A lunch gone wrong


January 5, 1893
At the Liverpool Court of Passage, sitting in St. George’s Hall, yesterday, Mr. T.H. Baylis, Q.C., assessor and a special jury, heard an action brought by Francis Morley Allanson, an inspector of insurance agencies, residing at Egremont, against the Liverpool Clerk’s Café Company to recover damages for injuries received through the defendants supplying him with unwholesome food. The case was tried at a previous court, when the jury disagreed. Mr. Shee, Q.C., and Mr. A.G. Steele appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. Bingham, Q.C., and Mr. Mulholland for the company.

Mr. Shee briefly outlined the case he intended to present to the jury, and then proceeded to call witnesses.
The plaintiff said he was in the employ of the Standard Life Insurance Company as inspector of agencies at a salary of £100 a year with commission. On June 27 he was in his ordinary good health. After rising in the morning he took a walk with his dogs. He then had breakfast, consisting of bread, bacon, and tea, along with his housekeeper and two children. He then weighed 10 stone 5 lbs. He had never been ill for an hour during the eight years he had held his position. After breakfast he came across to his office in Liverpool, and some-time later went upon the invitation of Mr. Jones, his friend, to the Economic Café in Strand-street. He had not been there before. He ordered a curried steak, a food which previously had agreed with him. A waitress brought a plate containing the meat covered with curry, potatoes, and rice. The price of the dinner was 6d. The steak was so small he could not see it. (Laughter.)  He could not taste it, but he tasted the hot curry. The meat was soft and tore easily.

Mr. Steele. – How many mouthfuls were there?
Plaintiff. – Well, some people could take it in one mouthful – (laughter)  – but I made about three of it. Continuing, he said that after he had eaten it he experienced a burning sensation in the throat. To cool it he ordered and partook of some stewed rhubarb. He soon felt ill, and went into the street, where he vomited. He felt peculiar, but afterwards returned to the café, where he found Mr. Jones had paid for his dinner. They left together. He (plaintiff) felt strange all over, and huried as quickly as possible to the office. He felt a twitching of the stomach, and complained to a clerk named Rodan that he had taken bad food at the café.
Mr. Bigham objected to such evidence being admitted. The plaintiff never complained to the company until a month afterwards, and it was ridiculous to admit conversations that might have gone on for a month.
His Honour admitted it.
Plaintiff went on to say that he felt strange during that afternoon, and after he left the office he had frightful pains. He left at 5.30 p.m., but was so bad and so confused that he did not reach the stage until 6.30, and then caught the Seacombe instead of the Egremont boat. When he got home and went to bed he rolled about all night. He returned to business next day at midday. His gums were sore, and he had difficulty in keeping his tongue in his mouth. He saw Dr. Smart, one of the medical examiners to the insurance company, who told him to return home as he had eaten something bad. One of the gentlemen in the office took him home as he could not walk. The plaintiff then proceeded to describe his illness and how at times he was delirious, and said that he could take no solid food from June 29 to September 5. On July 26 he crossed to Liverpool to see a solicitor, and had to be assisted by two men. He was ordered abroad and returned on September 12, his expenses being £23. There was £10 loss in commissions, and also the expenses of keeping his dogs. He was now a stone lighter than before. Cross examined: He was 29 years of age. The particular portion of the dinner he blamed was the beef. His friend Mr. Jones had continued to go to the cafe. When he went out of the café into the street he vomited some of the food. He vomited again at the office and again at home. The steak he ate was soft, and appeared to have stewing “to-day and yesterday.” (Laughter.) When he went back to the café after being sick he did not complain to the manageress. A month afterwards his solicitor wrote to the company. He did not complain before because he heard that it was common talk at the café that he had been made ill by the curried steak. He was now suffering from a cold which arose in consequence of his weakness.
Miss Christina Towart, the plaintiff’s housekeeper, stated that on June 27th, when the plaintiff came home she noticed his lips were discoloured. He seemed pale and in great pain, and apparently could not connect his sentences. Next day he became worse and Dr. Husky was sent for.
Charles Jones, a shipping clerk, who took the plaintiff to the “Economic,” said Mr. Allanson on returning from the street, could not talk in a rational manner. On more than one occasion witness had had tainted meat. He had returned it, and it had been taken back. – Cross-examined: He continued to visit the café, and had formed a good opinion of the place and the food, considering the price. When the plaintiff came back he made no complaint about the dinner. Witness had had a thousand meals in the café, and had never been made ill once.
Mr. Bigham. – The unfortunate Mr. Allanson goes there once, and suffered dreadful consequences from the food. (Laughter.)
Ernest Dugdale Rodan, a clerk in the Standard Insurance Company’s office, said he had gone to the café for several months. On one occasion he had rabbit soup, which gave an offensive smell, but it was not bad enough to return. A man near him had a steak pie, and the steam smelt so offensively that witness moved round to the other end of the table (Laughter.). Cross-examined: The man ate the pie but was not ill. (Laughter.) Witness did not mention these two facts at the previous trial because he was not asked. A clerk named Bell told him he had had bad soup.
Mr. Bigham. – Since the last trial  you have put your two heads together and the rabbit soup comes out. (Laughter.)
Mr. Shee. – The rabbit is still in his warren. (Laughter.)
His Honour suggested that the evidence was wide of the mark.
Mr. Bigham. – I don’t object. This is an attack on the way the place is conducted, and I shall be delighted to go into matter.
His Honour said the evidence as to the smelling of meat did not touch the case they were trying.
Mr. Shee said he would not press the evidence. He had called it to meet the defendants’ case, that they never did, on any occasion, even unintentionally supply meat that could by any means be described as bad.
Mr. Bigham. – I appeal to your Honour to allow this evidence to be called.
George Crosneld Bell, clerk, said that on one occasion at the “Economic” he had some rabbit soup that smelled dreadfully; in fact, it stank. He tasted it, and asked the waitress to take it back, which she did. – Cross examined: He still lunched at the café. He only complained on one occasion.
Alfred William Torkington, a traveller, said that at the Economic he had complained several times about bad meat – meat reminiscent of the previous day’s cooking. – Cross-examined: He had never been ill through what he had eaten.
William Taylor, who had visited three of the defendants’ cafes, said that on three or four occasions he had been compelled to send back food at the Victoria-street establishment. He had bad poultry there which was really rotten. The girls were always very obliging in taking back food. Cross-examined: He still used the defendant’s cafes.
Mrs. Harriet Williams, a widow, keeping an hotel at Keswick, said that two years ago she was for a week second cook at the Strand café, owned by the defendant’s company. There was a swilltub there, but it was true that all unconsumed meat went into it. If there were any cooked steaks left over they were warmed up. – Cross examined: Her instructions were that nothing was to be wasted. During the week she was at the café she never saw anything to complain of in the quality of the food or the way it was cooked or served.
J. Longmoor, cashier to Messrs. Callender and Co., Tithebarn-street, said he left off going Economic Café because of the food. He once had what was called mutton and rabbit pie, but he sent the rabbit portion back and received more mutton instead. They then wanted to charge him for the extra mutton, and he left. (Laughter.) He had sent back tainted meat, but made no complaint about it. – Cross-examined: He now visited the Imperial café belonging to the defendants.
Dr. David Smart, physician and surgeon said he had often seen the plaintiff at the insurance office, and considered him a healthy man. On June 27 he saw him and noticed that his tongue was furred and irritated. He did not remember seeing anything like it during his 13 years’ practice. Plaintiff said something to him about having had something to eat at a café, and he (witness) advised him to go home. His opinion was that the plaintiff had swallowed something which had irritated his mouth stomach, and bowlers. Cross-examined: He suffered from what was known as gastro-enteritis. It was a disease which might be due to any irritant in the system. Possibly the mouth might have been irritated by string curry, but it would not account for the man losing his wits or being ill for months. He should not expect the symptoms he saw to arise from taking curry and rhubarb.
Dr. Nisbet, of Lodge-lane, said the symptoms described were consistent with the plaintiff having taken bad meat.
Dr. Husky, of Liscard, who attended the plaintiff, described the latter’s ailments, and said he formed the opinion that he had swallowed some unwholesome food. – Cross examined: He agreed with Dr. Smart that the conditions he saw might have been due to one of many cases. If a man was sick some-time after he took the food he would not expect much of the irritant would be absorbed. If he had been feverish through sewer gas there would have been premonitory symptoms.
Dr. Paul, of University College, said that he was acquainted with the facts f the case given in evidence, and he attributed the vomiting of the plaintiff to irritation of the stomach and bowels. Decomposed meat would have the effect of setting up the irritation. Curry could not cause all the symptoms. It rarely happened that putrid meat poisoned people, unless it was very bad. He had thought the case over very carefully, and he could come to no other conclusion than that the symptoms were those of acute gastroenteritis, caused by eating unwholesome food – by absorbing the alkaloids of bad meat. It had been said that such alkaloids were as strong as cobra poison. There was nothing in the case to suggest English cholera. He had never seen acute gastro-enteritis from sewer gas.
Dr. Mann, professor of medical jurisprudence at Owens College, Manchester, said that judging by the facts of the case he saw nothing to justify the contention that the plaintiff was suffering from English cholera or sewer gas. Having heard the whole of the evidence he was of the opinion that the plaintiff’s illness was due to the consumption of decomposed meat. – Cross-examined: Sewer gas would not set up gastro-enteritis, but would cause typhoid fever.
Dr. Francis Vacher, of Claeghton, said he had had 18 years’ experience with cattle at Birkenhead. He had found that foreign cattle coming to this country got a good deal bruised, especially when the drivers were getting them out of ships into lairages. The rump of the animal was often bruised by the drivers’ goads. They were got small bruises which were quite localised. Assuming an animal to be killed soon after it was bruised, the bruised part would have a tendency to decompose  quicker than other parts. Having heard the evidence in the case, he considered plaintiff had been poisoned by decomposed meat.
This closed the plaintiff’s case.
Mr. Bigham, Q.C. on behalf of the defendants said the plaintiff’s claims was unheard and preposterous, and he hoped to satisfy the jury that that was so. It was ridiculous to say that the plaintiff after visiting the café once in his life was to set down to it the consequences of an illness which had lasted six months. He believed the action was brought to injure the defendants’ business in the eyes of the public. The various cafes owned by the company supplied about a million meals a year, but though every effort had been made, the plaintiff had been unable to call up more than six instances of complaint; further, these complaints were not only irrelevant, but absolutely insignificant. Evidence would be given that nothing but the best meat was supplied to the cafes, and that it was untrue t say that the old cooked meat was dished up next day. It would also be shown that the curried steak out of the same pot was consumed by 20 persons, none of whom had complained. There was a sort of hint that as cattle were prodded on the bind quarters, and that the part prodded decomposed rapidly, therefore the plaintiff might have had some of the putrid part. That theory would not hold water for a moment, because rump steak was not used for the curried dishes. They were therefore driven to the explanation that when the plaintiff took the curried steak his stomach was in a delicate condition. Under those circumstances he did not think the jury could justly come to the conclusion that his illness was due to the meat supplied in the café. Of one thing the defendants had cause of complain, and that was that a month elapsed before  the plaintiff ever laid a complaint against the defendants.
Dr. Barron, professor of pathology at University College, Liverpool, said that having heard the evidence as to the plaintiff’s symptoms he concluded the latter indicated acute gastro-enteritis. This would be set up by an irritant poison. If a person took diseased meat at a full he meal he should not expect immediate vomiting or diarrhoea. It would take several hours. That being so, he assumed the plaintiff must have taken in an irritant some time before the meal. – Cross-examined: The sore gums and swollen tongue were not inconsistent with alkaloidal poisoning nor was the wandering of the plaintiff in taking his boat. His theory was that English cholera derived from some source was likely to have been the cause of the ailment. – Mr. Shee: Could it have been in the tea? Witness: It would all depend whether it was in the tea. Meat might be poisoned in one part and the rest be perfectly sound. It would be most unlikely that the alkaloids would remain in one part when the whole piece was stewed in water. The cooking would either destroy them or distribute them among the mass. Alkaloidal poisoning might be destroyed by cooking; it was impossible to swear to it unless he knew the nature of the alkaloide and the heat exercised.
Dr. Taylor, honorary physician at the Skin and Cancer Hospital, Liverpool, said the symptoms of vomiting and purging had been too rapid to be consistent with the plaintiff having taken bad meat. The stewing of the meat for an hour and a half was quite sufficient to destroy the effects of putridity.
The plaintiff’s long continued illness was inconsistent with alkaloidal poisoning; people who got poisoned by alkaloids died either in three or four days or got better in a week or ten days; in fact, he knew no instance of their lingering five or six months. If part of the meat was putrid and the whole was stewed all the parts would be affected, and other persons would have complained. He had never heard it questioned that sewer gas or bad water would not case gastro-enteritis. – Cross-examined: He had known a case of gastro-enteritis lasting for more than a month.
Mr. Shee. – Do you say that cooking will destroy all the evil in meat even if it was alkaloidal?
Witness. – Yes, there is no knowledge to the contrary.
Mr. Shee. – It is not a fact that meat might have poison in one part after the whole had been cooked?
Witness. – Such a thing is possible. The condition of the plaintiff’s tongue was a difficulty on the last occasion. A swollen tongue as the result of gastro-enteritis might be communicated from one person to another by kissing. (Laughter)
Mr. Shee. Do you speak from practical experience?
Witness. – Oh, dear no. (Laughter.)
At this point the court adjourned till this morning at ten o’clock.
(Source: Liverpool Mercury: January 6, 1893)

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