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  • Crimes of Kitchenalia: A Miscellany of Misdeeds
  • Emma Kay (bio)

The study of kitchenalia, of items relating to the kitchen, remains a relatively obscure field of research. A subcategory of this topic that has received even less scrutiny is that of crimes associated with miscellaneous [End Page 211] culinary equipment. Still, there are numerous examples to be explored. Given the heavy nature and broad accessibility of objects used for everyday purposes in the nineteenth century—many crafted from copper, brass, iron, or granite—it is perhaps unsurprising that kitchen tools were often fundamental accessories in violent crimes.

One of the most common crimes involving kitchenalia during the Victorian era was, predictably, petty theft. On 8 May 1837, fifty-five-year-old Henry Allen stole a stove worth five shillings from the Hackney district of London, promptly selling it to an unsuspecting member of the community. For his sins, Allen received a sentence of seven years transportation (Trial of Henry Allen). Had he committed this theft in an earlier era, Allen’s destination would undoubtedly have been the penal colonies in America, but changes in legislation at a time of unstable political relations between Britain and the US meant that he probably ended up in Australia.1 In 1843, seventeen-year-old James Merry received ten years’ transportation for a similar crime: the theft of sugar nippers (fig. 1), together with some silk ribbon, buttons, and a needle from a milliner. The authorities found a substantial hoard of other small items in a nearby cellar that Merry was believed to be occupying (Trial of James Merry). Given the difficult circumstances in which Merry and other children like him lived, one wonders whether he might have benefited from the opportunity to start a new life abroad, assuming, that is, that he was able to survive the harsh conditions of colonial prisons.2

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Fig. 1.

Victorian Sugar Nippers and Sugar Cone, 2019.

Photograph by author.

Crimes of kitchenalia were not confined to the underbelly of city life. The once noisy, fashionable, and colourful pleasure gardens of Cremorne, located along the Thames in London, in an area that had been occupied by eating houses and places of entertainment, were the scene of a violent assault [End Page 212] in 1870. John Smithson and James Clark were working in a kitchen when Smithson requested help from his colleague. Clark refused to take orders and picked up a “black-handled knife, one that he was peeling potatoes with,” at which point Smithson took flight to seek help. The two cooks reunited in the cellar, where Clark grabbed Smithson by the neck, stabbing him twice in his side. Another worker, William Hall, a kitchen porter, intervened and managed to wrest the knife away. Clark maintained that the whole incident was an accident and that Smithson had fallen onto the knife. There were numerous witnesses during the hearing, some of whom thought they had seen Smithson directly stabbed, others who had not. During the trial, Clark received what was known as “a good character”; in other words, a respected member of society vouched for his name and reputation in court (Trial of James Clark). He consequently received a sentence of only four months in prison.

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Fig. 2.

Georgian pestle and mortar, 2019.

Photograph by author.

Petty thefts and assaults aside, the murky world of kitchenalia misdemeanours extends to numerous murders, including the infamous “Pestle Murder” of 1897. Committed on the London and South Western Railway, between Hounslow and Waterloo, the crime remains unsolved to this day. The victim, Elizabeth Camp, aged thirty-three, was found battered to death in a railway carriage, her head smashed with a pestle (fig. 2). Elizabeth had worked as a housemaid at the Northern Hospital in Winchmore-Hill, London (“Pestle Murder”). There was one suspect, Arthur Marshall, who escaped the gallows based on a witness account that described the man seen leaving the carriage as clean-shaven. However, police later discovered that [End Page 213] Marshall had entered a barbershop on the day of the murder, to purchase a false moustache. The distance between the barbershop and the...


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pp. 211-216
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