25th August 1810. Tin-Cans.
The Donkin Factory site, which once pioneered food-canning, is now a school car-park at Southwark Park Road, London, where a commemorative, small, white plaque, has a losing battle with the Karma Supermarket, ironically selling its low-price beers in…cans!(1)
Today in 1810, London merchant, Peter Durand of Hoxton Square, Middlesex was granted Patent No.3372, by George III, for a tin-can to preserve food.
Preservation of food was always a concern for military and naval authorities.
The Royal Navy had traditionally relied on a diet of ‘hard-tack’ and salted meat, which lacking vegetables, caused scurvy and other diseases. In the Seven Years War (1756-63) half of the soldiers died owing to adequate rations.(2)
Napoleon was said to have offered a reward to anyone who could solve the problem of food preservation.
However Durand, more interested in food preservation than canning, sold his Patent to the Northumbrian engineer Bryan Donkin of Donkin, Hall and Gamble for a £1,000, who set up a ‘Preservatory’ in Blue Anchor Road, Bermondsey.
Donkin touted his product at the naval base at Portsmouth, and Sir Joseph Banks the scientist and plant collector, received cans of meat, soup and milk and found them perfectly preserved after months, so was able to recommend them to the London Learned Societies.
More recommendations came from the Duke of Kent and Queen Charlotte, in a letter dated 30th June in 1813 and soon The Admiralty was treating the sick with the products, thinking that too much salted meat was the cause of scurvy. By 1818 the Army was being supplied.
Canned food was now assured as being safe and becoming part of everyday life, until scandal hit in January 1852, when meat inspectors at the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard in Portsmouth, found tins containing rotten meat and unsuitable animal products, unfit for consumption.
It had been supplied by Stephen Goldner from his factory in what is now Roumania. Not surprisingly he lost his contract.(3)
It was also revealed that it had been supplied to the 1847, Sir John Franklin Expedition to the Arctic, which was lost, never to return.
Picture on the right shows early 20thc can-making.
One result of Sir William Parry’s expedition to find the North-West Passage, carrying Donkin’s tins in 1819, was the discovery of a tin of veal, left when he had abandoned HMS Fury in 1825.
This was opened in 1958, and the meat was found to have turned into bitter acids, and having partially dissolved in the tin-coated, iron can.
This resulted in the use today of the plastic Bisphenol A (BPA), which is sprayed on the tins’ inside to prevent contamination.
BPA is the key monomer (molecule) of epoxy resin, and is the most common form of polycarbonate plastic. It is clear, shatter-proof and used in baby and water bottles, dental fillings and sealants, to name a few.
However fears of the possibility of leaching has resulted in many countries and companies re-considering its use.
(1) Donkin an engineer was also involved in paper-making machines.
The factory left Bermondsey in 1902 for Chesterfield, and Gamble’s successor moved to Cork, Ireland, where there were more cattle and easier availability to the markets of America.
(2) Pickles, Packed and Canned, Sue Shephard.
(3) The stench was said to have been abominable and the lot was tossed into the sea!
Ref: Donkin’s Diaries are now at Derbyshire Records Office, Matlock.
Ref: The Daily Mail headline: (Thursday 16th August 2012, by Fiona Macrae) Gender-Bender. Chemical found in tins and till-rolls, ‘can cause fatal clogging of arteries’.
Ref: Report of arts, manufacturers and agriculture, CXII 2nd series, Sept 1811.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/news/magazine. Tom Geohegan. 21.4.2013. Image Pics.