Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pigs Fed on Dead Soldiers

Francis Buckland, Curiosities of Natural History, Third Series (London: Richard Bentley And Son, 1882), pp. 166-8.

It was now time to be off as we heard the wheels of the dog-cart rattle over the old bridge, on the railings of which were cut marks showing the length of a huge trout that had once been caught underneath it, and we soon arrived at Fordingbridge, where the landlady had a capital dinner for us all ready.

Among the dishes was some ham and eggs. I rang the bell. "Where did that ham come from, Mrs. Bill ?" said I.

"From Fordingbridge, sir," said the landlady.

"Are you quite sure? Have you had any Irishmen in the village lately?"

"No, sir."

"Then it's all right, thank you," said I.

"What's the matter with the ham ?" said Pennell.

"Oh, nothing," said I; "only I heard a story just before I left London, which makes me rather shy of bacon just now."

"What's the joke?— let's hear the story."

"Well, then, a lady told me that four or five Irishmen came a week or two since to Knaresborough in Yorkshire, where she lived, and set up stalls opposite the butchers' shops. These men brought bacon, which they sold in large quantities at 2 1/2d. a pound. The butchers were furious, and at last they said, 'We must hit upon some plan to get rid of these fellows; they are ruining our trade, for the people will not buy our meat at 7d. a pound when they can get bacon for 2 1/2d.' As the butchers were talking this matter over in front of their stalls in the market, an old woman came toddling up to know what the beef was a pound. 'Sevenpence, mum; we can't sell our beef at the same price as these Irishmen sell the bacon, because — don't you know all about it missus? Why all bacon is made from pigs as comes from 'Meriker; and don't you know, missus, what they feeds them on in 'Meriker ?' 'No,' said the old woman, 'how should I know ?' 'Why they feeds them on dead soldiers, as has been killed in the war; they picks up the bodies after the battles, and throws 'em into the pig-sties for the pigs — and that's what makes 'em so fat and so cheap.' 'Lord! good gracious, butcher! you don't say so? How shocking! those 'orrid Irishmen!' So off goes the old lady, with her bit of beef on a skewer, all round the market, telling everybody she met, young and old, that the Irishmen's bacon was 'fed on dead 'Merican soldiers.' The news spread like wildfire; a thrifty housekeeper was seen to throw a ham she had just bought for 5s. into the road, and nobody would pick it up; even a beggar passed it with contempt, and the inhabitants cleared their cupboards and larders of every morsel of the newly-purchased bacon. The next Saturday, the bacon men came as usual to the market, and there was not a man, woman, or child near their stalls: they brought the bacon down to three-halfpence a pound — but still no customers; and not even genuine, home-fed bacon could be sold by the regular shops. The Irishmen were furious at the butchers, and the butchers laughed at the Irishmen; anyhow, the bacon merchants immediately shut up shop, sheered off, and have never been heard of since in Knaresborough. I thought that possibly these same Irishmen might have come on to Fordingbridge, and therefore was anxious to know whether Mrs. Bill's bacon was fattened with English barleymeal or dead 'Merican soldiers."