their bodies posthumously, the supply was simply insufficient. Enter the macabre solution: professional grave robbers. Under the cloak of darkness, these daring individuals would creep into town graveyards, exhuming bodies to meet the demand.
Remarkably, experts in the medical field were willing to pay a handsome price for these stolen cadavers, making grave robbing a somewhat viable profession for those with a strong stomach and a lack of squeamishness. It was a truly bizarre time, where the boundaries between science, ethics, and the taboo blurred. Fortunately, modern medical education has evolved, and ethical practices now ensure a proper and respectful supply of anatomical specimens for study.
Not the Spiciest Queen
Queen Victoria, known for her aversion to spicy food, faced an interesting predicament as the leader of a vast empire. When you have colonies spanning the globe, diplomatic considerations sometimes require adjusting one's palate. As the Empress of India and the head of the British Empire, she understood the importance of accommodating guests from various regions.
To ensure diplomatic harmony, curry was always on hand, even though the resulting dishes may have left some disappointed. Often, the British interpretation of curry consisted of cooked ingredients with curry powder sprinkled on top, much to the chagrin of those accustomed to authentic flavors. So, to all the self-proclaimed chefs, remember there's more to preparing a proper curry than simply adding curry powder. It's an art that deserves respect and exploration.