Thursday 11 June 2020

"This Hungarian Jew" - House of Commons, 12 February 1852

The clamour for answers could not be ignored, so in February 1852 experienced parliamentarian and member of the opposition Sir William Jolliffe of the Conservative Party stood up to propose that a select committee be appointed to inquire into issues regarding the problems with the preserved meats. The nub of the matter seems to have been whether the system of procuring these supplies by contract was up to the job.

The matter was important for the efficiency of the Navy which was critical for national defence and maintenance of European peace.

Jolliffe pointed out that he was not one of those so called "disappointed admirals" who criticised the Admiralty at every opportunity. He didn't have an axe to grind but the excitement in the press and the valid concern this had generated warranted a close scrutiny of The Navy's dealings with Goldner between the years 1847 and 1851

Stated in simple terms, the situation looked decidedly extremely dodgy.

Goldner's first contract had been cancelled because the meat had turned out bad. He was then awarded a bigger contract which again was cancelled. Finally a bigger one still which had failed so horribly with the recent explosion of publicity.

It had been alleged that the Admiralty had done nothing until magistrates in Portsmouth had called on them to act because it was feared that the terrible smell was liable to trigger an outbreak of disease.

The government needed to provide answers but a mere ministerial statement would not be enough.
Only the detailed scrutiny of a Parliamentary inquiry would do.

Jolliffe also mentioned he would like to know if Sir John Franklin's expedition had been supplied with Goldner's meats. If that was the case then he feared for their safety.

Jolliffe showed he was familiar with the terms of Goldner's most recent contract by saying:

"They heard sometimes in that house of prejudices affecting the Jews; but it was satisfactory to find that a Jew had power to be what a member of that House could not be  - a Government contractor." (Times)

This was quite a delicious piece of irony. Goldner's contract included a clause, preventing any member of the House of Commons from personally benefitting from it in any way. Presumably this was a standard text intended to combat corruption.
On the other hand Jews were prevented from sitting in the House of Commons because each member had to swear an oath including the wording "and I make this Declaration upon the true Faith of a Christian".

Whig prime minister Lord John Russell had made several attempts to pass a bill allowing the oath to be varied so that Lionel de Rothschild, elected in 1847, could take his seat. The measure was approved by the Commons but repeatedly rejected by the House of Lords until eventually achieved in 1858.

Sir Francis Baring, the First Lord of the Admiralty, replied to Jolliffe's motion from the Government benches.

Baring agreed to the motion with the sincerest pleasure but suggested amendments to extend the date range for the inquiry to cover the period of the Franklin expedition and also extend it to include domestically sources salt meats which had also caused some concern. The motion as it had been initially proposed only included foreign preserved meats which Baring noted were intrinsically mistrusted by the opposition as the Conservative Party was protectionist while the Whigs championed free trade.

Baring stated he thought it could be shown that the Admiralty had acted correctly at all times with regards to the issue.

With respect to the Franklin expedition, Baring noted that "this meat had been supplied early in the time of Goldner's contract, at a period when no complaints whatever had been made of them, and there was every reason to conclude that those supplies had been good and efficient."

Colonel Chatterton, displayed an open hostility towards Goldner, calling the disastrous failure of his 1851 contract as his "coup d'etat". In contrast he praised the manufacturer Gamble who had supplied Parry's expeditions with cans left at Fury Beach still being serviceable after 25 years. Gamble were based in Cork, Ireland, which happened to be Chatterton's constituency. "what could the House think of a Government with such facts before its eyes that would continue to patronize this Hungarian Jew ?". He stated that he greatly feared for the safety of Sir John Franklin's late expedition.

Henry Corry (Conservative) had particularly relevant knowledge regarding the Franklin expedition as he had been First Secretary of the Admiralty at the time of its departure. He noted that in 1845 the rate of condemnations of preserved provisions was actually lower than it was for the best Irish salt beef and additionally that the preserved meat for the expedition had been obtained under a special contract and at a higher price than that normally supplied. He concluded with his opinion that there was no need to worry that Sir John Franklin's expedition might be imperiled by their provisions.

After the serious points had been made Colonel Sibthorpe's contribution was a mixture of ribald comedy, xenophobia, and antisemitism.

Sibthorpe seems to have been a real life prototype Colonel Blimp figure. He vigorously opposed political emancipation of both Jews and Catholics, was against the Reform Act of 1832, the repeal of the Corn Laws, the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the construction of the National Gallery. In fact he seems to have been strongly against any change whatsoever. He didn't like Germans, notably Prince Albert. We may assume he didn't care for Hungarians either. To him, the booming railway network was merely a passing fad. He was a boon to humorists, the magazine Punch depicting him as Don Quixote, tilting at steam locomotives.

Although, during the debate, some statements were made which can be considered to count towards Goldner's defence and others supporting the conduct of the Admiralty, the press remained unmoved in it's condemnation of the scandal.

The parliamentary inquiry having been agreed, with even broader terms than initially proposed, surely it would expose the root cause of the scandal and identify the guilty party or parties?


  1. I went to the on-line 1841 UK Census . It shows a Stephen Goldner , age 30 , living in London .Occupation listed as Independent . Birth noted as Foreign Parts , country not specified .

    This first UK Census was very basic. I don't see him listed in the 1851 Census. Perhaps he was out of the country then.

  2. Very likely. The latest trace of Stephan Goldner that I know of is from October 1855 when he filed a new patent for preserving canned foods. His address was stated as Wimpole street but the house number isn't given.

  3. Just out of curiosity , I looked up in the 1901 UK Census for Sir Francis Leopold McClintock. He seems to have done quite well after 1859. Profession is described as living on his own means. Living at one , per the Census sheet : Himself, wife Annetta , two daughters Anna and Elizabeth , daughter in law Murriel, and five servants . Both him and wife are listed as being born in Ireland.

  4. Correction : Murriel at age 63 was the sister in law.


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