Bass seems to have always been in court in the 19th century. Either getting people prosecuted for passing off their own beer as Bass, or, as in this case, getting sued by a drinker. Long pockets syndrome, I guess. It's a curious case. And the most important (to me) question is unanswered. How did the oxalic acid get into the bottle?
Bass & Co. last week obtained an injunction restraining one firm from vending as Bass's ale a product not brewed by that eminent firm. The amount of damage done to first-class firms by such impositions upon them and the public is enormous. It would be interesting to know who bottled the beer that gave rise to the following case heard before
Mr. Justice Lawrence and a common jury.
Mr. Charles John Davis sued Mr. R. E. Miller for damages for injuries caused to him by reason of having sold to him a bottle purporting to contain Bass's ale, whereas it in fact contained oxalic acid. Mr. H. C. Richards and Mr. Soper appeared for the plaintiff; Mr. Johnstone Watson for the defendant. Mr. H. C. Richards, in opening the case for the plaintiff, said that on September 10th last a nurse bought two bottles of what purported to be Bass's ale from Mr. Miller's shop in the Fulham-road. The bottles of ale were bought by the defendant from the Cooper Company, of Southwark-street, S.E. No imputation was suggested against Messrs. Bass. The first bottle was opened and was drunk. The second bottle appeared to be specially bright. Fortunately the plaintiff did not drink it, but he put it to his mouth and he was immediately found to be suffering from an irritant poison. The bottle of beer was given to Mr. Longstaffe, an eminent analyst, and he would give evidence as to what the bottle contained. Emily Lowe was then called, and, in answer to Mr. Richards, said :—I am a nurse,.I attended Mr. Davis's daughter in September, and was sent on the 6th of that month to Mr. Miller's shop, where) I bought two bottles of Bass's ale. Mr. Davis drank some. I heard an exclamation, " Oh, dear ! what is the matter with you?" Mr. Davis went to the doctor's. Cross-examined by Mr. Watson : The bottles were screw-stopped and the labels unbroken. It was the only ale in the house. Mr. Davis is an oilman. I took the bottles back to Miller's shop. Mr. C. J. Davis, the plaintiff, examined by Mr. Richards, said : On September 6th I was at Fulham. I opened the bottle, the label being intact. I poured some in a glass and put it to my mouth. I immediately felt a burning sensation at the back of my throat, I can still feel a dry, burning, cutting sensation in my tongue. Cross-examined by Mr. Watson: I went to see my daughter at her private house at Fulham. I suffered from a shock to my system for a week. For two or three days I swallowed my food with difficulty. Mrs. Henrietta Davis, the plaintiffs wife, confirmed the evidence given by her husband. She said tliat immediately her husband drank the ale he spat it out and was sick. Dr. Calder, examined by Mr. Richards, said : 1 am a medical man, and practise at 2, Fulham Park-villas. The plaintiff came to me and complained of having swallowed something. 1 gave him an emetic, and found he was suffering from an irritant poison. The fact that he had been given salad oil as an antidote to the poison would not explain the condition of the throat. Mrs. Patterson, wife of a medical man, said she receivedthe bottle and locked it up. Mr. Longstaffe, an analytical chemist, of Fulham, said : I received this bottle (produced) from Dr. Patterson. I evaporated one ounce of the beer and found 52 grains of solid matter. The quantity in an ounce of an ordinary bottle of Bass would be about ten grains. Oxalic acid is an irritant poison. It will produce evil results. Cross-examined by Mr. Watson : The bottle was more than two-thirds full when I received it. This was the case for the plaintiff. Mr. Watson submitted that there was no case to go to the jury. There was no suggestion of any negligence on the part of the defendant. The defendant sold the article under a trade description, and he sold it in the same condition as he received it. Mr. Richards : " Randall v. Newson " (2, Q.B.D., 102) shows that the article was sold as a commercial article. (His Lordship : So it would be if you wanted it to clean top boots with.) His Lordship ruled that the case must go to the jury upon the question as to whether the defendant had been guilty of negligence. Mr. Richards then addressed the jury upon behalf of the plaintiff, and said that if the plaintiff had drunk the whole of the bottle he would probably have been taken from this world, and probably from this court. (His Lordship : If he had been taken from this world he would certainly have been taken from this court. We do not stand between this world and the next.) Mr. Watson having replied, his Lordship in summing up said the question for the jury was, was there negligence on the part of the defendant; and, secondly, assuming there was negligence, what damage had the plaintiff suffered ? The jury found there was no negligence, but if there was they found £20 damages. Mr. Watson submitted that there was no implied warranty that a bottle labelled "Bass and Co.'s Pale Ale " contained beer ; there was only a warranty that the bottle contained a fluid which Messrs. Bass called ale. He also submitted that under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1862 (25 and 26 Vic, c. 88), sections 19 and 20, the only warranty was that the label was not a false label, not that the bottle contained beer. Mr. Justice Lawrence held that the label constituted a warranty that the bottle contained Bass's beer, and gave judgment for the plaintiff for £20 damages."
"Food & sanitation, Volume 4", 1894, page 60.
Saddo that I am, I was intrigued to learn that the Bass was in screw-top bottles. They mean the bottles with an internal screw thread. A type that was around for ages. The Whitbread brewery in Kirkstall, Leeds, was still using them in the 1970’s.