Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting. Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this.
The Jewish Master Curer and the Prince of Ireland
1 April 1920
Since the Boer War ended, Minette and I returned to New Zealand often. For a time, we even considered moving there. It would seem, though, that our lives and times are tied to Africa. I did not mind this. The thought of being continents removed from you is too much to contemplate. On the other hand, it is Africa I fell in love with from my youth when I crossed the interior of South Africa many times riding transport. The ancient cultures and technology of the mysterious peoples, closely connected to the land in a way which Europe has lost, mesmerised me as I could see in their comings and goings a way of life completely appealing to me. In the end, Africa did not push me away as it does so many Europeans – she welcomed me and introduced me to her innermost secrets. I don’t think this had anything to do with being born here – she initiated it when I responded with awe and thankfulness, and in doing so, she continued to reveal more, drawing me ever closer. This is an experience I will write about when I’m done with the great work of Bacon & the Art of Living.
You know that from time when you can remember, my great passion has been to understand bacon curing. It was the purpose of my trip to Denmark and England where I was introduced to much of the story of bacon. The most ancient development was dry-cured bacon. The bacon curing system existed for hundreds of years and included only dry ingredients, and later dry ingredients with wet brine added. The principal objective was to dry the bacon quickly using copious amounts of salt to remove moisture before bacteria could, and the breakdown of the flesh could overtake the curing process. (Dry Cured Bacon)
Mild Cured Bacon was the first major progression from this, where the power of the old brine was used to speed up curing, allowing for a “milder cure” by removing the salt before the bacon was dried and smoked. They also used sal prunella as curing salt, which contained sulphite and resulted in paler bacon than what the public was used to, but it lasted longer with the sulphites and the much-improved infrastructure required by the system. The invention was by the chemist William Oake from Northern Ireland sometime before 1837. (William Oakes Mild-Cured Bacon and Mild-Cured Bacon and the Curers of Wiltshire) The Harris family in Calne gave us Sweet Cured bacon in the 1840s, which did not use the old brine, but hot smoking was the key feature that sped curing sufficiently up that less salt was needed resulting in a piece of less dry and far less salty bacon. Sweeter! The result was Sweet Cured Harris Bacon. Keep in mind that pale bacon was becoming the norm. Pale Dried Bacon likewise was the response to Oake’s Mild Cured bacon from the Harris family in Calne under John Harris in the 1890s. It was dried without smoking and rendered pale and dry bacon that could keep a long time, similar to mild cured bacon. Wiltshire Curing or Tank Cured Bacon was used by the Wiltshire curers in the closing years of the 1800s or early 1900s, which was identical in almost every way to the mild cured technique of William Oake from Ireland except that they eventually progressed from pale bacon to the cured colour, bacon was known for. (Harris Bacon – From Pale Dried to Tank Curing).
Auto Curing was invented by William Harwood Oake, the son of William Oake from Limerick in Ireland, who invented mild curing. William Harwood Oake, in all likelihood, was one of the people who brought mild curing to England when he opened a curing operation with two partners in Gillingham, Dorset. Tank curing was probably independently incorporated into the Harris operation when they got the technology from Denmark. The basics of Auto Curing were, however, not developed by Oake him but by an English team of researchers in America under Robert Davison. American Auto Cured system was developed by Davison in 1843, and Oake’s Auto Cure system was a progression of this system. (Oake Woods & Co., Ltd., Rapid – and Auto-Cured Bacon)
A revolution followed that saw the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines under American leadership, replacing all these systems. Ladislav Nachmüllner invented the first curing brine legally sold containing sodium nitrites in 1915 in Prague. The system was made popular around the globe by Griffiths Laboratories. The direct addition of nitrites to curing Brines is covered in two letters in Bacon & the Art of Living, namely The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – the Master Butcher from Prague and The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – The Spoils of War.
Within the grand story of bacon, two other developments fit into the time before Harris invented Pale Dried bacon in the 1890s, namely the alternative methods for producing mild cured bacon by the Irish firm of Henry Denny and the system of the Dutch master curer, Aron Vecht. It’s best to deal with these two progressions together because Vecht’s method was essentially the same as what Henry Denny patented, with a slight temperature adjustment in shipping. While Denny’s work was focused on Ireland and Denmark, Vecht took the system to the southern English colonies.
I learned about Vecht in New Zealand. It was these islands that he covered from north to south on horseback. When a New Zealander, Dr James Anderson, asked me if I knew him, I did not. It was Jim who told me not only about Vecht, the Dutch Master Curer, the travelling Jew and adventurer who fought in the Anglo-Boer War on the side of the Boers against the English, who claimed to have invented his own form of mild cured bacon, essentially copying the method of Henry Denny and adapted bacon transport conditions on cargo ships operating between New Zealand, Australia and England to suit bacon better. It was in studying his curing method that I discovered the true genius of Henry Denny, the prince of Irish bacon curers who established one of the largest curing operations on earth and did the last remaining work on bacon curing before Vecht incorporated bacon transport to frozen conditions as opposed to chilling the meat. It would only be the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines that would overtake these developments, but even then, Vecht’s work on refrigeration would stand.
Aron Vecht: His Life
Aron Vecht was born in a small village in Holland and educated in trade and Jewish orthodoxy. The Jewish Herald, Victoria, described him as “one of the earliest pioneers of Zionism.” Physically he had an impressive posture. He is described as a “commanding figure, long, black beard, and [his] lustrous eyes gave him a close resemblance in appearance to the great Zionist leader, Theodor Herzl.” (Jewish Herald) He is tall and well built with an excellent carriage, with a pair of blazing, big eyes, tinged with the melancholic brown. People described him as the most excellent travel companion. I imagine him to be very persuasive and charismatic. A born leader!
He soon moved from Holland to England. In an interview in 1894 in New Zealand, he recalled his childhood years in London. He is quoted as saying, that “had been connected with the business [of curing] in his youth, when the first attempts to introduce mild-cured hams and bacon into England were made. The conservative public was rather slow in showing its preference for the improved method, but after a struggle of about five years against the home-cured article, the “new cure,” as it was then called, virtually swept all other modes of curing from the field, and present there was scarcely any market for bacon cured on the old system.” (Interview with Aron Vecht 1894)
In London, he made a living buying and selling bacon. I am uncertain when this fits in the timeline, but we know that “in conjunction with his brother, he introduced the now great industry of pig raising for mess pork manufacture into Holland in 1879.” (The Bush Advocate, 1893) It was here where he first used the patented antiseptic that would become a hallmark of the Vecht process.
Vecht’s Jewishness was as important to him as being a master curer! The curiosity of an orthodox Jew who consulted the Code of Jewish Law or the Shulchan Aruch frequently, being the bacon trade was explained by him “that he never saw nor handled the produce.” (Jewish Herald) A claim is made that Vecht married a member of the wealthy Van den Bergh clan in London. Records from the Cape Archive indicate that he married Bernadine Vecht (nee Coopman). Dr Anderson explained that she was part of the Van den Berg clan; she was the daughter of Jacob Coopman and Catharina van den Bergh. Vecht’s first venture is into journalism, and he launches the now-defunct Jewish Standard newspaper to combat the Jewish Chronicle. In London, he met a young and aspiring Jewish writer, Israel Zangwill, who makes his debut writing for this newspaper with a humorous weekly column, “Morour and Charouseth.”
After the failure of the newspaper, Vecht developed a desire to travel. This led to a lifetime of wondering, which earned him the nickname “The Wandering Jew.” The Jewish Herald reports that “this wandering Jew’s first trip sent him to Australia. He went not single-handed but with a large family. They travelled in a slow boat; their stock of Kosher provisions gave out, but that was a mere incident. To keep up his family spirits, Wanderer-in-chief got the ship’s printer to print a most remarkable imaginary menu for a Purim dinner, whilst bread and coffee were the only elements of the actual repast on the festival. In the same sportive mood, he won all the ‘sweepstakes’ on the daily runs, the whits prize, as well as a prize for the best fancy dress at a ball given during the voyage.” (Jewish Herald)
At some point, he moves his family to Argentina. He started a frozen kosher meat export business, approved by European rabbis. (Lebrecht, 2019) He eventually set up his head office in Buenos Aires. He frequently returns to England and moves across Europe.
Vecht arrived in New Zealand in early 1893 (his ship may have docked in Australia on the way). Vecht’s family joined him later in New Zealand — they are listed as passengers on the Ruahine that left London in July 1893. There is a story that he explored the island’s top to bottom on horseback. This account seems to be a fabrication, and dr James pointed out that a free railway pass was issued to him by the New Zealand government. Vecht, with his experience in refrigeration, sets up New Zealand’s first bacon-curing plant, charging one shilling for each carcass he treats. (Lebrecht, 2019) From New Zealand, he went to Australia (October 1894) and from there to South Africa (1900). (Correspondence with Dr James Anderson)
In South Africa, he participated in an interesting scheme, namely De Beers Cold Storage. Some allege that he participated in the Anglo-Boer War, but after an extensive search at the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein, I could find no record of this. The contrary seems to be true, namely that his time was initially spent in and around Cape Town till he was sent on a business trip through the country by Cecil John Rhodes. His skill in refrigeration caught the attention of Cecil John Rhodes, who, at the time, was regarded as the wealthiest man in Britain. Rhodes asked him to assist in matters pertaining to refrigeration for his De Beers Cold Storage Co., which Rhodes set up in opposition to the refrigeration chambers of David De Villiers Graaff. The instruction from Rhodes to set up such a company came in 1889. From the records available to me, it seems that the request from Rhodes came to him towards the end of the war since the Jewish herald reports that his contract with Rhodes included “a clause providing that he should do no manner of work on Jewish Sabbaths or festivals. Doing an expert in refrigeration, he got the British Secretary of the Colonies and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs/ and the War Office to conspire together against the military regulations and issue a pass to him to pass through the British lines during the Boer war — a thing permitted no other foreigner. Strangest of all, he cut all the strands of red tape of all these offices in one day, and that a short one, too, for it was a Friday in the winter of 1902. . .” (Jewish Herald) Records at the Cape Archive indicate several interesting facts about his stay in the Cape.
Due to business interests in the Cape, the death notices of both Vecht and his wife Bernadine were filed at the Cape to set in motion the winding up of their respective estates. Bernadine passed away on 21 July 1926, close to Antwerp, at age 69. At least two of their children remained in South Africa for a time. Florance was appointed in the Cape as executor of her mother’s estate on 5 January 1927. Vecht’s oldest daughter, Rosa Vecht, married Jacob Politi in Wynberg in Cape Town on 3 February 1903. Jacob’s occupation was listed as a manager for De Beers Cold Storage, and he resided in Wellington, where I assume he also worked. Rosa was listed as living in the upmarket suburb of Claremont, Cape Town, close to Wynberg, presumably with the rest of the Vecht family.
This bit of information leads to some interesting observations. Instead of the picture of a Boer supporter who partook in the Anglo-Boer War, the picture that is emerging is one of a very well-off family who resided in Claremont, Cape Town. If Vecht arrived in Cape Town in 1900, it did not give him much time to get involved in the Wellington operations of De Beers Cold Storage, sufficiently so for him to get to know Jacob Politi, who at some point was introduced to Vecht’s daughter, Rosa. The image we have of Vecht is a sophisticated businessman, in the style of Rhodes and Dawid De Villiers Graaff, who would later buy De Beers Cold Storage from Rhodes. Between Rhodes, Vecht and De Villiers Graaff, it would seem that Rhodes was the one who got the deepest involved in direct conflict during the siege of Kimberley and not Vecht, as has been reported. Rhodes remained in Kimberley almost for the full duration of the siege, and his De Beers was active in the manufacturing of articles for the war.
We will later see that the British commodity trader Trengrouse and Co., who is an interesting link between Vecht’s business and Phil Armour from Chicago’s packing plant, was also located in the Boland town of Wellington with a South African Canning Company, Langeberg Foods. Langeberg Foods supplied canned fruits to Trengrouse and Co..
The relationship between De Beers Cold Storage and Langeberg Foods is something for further investigation since Langeberg had a requirement for cold storage facilities right at the time when refrigeration was introduced into South Africa. It is interesting that in this one location, we find Vecht, Rhodes, Langeberg, De Beers Cold Storage and Trengrouse and Co. Could it have been Trengrouse who introduced Vecht to Rhodes? Could they have told Vecht about the opportunities which were emerging with the creation of De Beers Cold Storage? At the moment, these are no more than tantalising possibilities, but it definitely warrants further investigation.
The reported support that Vecht had for the Boer course was, in reality, probably no more than sympathy, in the same way as Dawid de Villiers Graaff had sympathy for the Boer course but never actively supported them in any way. After all, De Villiers Graaf’s company won the contract to supply the British army with meat during the war. If Vecht actively supported the Boers in any way, having lived in Constantia, it would probably have landed him in jail and would most certainly have been the end of his collaboration with Rhodes. Rhodes later sold De Beers Cold Storage to De Villiers Graaff, proving that supporting the English was financially a good decision, as was the case with many wealthy Afrikaner businesspeople at this time. I think comparing Vecht’s emotional sympathy with the Boer course with that of De Villiers Graaff’s is a fair comparison. In any event, I seriously doubt if, in Vecht’s case, it was anything more than that.
Dr Anderson writes that “although residing in South Africa, in 1903, he represented Australia at the 6th Zionist congress in Basle, Switzerland. Shortly after this, he moved with his family to Holland and then to Argentina for fifteen months (dates unclear) before finally settling in Belgium. (Infuriatingly, the Belgian immigration archives record the arrival of the Vecht family, but without a date – probably 1907 or early 1908). (Correspondence with Dr James Anderson)
Vecht’s children were not all born on one continent. “His eldest daughter was born in Holland (in Vecht’s hometown of Elburg); the next six children were all born in London, UK; his two youngest sons were born in Melbourne and Sydney, respectively. (Dr James Anderson) His children were Rosa (Roosje), Moses (Mozes), Florance, Jacob Emile, Constance, Nora, Deena, Victor and Phillip. Eventually, part of the family returned to Antwerp. Here he underwent gall-bladder surgery. He passed away from complications following the surgery on 8 November 1908 at the age of fifty-four. (Cape Archives) (Lebrecht, 2019)
Aron Vecht: His Business
Aron Vecht was involved in several business ventures, mainly related to refrigeration and meat. There was the mess pork production business he set up with his brother in Holland in 1879. We know that sometime before 1889, he was in business with Samuel Hamburger, Ellias Levi, and Carolina Wolff in the Dutch town of Ede.”
His main aim was to set up a business for the supply of Mess Pork, but he ventured into traditional bacon production. Vecht probably used several trademarks which were associated bacon with his curing method. Dr James Anderson points out that one was “Morepork,” traded under Vecht & Stokvis. Vecht took out patents in 1894 in New Zealand related to the singeing of pigs and the preservation of meat. His method of preservation was called the “Vecht Mild Cure Process.” (For a comprehensive discussion on what this curing method was, see What was the Vecht Curing method?) He masterfully tied the patent to his own bacon brand. One such brand was York Castle. The patents were presumably owned by his business in New Zealand which he had with William Stokes called the Christ Church Meat Company, Ltd. (1)
I was first alerted to the trademark from a liquidation sale advertised in The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW, Tue 29 Jun 1909).
The notice read as follows:
MESSRS. STEWART and MORTON, at NOWRA, on account of THOMAS MARRIOTT, Esq., Liquidator of the Shoalhaven Co-operative Bacon Curing Company, Limited in Liquidation).
BACON CURING FACTORY at Bomaderry, N.S.W., and other Assets of the above Company, consisting of the following:
- 4 acs 1 road 18 perches, being lots 9 and 10 of Section 33, on Deposited Plan No. 2880, in the Town of Bomaderry, Parish of Bunberra, county of Camden, TORRENS TITLE million to reservations in Crown Grant), with Factory premises and fixed plant and machinery thereon, as per schedule No. 1
- Movable Plant, Office Furniture, Horses, Wag-gone, Carts, and Harness, as per Schedule No. 2.
- License to use exclusively in NSW. process for curing Bacon known as “Vecht Mild Cure Process.”
- “York Castle” Trade Mark for Bacon.
Items 1 and 3 are under mortgage, on which there is a Band of £2050, with Interest at a 5 per cent, per annum, from 2nd June 1900, owing, and will be sold subject thereto.
Item 3 Is held under certain Deeds and Documents, which, together with the Mortgagee over Items 1 and 3, may be inspected at the Offices of Messrs. Perkins. Stevenson, and Co., of 122 Pitt-street, Sydney, Solicitors.
The Vecht Mild Cure Process was tied to the Christ Church Meat Company and Vecht and Stokes individually as is clear from the further provision in the notice that “any Assignment of Item 3 is subject to consent of ARON VECHT, WILLIAM STOKES, and the CHRIST CHURCH CHURCH MEAT COMPANY, Limited.”
Lists of the Plant, etc may be inspected, at the Office of THOMAS MARIOTT, Esq. and the Auctioneers, at Nowra, and at the Offices of Messrs. PERKINS, STEVENSON, and CO., Solicitors, Sydney.
So far then, there is no direct link between the “York Castle” trademark for bacon and the Vecht Mild Cure Process, even though the fact that they are joined in one notice raises the possibility that they were indeed somehow connected. The connection becomes clear when we examine events related to a trademark dispute after the passing of Vecht but related to Stokvis. William Stokvis of Brussels instituted legal action against Barnes Bacon Company Ltd. (Mr WJ Gale being the managing director at this time). The lawsuit related to the use of a secret curing formulation for bacon and hams in 1936. The plaintiff alleged the unlawful use of the trademark, and he claimed that this secret method was alleged to be used for bacon made under this trade name when in reality, so he alleged, it was not always used. Two tradenames were involved in the agreement being “York Castle” and “More Pork. The lawsuit is reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 16 Jun 1936.
From a lawsuit related to the York Castle trademark in New South Wales, Australia, and despite it taking place sometime after Vecht’s passing, we get possible further insight into how he managed his intellectual property. The trademark and his secret method of curing went hand-in-hand. Only the Vecht Mild Cure Process could be used to produce the York Castle brand of bacon. Vecht would receive monetary compensation for every pig so cured in a territory. (2)
Dr Anderson wrote to me that Vecht used the “York Castle” trademark in NSW and the “Yorick” trademark in Victoria. He also sent me a copy of the Victoria Government Gazette from October 1900, where the trademark was published.
Victoria Government Gazette, October 1900, p 19.
I found the following Yorick poster from A Legal History of Lithography by Dr Amanda Scardamaglia. It shows that the brand was used before Vecht registered it in 1900. It could have been an older brand that he took over. It is a notable example of old bacon branding. Interestingly the bacon is advertised as “special mild”. It appeared before Vecht arrived in Australia in ’94. What the “English system” would be a reference to is a matter of great interest. It sets the background for Vecht’s presence in the Victorian market.
Yorick Bacon and Hams (circa 1881-1890) Printed by Troedel & Co, Lithographers & Printers, State Library Victoria
Let’s return for a moment to the publication in the Victorian Government Gazette in 1900. Dr Anderson made the interesting comment that “Vecht used the ‘York Castle’ trademark in NSW and the ‘Yorick’ trademark in Victoria.” The Victoria Government Gazette was published in October 1900, where the trademark appeared. Dr Anderson commented that “the date is interesting because the following month it was reported in New Zealand that Vecht was on his way to South Africa. Perhaps the Victorian government was slow to publish?” (Private correspondence with Dr Anderson) The timing was of great interest to me. What was happening in South Africa at this time that could have possibly created such an emergency or necessity for him to leave behind all the prospects and possibilities in New Zealand and Australia and move him to go to South Africa?
The backstory becomes very interesting. Cecil John Rhodes, the prime minister of the Cape from 1890 to 1896, had made refrigeration a primary focus. There were two main areas of direct interest to him. The one was the export of fruit. The first consignment of fourteen cases of peaches was loaded onto Drummond Castle on Wednesday, 13 January 1892, for export to England. It arrived in London on 31 January. Rhodes appointed a select parliamentary committee on fruit culture and fruit exports in that same year. Merriman was the minister of Agriculture in Rhodes’ Government. He happened to be in London on 31 January when the peaches arrived aboard the Drummond Castle. Percy Molteno shared his recollections of this event in the Cape Times: “I remember mentioning to Mr Merriman that a shipment had arrived and invited him to accompany me to see the cases opened. This he readily did. With great delight, we saw case upon case opened up in splendid condition. The public sale of this fruit created a great sensation in the fruit world.” (De Beer, 2003)
Rhodes, after being forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1896 after the unsuccessful Jameson Raid, set his sights squarely on the development of the fruit industry. He purchased twenty-nine farms in the Franschhoek, Tulbagh and Wellington districts. These were mainly wine farms, and he converted them to fruit farms. They collectively become known as the “Rhodes Fruit Farms” with Harry Pickstone as managing director. They plant approximately two hundred thousand trees on these farms. (De Beer, 2003)
With Rhodes backing the industry to this extent, not only did cold storage facilities become a major drive, but steamship companies raced to increase their cold storage capacity. Shortly after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, “Table Bay became the first harbour in the world to boast a cold storage terminal specially designed for fruit.” (De Beer, 2003)
The second point of application of cold storage was in relation to meat. The Anglo-Boer War was the first time where frozen meat was used to provide an army with meat. David de Villiers Graaff’s company was ideally positioned to capitalise on this, and his huge investments in the area of cold storage paid off handsomely when his company secured the contract to supply the English forces in South Africa with meat. This saga overshadows the creation of cold storage works related to the fruit export trade both in terms of its financial scope and the personal investment of Rhodes in the projects. Vecht must have been involved in the fruit project also through De Beers Cold Storage works in Wellington, where the fruit was packed and canned, as we have seen from the marriage of his oldest daughter to a manager of De Beers Cold Storage in Wellington, but that his prime focus was probably related to the meat contracts becomes clear.
De Villiers-Graaf installed the first refrigeration equipment in the new head office of his company, Combrinck & Co., on Strand Street in Cape Town in 1892. I have been inside these refrigerated rooms many times in my life. His focus was initially only restricted to meat, but soon they expanded to include butter and cheese in the product offering.
In March 1896, his firm Combrinck & Co. ordered ice containers from a firm in New York. They order the first ammonia compressors from Glasgow. By 1897 his firm had eight ice and freezing facilities, with six in the Cape Colony, one in Aliwal-Noord and one in Kimberley. One was in Beaufort-Wes, one in Piketbergweg (Gouda) and two more in Cape Town. One is in Port Elizabeth, and one is in Johannesburg.
The name on the building below was later changed to the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company, but it was the first refrigerated chamber erected by the Graaff brothers.
His agent in Australia is identified as Willoughby C. Devlin van Dunn & Co. in Queen’s Place, Sydney. A suggestion that Graaff appoints a marine engineer now becomes of the greatest importance to our current discussion. In response to this suggestion, Graaff replies that he decided to appoint a properly trained refrigeration engineer from abroad since such expertise was lacking at this time in the Cape Colony. It is possibly this exact same thought, not from De Villiers Graaff, but from Rhodes, which led to the seemingly abrupt move from Aron Vecht to the Cape of Good Hope in 1900. (Dommisse, 2011)
Rhodes gave instructions in 1889 that his Diamond company, De Beers, must construct cold storage facilities in Kimberley and Cape Town. This happens when he tries to persuade the Schreiner government in the Cape to construct additional freezing space, and they refuse. He saw the cooling chambers of De Villiers Graaff as a monopoly. He remarked, “This close monopoly must not be allowed to go on.” Initially, De Villiers-Graaff was willing to work with Rhodes, and Stephenson tried to convince Rhodes that such an arrangement would work well. (Dommisse, 2011)
In the end, Rhodes could not work with De Villiers-Graaff and gave instructions for the establishment of De Beers Cold Storage. Rhodes was known not to be shy to spend on the right equipment and saw to it that his cold rooms boasted the latest cooling equipment. Construction was completed in February 1900. I am fascinated to learn what Vecht’s contribution was to this building project. It remains an ongoing project! The Cape premises is hugely successful, as was the Kimberly operation and four months after the opening of the Cape facility, the management recommends the packing facilities be expanded from 160 000 cubic feet to 220 000. (Dommisse, 2011)
De Villiers-Graaff transformed his company, Combrinck & Co, into the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company which is listed in London. De Beers Cold Storage tried to compete with the Graaff brothers, but the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company was so well entrenched in the supply and distribution of frozen products that De Beers Cold Storage stood no chance. A major stumbling point was that De Beers completely underestimated the importance of owning refrigerated carriages to transport the meat. It was this exact point which I speculate De Villiers-Graaff learned from Phil Armour, and it would not surprise me if Vecht had any direct dealings with the Armour Company that they would have educated him on the importance of this exact point. De Villiers-Graaff returned from his only recorded visit to Chicago and copied Armour by constructing his own refrigerated railway carts for the transport of frozen products. He also ensured a close relationship with the railways.
De Beers Cold Storage had none of these, and the meat reported arrived at its destination in a rotten state. The desperation of the situation mimics the report from the Jewish Herald about the unprecedented travel authorisation given to Vecht in 1902 to travel through the country when it reported that Vecht “got the British Secretary of the Colonies, and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs/ and the War Office, to conspire together against the military regulations and issue a pass to him to pass through the British lines during the Boer war — a thing permitted no other foreigner. Strangest of all, he cut all the strands of red tape of all these offices in one day.”
Prospectus of the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company, Ltd.
During late 1901 and early 1902, Rhodes was frantic in his efforts to win the British army contract to supply meat and to prove that his company was able to deliver. Rhodes never saw De Beers Cold Storage receive the lucrative meat contracts from the British army. He passes away in a small cottage in Kalk Bay on 26 Maart 1902. This is also a location that I often visited over the years, and I stood next to the bed in which he passed away many times. The meat contracts he wanted to win so desperately and for which Vecht was presumably dispatched throughout the country in 1902 were awarded to De Beers Cold Storage and came into effect on 1 April 1902. The peace treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 Mei, bringing the devastating war to an end. (Dommisse, 2011)
The loss of the British meat contracts forces the Graaff brothers to reevaluate their strategy. The years 1898 to 1901 became the last years when the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company had the lucrative British meat contracts. Trading in imported frozen meat escalated in this time from 1 965 000 pounds to just below 43 000 000 pounds from Australia. The Graaf’s created a new company, the South African & Australasian Supply and Cold Storage, on 27 February 1902, only eight days after Rhodes registered the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited in Pretoria to take over all cold storage works and the trading of meat from De Beers Consolidated Mines. Following the war, even the South African & Australian Supply and Cold Storage would cease trading, and the Graaff’s would take a large shareholding up in the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company. These events create a beautiful backdrop for the context of the work of Vecht in South Africa from the time he arrives in South Africa till his departure.
Dr Anderson wrote to me that Vecht seems to have moved around a lot during 1900/1901 before going to South Africa. This would probably mitigate against the picture of him “rushing” to South Africa, but once here, events in South Africa clearly shows that he had his work cut out for him.
The business in New Zealand and Australia was conducted by the Intermarine Supply Company, registered in London. An article that appeared in a number of newspapers in New Zealand at the time (1893) gave the following background to the Intermarine Supply Company. It is “an international organisation which supplies the fleets of the great marine powers and the large fleets of the European mercantile marine with “mess” pork. The Company has factories in every large producing country in the world, and as everywhere, they find that the local demand for pork, as well as the growth of bacon curing factories, ultimately competes with the mess-pork factories.” As a result of this they “are always on the lookout for fresh fields and new countries suitable for the production and manufacture of their staple.” Mr Vecht himself has had considerable experience as a pioneer, and New Zealand will not be the first new country he has exploited on behalf of his organisation. In conjunction with his brother, he introduced the now great industry of pig raising for mess pork manufacture into Holland in 1879, and his success in the various countries with which he has been connected led to his being selected upon it being decided to open in New Zealand if the conditions were found suitable. Mr Vecht conducted the necessary preliminary experiments at Waitara, where every facility was afforded by the Egmont Freezing Company. . . . . . The requirements of the manufacture are that the pigs should be hard and firm fleshed, but these were soft in the fat and Mr Vecht consequently did what the suppliers will in the future have to do — ‘topped them off’ for a fortnight on hard food, chiefly sharps. After this fortnight’s hardening up the pigs was killed in a cooling room made expressly for the purpose and prepared by the process which was originally the secret of Mr Vecht’s Dutch Company. (The Bush Advocate, 1893)
Aron Vecht: The Incorporation of Temperature into Cured Transport
When refrigeration was introduced into international trade, its impact on meat quality was unknown. People opted for the less harsh conditions of chilling temperatures and tried to avoid freezing the meat. A drawback of mild cured bacon is that it does not last on long sea voyages under chilled conditions. The English market has, by the time Aron Vecht arrived on the scene, become used to mild cured bacon as opposed to heavy salted, which was the kind of meat produced under the Rapid Cure process of Robert Davison. An attempt was made to use the sea voyage for the curing to take place, but this was too expensive due to the volume of brine required per pig carcass. Famously, the Harris brothers from Calne were also involved in such a scheme, and it also did not work out for them. In order to try and preserve the meat, they packed the pork on ice. The Waikato Argus, who reported on this in 1901, said that the lowering of the temperature below 32o Fahrenheit (0o C) has ‘invariably faded the flash into a pale, unpleasant colour and alienated the affections of the British matron.” I am sure a major issue was the uptake of water by the carcass as the ice started to melt and the fact that albumen would have been drawn from the carcass with the associated loss in colour. Even more pale than the pale colour of mild cured bacon.
The Waikato Argus reported on this progression by Vecht as follows: “Now, however, by what may be called a triumph of transit and cure, a most promising and important trade has begun between New Zealand and England. By employing the Vecht curing process, a New Zealand firm is shipping pigs from that distant colony, placing them in refrigerators with a temperature of 20 deg Fahrenheit (-6 deg C), and curing them here on the banks of the Thames with apparently perfect success. Vecht, as a refrigeration expert, would have used properly constructed cooling aboard the vessels. I doubt that his pork was packed in ice. This, along with the antiseptic fluid which he injected, preserved the carcass perfectly, and when it was cured in London for bacon, the results were perfect!
The article reported on this as follows. “This success is obtained by first treating the carcase, before they leave New Zealand, by the Vecht curing process, which allays the action of the cold, and so sterilises the flesh as to prevent the changes which have hitherto interfered with the successful curing at Home of what is grown abroad.” (3)
The Waikato Argus, which we quoted above, related to the use of temperature and the curing of meat also provides us with another very valuable bit of information related to the trading of bacon cured with the Vecht method. It reported that “Messrs Trengrouse and Co., who are colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of Armours, of Chicago, are encouraging this new process, and prophesy for it a vast influence on the bacon trade.” (3) The mention of the agents of the legendary firm of Phil Armour is of extreme interest, as is the link between Armour’s company and the propagation of Vecht’s method of curing. Armour was the pioneer of freezer technology for the distribution of meat in America and owned probably the largest curing works in Chicago in the world. Vecht was an expert in the refrigeration of meat in particular. Phil Armour was carefully plotting his way to introduce sodium nitrite directly as a curing brine but, not wanting to be left out of the huge and lucrative international bacon trade, must have seen Vecht as a brilliant ally to secure bacon for his own trade while avoiding the expensive curing systems such as Auto Cure which Armour knew would be replaced by the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines.
In fact, Armour had his eye on a completely different commodity than bacon in the first place. His goal was the distribution of mess pork. It seems that the vehicle was Trengrouse and Co, and the manufacturing system behind the trading form was Vecht’s Intermarine Supply Company.
Aron Vecht: His Curing Method
In New Zealand, Dr James Anderson elucidated the secret method of curing of Aron Vecht as follows. He told me that “his mild-cure method of preserving pork involved first roasting and cooling the carcass, which was then injected with an antiseptic fluid invented and patented by him (Vecht). It involved hanging the carcass for 13 seconds in a furnace, bathing it in cold water and removing the two outer skin layers. ‘This removes the sweat glands of the pig … and the layer of fat next to the skin having been melted in the furnace saturates the thin paper-like inner skin, and when suddenly cooled hermetically seals the pig.’ The carcass is then split in two and the spine removed, allowing the serum to escape and finally treated with salt at such a temperature as to render the chloride constituent inoperative, thus retaining the albumen which is lost in the ordinary salting method. A newspaper article appeared in New Zealand on 18 September 1893, which reports an interview done by Aron Vecht where he describes his curing method first-hand. (4)
In his description, he uses a phrase that stands out. He describes the process in similar terms to what Dr Anderson related to me. He mentions nothing of a vacuum vessel as in the Rapid Cure system of Robert Davison or the Auto Cure equipment of William Henry Oake. He simply states that his antiseptic brine is “pressure injected into the carcass, which becomes wholly impregnated, and the curing is complete.” (4)
His method relied on the treatment of the animals immediately before slaughter and immediately post-slaughter and on the application of his patented injection fluid. The singeing of the pork was undoubtedly something he got from the curing method of Henry Denny in Ireland. I will deal with this subsequently, and you will see what I mean. Vecht gave the clue in the interview he did with a reporter in New Zealand. (4) He said that after slaughtering, the animal is allowed to cool down. His method of curing allowed for “year-round” application. His system cannot be confused with that of William Henry Oake (dry curing) or Robert Davison (auto curing). That his patented blend of antiseptics would not have an impact on the meat colour is certain. Only one molecule can cure meat which is nitric oxide, derived in all quick curing systems from sodium nitrate, which is turned into sodium nitrite. His goal was not to make bacon. His goal was mess pork, and besides, mild cured bacon has always been associated with pale bacon. (William Oakes Mild-Cured Bacon and Mild-Cured Bacon and the Curers of Wiltshire)
The 1894 interview with Vecht (Interview with Aron Vecht 1894) removes all doubt that he knew the Oake system of mild curing very well. Not only this, I suspect that it may have been Vechts recollections that preserved the name William Oake and the story of how he invented Mild Curing. He was for sure aware of the value of old brine but correctly figured out that the value of old brine becomes purely economical (i.e. not related to colour formation, but re-using salt) when it is used as an antiseptic and, in fact, probably diminishes the antiseptic value by diluting it. All this meant that using a new batch of antiseptic to inject would be more effective.
It is also well known that in many instances, Vecht used the dry-cured system that did not require the construction of curing baths. This method is explained in great detail further on in the article. He probably used Oake’s system more fully when he later entered the bacon market in Australia, but not even this is certain due to the fact that bacon, at this time, was pale.
What we know for certain about his method is then the following:
In conjunction with his brother, he introduced the now great industry of pig raising for mess pork manufacture into Holland in 1879. It was probably at this time that he developed the antiseptic formulation. The product of choice was mess pork. The Intermarine Supply Company was established as an international organisation which supplied the fleets of the great marine powers and the large fleets of the European mercantile marine with “mess” pork. Vecht reported that the Company has factories in every large producing country in the world. As everywhere, they find that the local demand for pork, as well as the growth of bacon curing factories, ultimately competes with the mess-pork factories, they are always on the lookout for fresh fields and new countries suitable for the production and manufacture of their staple.”
In an 1894 (Interview with Aron Vecht 1894) interview he expanded on the countries where the system was in use which he describes as “a large factory . . . in operation at Toronto in Canada, and the system was greatly used in Holland, Denmark, and many parts of England. Five firms now possessed the right to use it, one of which was the Intermarine Supply Company, which was also the patentee of the process at present in use at Islington and the bacon and bams sold here were exactly the same as those sent to the Home markets.” In his own words, the patented differentiator was the antiseptic brine to be injected. The invention of the singing of the pigs was Henry Denny, and the mild cured system was William Oake.
The three-fold system of antiseptic-singeing-mild curing was not the only unique feature of the system. The Bush (1893) reports, “Mr Vecht conducted the necessary preliminary experiments at Waitara, where every facility was afforded by the Egmont Freezing Company. . . . . . The requirements of the manufacture are that the pigs should be hard and firm fleshed, but these were soft in the fat and Mr Vecht consequently did what the suppliers will in the future have to do — ‘topped them off’ for a fortnight on hard food, chiefly sharps. After this fortnight’s hardening up, the pigs was killed in a cooling room made expressly for the purpose and prepared by the process which was originally the secret of Mr Vecht’s Dutch Company. ”
The entity closely associated with Vecht’s operations was Trengrouse & Co..
Messrs Trengrouse and Co
I referred you to the Waikato Argus, which did an article on his life from where we got the all-important information on the temperature during the shipment of the meat. The same article mentions that Vecht’s products were sold through the firm of Messrs Trengrouse and Co.. They are described as colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of the Armour Packing Company from Chicago, who are encouraging his new process. They were, in all likelihood, the link between Intermarine Supply Co and the market. The trading was done through one firm, and another was responsible for supply. This brings us to the next fascinating aspect of this remarkable man’s life, namely his link to the legendary provisions and general commission merchants of Messrs Trengrouse and Co.
The firm was officially called Trengrouse, H & Co., and was described as “Provision Agents and General Commission Merchants” Their address was 51, 55, Tooley Street, London, S.E. The firm was established in 1875 by Henry Trengrouse and his brother, who retired in 1908. They had agents in Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Dunedin, (N.Z.), Monte Video, Buenos Ayres, and specialised in butter, cheese, bacon, eggs and canned goods. They claim to have pioneered the trade in New Zealand and Australia in dairy products. Most important for our purposes is that they were the agents for Armour & Co. from Chicago, and by 1914, they have been Armour’s agents for upwards of thirty years. (1914 Who’s Who in Business) This means that Phil Armour probably set them up himself and dealt directly with them. Phil passed away at the turn of the century.
The grandfather Henery Trengrouse after whom he was named, was a legendary figure in his own right. He devoted his life to the invention of a number of methods to improve safety aboard ships after he witnessed the sinking of a ship with a tragic loss of life close to his hometown when he was a young man. (5) Adventure and perseverance ran in the family and, I am sure, accounted for their success in no small way!
Intermarine Supply Company seems to have been producing for Trengrouse and Co..
Messrs Trengrouse and Co in South Africa
Years ago, when I wrote to you about David Graaff’s Armour – A Tale of Two Legends, I speculated that Philip Armours’ agents must have visited Cape Town. The basis of my speculation was the global reach of Armour’s network and the fact that Phil himself made his money starting out in the Californian Goldfields, and I could not imagine that he sat idly by with the discovery of gold and diamonds on the Rand and Kimberley respectively in South Africa. Further, the link between De Villiers-Graaff visiting Chicago in 1892, where Armour pioneered refrigerated meat transport and refrigeration for the meat trade in general through cold storage works, coupled with De Villiers Graaf’s own focus on this from that time onwards, is just too much to be coincidental. I have gone to great lengths over many years to find the details of the agents for Armour but with no luck whatsoever. Not even a hint!
Until Dr James Anderson informed me about Aron Vecht, I was unable to discover the name of the agents for Philip Armour. Introducing me to Vecht led me to the discovery of the agents of Armour being Messrs Trengrouse and Co, who did not do business with Combrinck & Co. (Later the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Co. of De Villiers Graaff) as I suspected but with Langeberg Foods on canning, presumably from the Boland town of Wellington in the Cape Colony.
I know Langeberg Foods very well and will take this up with them directly as well as secure the book where the reference is made -> Langeberg: 50 Years of Canning Achievement, 1940-1990 – Page 27, D. J. Van Zyl, 1990
Developments in Ireland – 1866: The Patent of Henry Denny
Vecht’s method involved the hermetically seeking of the pigs. In a Press article from 1839, Vecht describes his process as follows. “After the pigs are killed and dressed in the usual manner, the carcasses are allowed to cool. They are then placed in ovens and subjected for a certain time to heat. This partially roasts the outer surface and melts a portion of the fat beneath the skin. The carcasses are then plunged into cold water, and the melted fat becomes solid so that the pig is, so to speak, hermetically sealed within itself. The patent antiseptic fluid is then by pressure injected into the carcase, which becomes wholly impregnated, and the curing is complete. With the antiseptic flavour, according to taste, may be added.” (Press, 1893) Here he marries his system with the singing system invented by Denny in Ireland.
Let’s first get some background on Denny. Ireland, in the first half of the 1800s, was a fertile field for innovation. An excellent example is found in the person of Henry Denny. Part of his remarkable legacy is a firm that once was the largest bacon producer in Europe, Henry Denny & Sons. Henry was born in Waterford, Ireland, in 1790.
Denny started out as a provisioner merchant in Waterford. The first reference to him as a bacon merchant comes to us from 1846. In 1854 he started using ice in bacon curing, which allowed him to cure meat all year round like his colleagues in Calne. The bacon he cured was also referred to as mild cured bacon, and a patent was granted in 1857 on his process. I failed to discover the exact nature of his patented process till Aron Vecht introduced me to it. Like the process invented by C & T Harris, which they called Sweet Cured Bacon, Henry’s process used much less salt. The priority for inventing the first mild cured system, however, goes to William Oake from Ulster, whom we know invented this at around the time when Denny had his merchant business or shortly after this and well before Denny entered the pork processing trade. Denny undoubtedly achieved mild cured bacon in a way different from William Oake.
Henry’s curing system is described in one source I consulted (Geocaching), which seems to be a copy from another work that is unfortunately not referenced, and all my attempts to locate the original publication have been in vain. The author describes it as follows: “Until the early 19th century, pork was cured by soaking large chunks of the meat in barrels of brine for weeks. Shelf life was poor, as often as the inside of the chunks did not cure properly, and meat rotted from the inside out. Henry Denny and his youngest son Edward Denny introduced a number of new innovations – he used long flat pieces of meat instead of chunks; and they dispensed with brine in favour of a dry or ‘hard’ cure, sandwiching the meat in layers of dry salt. This produced well cured bacon with a good shelf life and revolutionised Ireland’s meat industry. Irish bacon and hams were soon exported to Britain, Paris, the Americas and India.“
Reference is made to the fact that Denny invented several curing techniques, and if the description given is correct, it would be one of several inventions. Taken at face value, I doubt the superiority of his system over Oake’s invention. It also comes so late in terms of dates that I seriously doubt if this could be the patent that was awarded in 1957. By this time, meat injection was already well established, which solved the shortcomings of William Oake’s invention in his mild cured system of simply filling the curing tanks with brine to diffuse into the meat “naturally.” If this were, in fact, the patent that was granted in 1857, it would represent a serious step backwards.
A great contribution to my understanding of Denny’s system is the fact that he acquired a meat curing company in Denmark in 1894. The reference is Lets-Look-Again which also seems to quote an uncredited source. They make a statement that this purchase “introduced Irish meat curing techniques to Denmark.” I have, over the years, come across several authors who made the same claim that the Irish meat curing system was introduced to Denmark in the late 1800s after an Irish firm acquired a Danish processing company. They never gave the name of the Irish firm in question. The end of the 1800s is, however, the wrong time for the introduction of William Oake’s system to Denmark. By this time, it was already well established in Denmark, and the likely transfer of the technology to C & T Harris took place from Denmark either at this time (closing years of the 1800s) or in the opening few years of the 1900s. For this reason, I never used the reference, but I was always curious about who the Irish firm was wrongly credited for the transfer of the original mild cure technology to Denmark. If, as I now suspect, the Irish firm referred to was that of Henry Denny, the question comes up as to exactly what the invention was that he took to Denmark!
Denny could very well have been the inventor of the pork rasher. Geocaching quotes an unnamed source that “the rasher (a piece of bacon to be cooked quickly or rashed) was reportedly invented in 1820 by Henry Denny, a Waterford butcher who patented several bacon curing techniques still used to this day.” It must be mentioned that Denny’s career only started in 1820, but that was not as a butcher. It was as a merchant, and he entered the pork processing business only in 1854. There could still be credibility to the claim, which I base on the widespread nature of the story in Ireland. Maybe he was a young man with unusual interest and creativity in selling pork at his trading business. The claim may, however, be apocryphal.
This now brings us to the link between Aron Vecht and Henry Denny, which lead me to discover the real invention of Henry Denny and his mild curing process. One aspect of pork curing that I overlooked for years was the importance of singeing. Singeing pork was nothing new. Removing the hair off the carcass and retaining the “rind” was done with straws for centuries. The old method is beautifully illustrated by Тихомир Давчев in their set of photos featured below.
Henry Denny automated this process. He re-looked at the process in light of the latest industrialised equipment available. One publication from 1866 describes it as follows. “Each pig is hoisted by the hind leg, it is hooked on to a lever, which suspends the animal head downwards, and its throat is slit with a sharp knife; the blood caught in a receiver flows into an external tank, from whence it is carted away. The leg is then fixed to a hook, which slides on a round iron bar placed overhead on an incline. A push of the hand sends the dead pig with railway speed to the singeing furnace, a distance of 30 to 50 feet. Here it is taken by a crane, placed on a tramway, and run into the furnace, where the flame impinges on it, and in a moment, all the hair is removed. The carcass is re-hooked by the leg and passes into another room, where it is disembowelled, the entrails being transferred to an underground region or dealt with. The head is next removed, and then the backbone is cut out, thus dividing the carcass into two flitches, which pass, suspended on the round bars and without handling, into the cooling room, where it hangs until the meat is firm.” (Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, Vol. LXXIV July to December 1866)
His fame was in the first place due to his invention of the automated process of pork singeing. He may have, of course, also called his process “mild cured”, as with the aid of refrigeration, he would have obtained the same result as did William Oake, who actually invented the original mild cured process. It is what I suspect Aron Vecht did and his claim that the key feature of his process is his secret antiseptic brine formulation. It was not necessary to secure the cooked/ cured look of bacon which makes the use of an antiseptic plausible. The real brilliance of Vecht was this antiseptic, as well as his adjustment of cold storage temperatures from chilled to the below-freezing point.
Nothing would have distinguished his pork from that of the Oake system, which relied on sal prunella to achieve “mild cured” meat. (William Oakes Mild-Cured Bacon and Mild-Cured Bacon and the Curers of Wiltshire) It illustrates the inherent problem in using the result of the process (i.e. milder bacon) as the name of your product. If the result is the same, but a different process was used to arrive at it, how would the consumer know (or care)? From a trademark perspective, it makes it tricky since the words seem to be difficult to protect as it would be the general way people would refer to the bacon, not heavily salted. It is like trying to trademark the phrase “well cooked.”
The one point, which, as it stands right now, I believe, is that Denny invented the automated process of singeing the carcass. The publication I site above is the earliest mention of automating the process that I could find, and I am now convinced that Vecht got his method from Denny and Oake and the alternative antiseptic was, in all likelihood, his addition. Auto Curing requires the use of pressure cylinders (autoclaves or retorts), which makes the auto cure bacon’s production even more expensive than mild cured bacon. It is the only process that was really patentable because neither sweet cure nor mild cure nor Vecht’s process, nor Denny’s singeing process is so unique that it cannot be copied by someone with even mediocre technical skills and is not really patentable. The existence of Aron Vecht and his process proves this. It relied on how the animals were finished off, the general system of Oake and Vechts patented antiseptic.
In this regard, it is similar to the refrigeration patent that Harris took out – may I add. Anybody could, and I am sure would, make small changes to the system to show it to be unique and to overcome the trademark issue. This was not the case with Auto Cure which relied on unique equipment. To this day, people buy bacon, and the exact process is, as it were, lost in the final product. Trade marks speak to consistent quality, but in the final analysis, bacon has always been and still is today a commodity that most people buy on price (given a relatively wide range of acceptable product quality).
I have personally been faced with this exact issue over the years. One invents a new process, but the protection of the process only lasts as long as your staff remains with you. The moment they move away, the process is gone! To this day, meat plants are notoriously shrouded in secrecy. From British producers to the largest bacon producer in South Africa (close and good friends) refuse me access to any of their plants because they are scared I will see something I am not supposed to. Phil Armour was famous for trying to break the secrecy which existed even amongst his own plant managers.
I wonder if this does not also explain why Vecht did this, not in Holland or the USA or England, but in faraway New Zealand! Processors all claim that they invented processes! Whichever process one talks about!
Have a look at the article below, Effect of Singeing on the Texture and Histological Appearance of Pig Skin. (6) It beautifully describes the process, and it ascribes the tradition to be Danish. The reason I will still give priority to the invention of Denny is that Denny created bacon-curing plants in Denmark. I believe that the technology was invented by Denny, transferred to Denmark, where it was used on a large scale and subsequently made its way to the Harris operation in Calne and other Wiltshire curers (including Oake Woods – son of William Oake, who invented Mild Curing).
There are many traditions that mild curing, for example, was invented by the Danes, but after ten years of research, I know this is incorrect. As I already discussed, I can imagine that through his process, Denny also arrived at a “milder cured bacon”, but he was by no means the first to have done so. The invention is Irish and was kept a secret till disgruntled Irish curers (on strike) were lured to Denmark under a Danish continual learning scheme where they were paid handsomely to train the Danes in Mild Curing.
1911 Description of what Denny and Vecht’s Process Looked Like
There is a further rear description from the Journal of the Royal Society of the Arts, 1911 describing mild cured bacon production without the use of curing baths or old brine. It has all the elements of the Denny/ Vecht system.
It, interestingly says that it was not too long ago when curing methods were closely guarded secrets, handed down from one generation to the next orally. By 1911 this was not the case any longer, and the account which follows is in this new tradition.
The animal is stunned and bled, after which the carcass is placed in a tank with 70 – 85 deg C (160 to 185 deg F) water, where the carcass is scalded and the hair removed. The carcass is then pushed into the singeing furnace. It specifies that where Wiltshire bacon is produced, singeing is always used.
Sculping table to the singeing furnace. This furnace was invented by Denny and copied by Vecht.
The carcass is left in the furnace for 25 seconds. The subcutaneous fat, which would be soft, is changed to hard fat after the carcass has been removed and is cooled down in a cold water bath.
The carcass is hung on dressing bars where it’s cleaned and disembowelled. Singed and unsinged carcasses are, from this point onwards, treated in the same way. They are cleaned with cold water and scraped clean. The intestinal offal is removed and handled separately. Kidney fat is still in the carcass at this point.
The carcass is now split, and the backbone or vertebral column is removed. Secondary offal is removed being the head, feet and kidney fat. It is the removal of the vertebral column which liberates the two sides. The sides were then hung until they sufficiently cooled down to around 38o F or 3o C.
Scoring – remove the backbone and separate the sides.
“When the temperature is riched, transfer the carcass to the curing cellar. Here the blade bone is drawn out.” Curing, according to their method, did not involve the reuse of the old brine. Instead, a fresh pickle is pumped into each side at a pressure of 40 lbs. to the square inch. “The pickle is pumped through a pickle needle with a number of perforations arranged in a spiral manner through which the pickle is discharged. The sides are now laid one by one on the floor of the curing cellar, which is maintained at a temperature of 42o F or 5o C. The atmosphere must be humid and moist. Each side is covered over by an equal mixture of salt, saltpetre and curing preservative, on top of which is placed a heavy layer of salt.” (Journal of the Royal Society, 1911) No mention is made of a liquid pickle.
Curing cellar in an Irish Bacon factory.
“Under these conditions, the curing proceeds and the salt, as it melts, take the place of the meat juices.” (Journal of the Royal Society, 1911) In their view, the salt and the rest of the cure “replaced” the meat juices, which were drawn out. They worked out that under refrigerated conditions, less salt can be used—the process laster 14 days. A statement is made that the bacon can then be sold as “mild cured bacon”. Alternatively, the bacon could be washed, dried, smoked and sold as smoked bacon.
An interesting comment is made that the bacon would not keep very long in the mild-cured condition. For the bacon to last long, it had to be kept in the salt. Farm-cured bacon is typically kept in the salt for 28 days.
Bacon pumping in Denmark. In Denmark, only Wiltshire sides of bacon are produced, and the bacon is all pumped before being placed in the curing bed and covered with salt and saltpetre.
A fascinating and insightful section follows, where the curing process is discussed in detail. “The exact process which goes on in the production of bacon is not merely the displacement of the meat juices by a solution of salt and curing material. There is also the presence of micro-organisms which are always to be found where flesh of any kind exists. These putrefactive organisms assist in the curing process by breaking down some of the tissue of the meat, notwithstanding the presence of salt, which has no antiseptic effect on some of them. This is how the bacon flavour arises as distinguished from fresh or pickled pork. The flavour is largely due to decomposition.” (Journal of the Royal Society, 1911) That there has been a serious progression of scientific thought by this time is clear. The use of the word micro-organisms is instructive, but surprisingly, they were at this point in Britain completely ignorant of the work in Germany related to the chemical reactions as the basis for curing – at least the bacon curing community was.
Sides of Wiltshire bacon in a curing cellar. In the curing of Wiltshire bacon, the sides are uniformly stacked as in this picture.
What we have here is clearly the Denny/ Vecht curing system and not tank curing, which was invented by William Oake and later became part of the Wiltshire brine system. Another observation is in order related to the use of the Wiltshire cut in New Zealand. The largest bacon producer in New Zealand, Hellers, to this day uses the Wiltshire cut in its deboning hall. In all probability, this was introduced by Vecht and was part of his curing system, as described in the Journal of 1911. What we may have here is, however, far more than a description of the integration of Denny and Oake’s systems.
One can see the elements of the complete Wiltshire system emerging through the major progress in understanding the role of microorganisms as essential in dry-curing. For a comprehensive discussion on this and the role of “decomposing” microorganisms in salt diffusion during dry curing, see Evaluation of Dry Curing with Saltpeter (with and without sugar). It would have been very soon after this when they became aware of the work of Ponenski, Notwang, Lehmann, KIßKALT, and from the United Kingdom, the landmark work of Handane, who all published before 1910 and elucidated the chemical reactions in curing. (The Fathers of Meat Curing) In terms of microbiology, the work of Meusel, who published as early as 1875 and identified the reduction of nitrate to nitrite in wastewaters by bacterial action and Gayon and Dupetitt, who elaborated on his work and coined the term denitrifying bacteria (1882) would have been syphering through the channels of science into Bristol on the river Avon, servicing Wiltshire. Liebig mentored the last two researchers, and their work would soon lead to the full Wiltshire system. (The Polenski letter)
The system left out sal prunella. There is mention that Vecht used a dry cure version of his system, and the description given above may very well be that exact system.
International Bacon War: Quest for Supremacy
I thought it important to deal with Vecht, Trengrouse and Denny in one letter since it speaks to the state of international competitiveness of the newly emerging superpower of the United States relative to the diminishing influence of England. We must not lose sight of the fact that Vecht’s process was a short-lived attempt by the Dutch (Vecht) and the Americans (Armour) to wrestle away control of the international bacon market from the British.
Over the years, I have always wondered why Phil Armour did not try and assert his influence on the lucrative bacon trade not just through exports to Britain (which they did on a large scale) but in the international bacon trade. I never came across them in almost ten years of research apart from sending bacon from the USA to England. This all changed with the mail from Dr Anderson and looking into the life and career of Vecht.
I speculate that their agents found an ideal ally in the Dutch curer, Aron Vecht. Vecht combined several known (and patented) curing processes, created his own version of mild cure, ostensibly predicated upon the use of refrigeration and an invention by the Irish firm of Henry Denny that automated the singeing process of the carcass. I suspect his allegiance with Armour either led him to become an expert in the newly developing art of refrigeration, or he was already interested in this before he came into contact with the Armour Meatpacking company in Chicago. His curing process would have suited Armour in that it was far less capital intensive than Dorset based firm of Oake-Wood’s autocue, and despite not being as fast in curing as was accomplished with the autocue equipment, it was a progression on the mild curing process of the inventor of the original process, William Oake, father of the Oake who was a partner in Oake-Woods.
The link with a unique bacon brand is a stroke of genius and something, I am sure, that was carefully deliberated. Before this time, bacon was differentiated by the particular method of curing. As I explained at the start, these would have been dry-cured, sweet-cured, mild-cured, pale-dried or auto-cured. There is evidence of Harris going after people using the name “pale dried bacon”, but the advent of refrigeration effectively levelled the playing field as many options became available to produce bacon with far less salt than was traditionally done under the dry-cured system.
Another very important point about Armour must be made. A few years ago, I came across a reference to a secret trial in the use of sodium nitrite done at a packing plant in Chicago. The year was 1905. This was done before its use was legal in any country on earth. I speculated that it was carried out by Phil Armour as very few people would have had the audacity to have tried it. I reported on this experiment in an article, and shortly after this, all references to it were removed from the publications I cited, and I could not get hold of the source documents. I know the author of the article where this reference appeared. He is a prominent person in a leading role in European meat-curing circles, and I understand why this reference was removed.
This is pure speculation on my part, but it has a tone of credibility. I think Armour, on his own or with the key meatpackers in Chicago of Gustav Swift and Edward Morris, jointly performed the trial. I wrote extensively about this in The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – The Spoils of War. The experiment would have been spectacularly successful and, I believe, was done on the back of experiments done in German agricultural research centres for years before 1905.
With them having known about the work on nitrites, I believe the process of Vecht suited Armour well as a kind of a “placeholder” without engaging a firm like Oake-Woods and locking them into the Auto Curing system which was the leading system internationally at the time as far as it is patentable. Indeed, it was the most widely used international patented system of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
There is an “air” of the thinking of Armour, Swift and Morris in the preamble to a meat science group formed by them, also in the early 1900s, where their mission was stated as being “to reduce steers to beef and hogs to pork in the quickest, most economical and the most serviceable manner.” The process they had in mind here was nitrite curing.
It was a key turning point in the history of curing. The Americans spectacularly took the lead when, following the first world war, Griffith, the American Chicago-based company, became the evangelist of the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines, a riveting saga which I uncovered and wrote extensively about in the article which I just now sited. So, anticipating what is to come in the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines, there would have been no point in investing in any of the “indirect curing processes” of the English, Danes or Dutch. There is evidence that the Chicago meatpackers were preparing for this curing revolution for a number of years, and the Griffith Laboratories was an important participant who had to be ready to handle the PR of what was to come. They have undoubtedly taken careful note of public perception related to nitrites and had to be careful how they introduce the matter to the public. Besides, they had to ensure that using nitrites directly in meat curing was legalised. All this was carefully orchestrated, and it completely explains why they never fully committed to curing systems that dominated throughout the rest of the world prior to 1905. Supporting the Vecht system would have been a perfect “placeholder.”
Was the use of the curing technique of Vecht as deliberate as I present it here? I suspect it but have no direct evidence to that effect. Is it a likely scenario, taking the full spectrum of information from that time into account? I believe so! At least it warrants keeping the possibility in mind as we progress our efforts to understand the grand story of the development of bacon!
The discovery of the life and legacy of Aron Vecht brings together many loose strands in years of research, and I am thrilled to share them with you! The real genius of the Irish bacon curer Denny; glimpses of the first attempts of Philip Armours company (he has passed away by this time) to dominate the international bacon production business or flirtations with the thought; the experimentation with refrigeration temperatures for bacon on long voyages; identifying the international agents of Phil Armour; identifying the brain behind Cecil John Rhodes (De Beers) attempt to enter the meat refrigeration business in competition with De Villiers-Graaff; highlighting to me the importance of the singeing of pork in the grand saga of the history of bacon curing; demonstrating how an orthodox Jew could be a master bacon curer; the tantalizing information that Vecht fought in the Anglo Boer war, opening up a new frontier of investigation and validating my own inclusion of this war as background to my book on bacon curing! Finally, the value of international cooperation through the work of Dr Anderson. Without his communication alerting me to the life of Vecht, these giant strides in the investigation on numerous fronts would not have taken place. Bacon & the Art of Living is an international collaboration, and full credit goes to every single person who, like Dr Anderson, contributed over many years to this work.
I am thrilled that you continue to live so close to the meat trade, to which I have dedicated my life and the history to which I am discovering more every single day!
Lots of love,
(c) eben van tonder
Note 1: Liquidation Sale Notice
The notice of the liquidation reads as follows:
MESSRS. STEWART and MORTON, at NOWRA, on account of THOMAS MARRIOTT, Esq., Liquidator of the Shoalhaven Co-operative Bacon Curing Company, Limited in Liquidation).
BACON CURING FACTORY at Bomaderry, N.S.W., and other Assets of the above Company, consisting of the following:
- 4 acs 1 road 18 perches, being lots 9 and 10 of Section 33, on Deposited Plan No. 2880, in the Town of Bomaderry, Parish of Bunberra,county of Camden, TORRENS TITLE million to reservations in Crown Grant), withFactory premises and fixed plant and machinerythereon, as per schedule No. 1
- Movable Plant, Office Furniture, Horses, Wag-gone, Carts, and Harness, as per Schedule No. 2.
- License to use exclusively in NSW. process for curing Bacon known as “Vecht Mild Cure Process.”
- “York Castle” Trade Mark for Bacon.
Items 1 and 3 are under mortgage, on which there is a Band of £2050, with Interest at a 5 per cent, per annum, from 2nd June 1900, owing, and will be sold subject thereto.
Item 3 Is held under certain Deeds and Documents, which, together with the Mortgagee over Items 1 and 3, may be inspected at the Offices of Messrs. Perkins. Stevenson, and Co., of 122 Pitt-street, Sydney, Solicitors.
Any Assignment of Item 3 is subject to consent of ARON VECHT, WILLIAM STOKES, and the CHRIST CHURCH CHURCH MEAT COMPANY, Limited. Lists of the Plant, etc may be inspected, at the Office of THOMAS MARIOTT, Esq. and the Auctioneers, at Nowra, and at the Offices of Messrs. PERKINS, STEVENSON, and CO., Solicitors, Sydney.
By order. THOMAS MARRIOTT, Liquidator, ‘
Note 2: York Castle Bacon
The York Castle Trademark is of huge interest. William Stokvis of Brussels instituted legal action against Barnes Bacon Company Ltd. (Mr WJ Gale being the managing director at this time). The lawsuit related to the use of a secret curing formulation for bacon and hams in 1936. The plaintiff alleged the unlawful use of the trademark and he claimed that this secret method was alleged to be used for bacon made under this trade name when in reality, so he alleged, it was not always used.
The judge said in the judgement that York Castel bacon has been sold for years throughout New South Wales and that the secret mild cured formulation was attached to it. An agreement was entered on 20 March 1922 in which Stokvis gave Barnes Bacon Company Ltd. the right to use the secret curing formulation and the trademark for 10 years in exchange for monetary compensation for every pig so cured in New South Wales. In addition, Stokvis agreed in June 1922 to pay James Macgregor (an expert in mixing the cure and supervising the curing) half of the royalties received from Australia and New Zealand. Two tradenames were involved in the agreement being “York Castle” and “More Pork.”
In June 1922, JM Watt became the owner of the trademark limited to New South Wales and in January 1926, its scope was extended internationally. Watt dies in 1926 and the partnership created in 1928 ceased in 1928. In 1929 Stokvis became the owner of the trademark. He subsequently renewed the trademark till 1949.
It was established that pork was cured for a period by Barnes Bacon Company Ltd using a curing method, different from the secret mild curing method, yet, the secret curing method was attached to the trade names. Key witnesses were Messrs. WJ Gale, A Robertson, WJ Read, and Colin C Gale. The judge regarded the witness of all except Colin C Gale as unreliable.
So far it’s all of little interest or direct bearing of our historical consideration of various curing methods. One of the legal counsels referred to a previous case between Orange Crush (Australia) and Cartell (41 C.L.R. 282) where the high court found, by majority decision, that the pickle had lost its identity in the final product. The judge did not accept the point as being applicable in this case, but it is of supreme importance for our current consideration.
It has been my contention for many years that unless a specific piece of equipment, fully protected under patent laws is attached to a certain curing or other processes; or, unless a trademark is linked to a process and the agreement between the licensor and the licensee specifically links the method of curing and the trademark, if the outcome is equal, any process loses its identity in the final product and a process or formulation without a trademark so linked to it or the use of patent-protected equipment, curing methods or any meat processing methods are essentially unprotectable.
It is interesting that the judge accepted the argument of WJ Gale that “a different cure is only a matter of the first pickle that is put into bacon.” Judgement was in favour of the plaintiff.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) · 16 Jun 1936, Tue · Page 6
Note 3: From the The Waikato Argus, Friday, November 22, 1901.
The issue of temperatures takes front and central role in the saga. The following newspaper article deals with this.
“Frozen pigs are arriving in England from New Zealand, to be ‘borne cured’ for the British breakfast table (say the Daily Mail). This explanation is that the world is short of pigs, and as people still insist on eating pork the shippers and curers are straining every nerve to reach the remotest parts where the pig is sold. This is why England is buying bacon from Siberia, Russia, Denmark, Holland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and a score more of our colonial friends and foreign rivals. Hitherto this foreign bacon has always arrived in England already cured, and since it is ‘mildly cured ’ to suit the British palate, a very large portion of the bacon sold to the householder is slightly tainted. To prevent this numerous attempts have been made to put the dead pig into ice and turn him into bacon on arrival in England. But the lowering of the temperature below 32deg Fahrenheit (0 deg C) has ‘invariably faded the flash into a pale, unpleasant colour and alienated the affections of the British matron. Now, however, by what may be called a triumph of transit and cure, a most promising and important trade has begun between New Zealand and England. By employing the Vecht curing process, a New Zealand firm is shipping pigs from that distant colony, placing them in refrigerators with a temperature of 20 deg Fahrenheit (-6 deg C), and curing them here on the banks of the Thames with apparently perfect success. This success is obtained by first treating the carcase*, before they leave New Zealand, by the Vecht curing process, which allays the action of the cold, and so sterilises the flesh as to prevent the changes which has hitherto interfered with the successful curing at Home of what is grown abroad. Messrs Trengrouse and Co., who are colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of Armours, of Chicago, are encouraging this new process, and prophesy for it a vast influence on the bacon trade.”
Note 4: Interview with Aron Vecht
Note 5: Interesting link to the Grandfather of Henry Trengouse
In my quest to trace the history of bacon curing I wondered many times over 10 years why I cannot find any information about the Armour packing plant in Chicago trading in bacon. It was one of the largest meatpacking plants on earth. I discovered through investigating the life of Aron Vecht, the orthodox Jewish meat curer and inventor of his own curing system, the agent for Armour was the English firm of Henry Trengrouse and they were huge traders in bacon on Armours behalf.
The grandfather of Henry Trengrouse who owned the firm with his brother, Richard, turns out to be a particularly interesting man. He was also Henry Trengrouse. It strikes me that much of his spirit lived on in his grandson. I quote this section from the book Cornish Characters and Strange Events by S. Baring-Gould:
HENRY TRENGROUSE, INVENTOR
Helston is a quaint old town, once of far more importance than at present. It possessed an old castle, that has now disappeared. It was one of the six stannary towns, and prior to 1832 returned two members to Parliament. It still glories in its “Furry Day,” when the whole town goes mad, dancing, in spite of Methodism. It has on some of its old house-gables pixy seats, and it had a grammar school that has had notable masters, as Derwent Coleridge, and notable scholars, as Henry Trengrouse. It is the key and capital to that wonderful district, rich in geological and botanic and antiquarian interest, the Lizard.
The great natural curiosity of Helston is Loe Pool, formed by the Comber, a small river, penned back by Loe Bar, a pebble-and-sand ridge thrown up by the sea. The sheet of water lying between wooded hills abounds in trout, and white swans float dreamily over the still water. The banks are rich with fern, and yellow, white, and pink mesembryanthemum. Formerly the pool rose till it overflowed the lower parts of the town; now a culvert has been driven through the rocks to let off the water as soon as it has attained a certain height.
Henry Trengrouse was born at Helston, 18th March 1772, the son of Nicholas Trengrouse (1739-1814), and of Mary, his wife, who was a Williams.
The family had been long among the freeholders of Helston, and possessed as well a small estate, Priske, in the parish of Mullion; but the family name is taken from Tref-an-grouse, the House by the Cross, in the same parish.
Henry was educated in Helston Grammar School, and became, by trade, a cabinet-maker.On 29th December, 1807, when he was aged thirty-five, a rumour spread through the little town that a large frigate, H.M.S. Anson, had been driven ashore on Loe Bar, about three miles distant. Mr Trengrouse and many others hastened to the coast and reached the bar.
The Anson, forty-four guns, under the command of Captain Lydiard, had left Falmouth on Christmas Eve for her station off Brest as a look-out ship for the Channel Fleet.
A gale from the W.S.W. sprang up, and after being buffeted about till the 28th, with the wind increasing, the captain determined to run to port. The first land they made was the Land’s End, which they mistook for the Lizard, and only discovered their mistake when the cry of “Breakers ahead!” was heard from the man on the lookout. They were now embayed, and in face of the terrible storm, it was impossible to work off, so both cables were let go. The Anson rode to these till the early morning of the 29th, when they parted, and the captain, in order to save as many lives as possible, decided to beach her on the sand off Loe Pool. A tremendous sea was running, and as she took the beach only sixty yards from the bar, she was dashed broadside on, and happily for the poor fellows on board, heeled landwards. Seas mountains high rolled over her, sweeping everything before them. Then her masts went by the board, her mainmast forming a floating raft from the ship almost to the shore, and over this scrambled through the maddened waves most of those who were saved.
It was a terrible sight to witness for the hundreds of spectators who had by this time collected on the beach, but it was almost impossible for them to render any assistance.
At last, when all hands seemed to have left the ship, two stout-hearted Methodist local preachers—Mr. Tobias Roberts, of Helston, and Mr. Foxwell, of Mullion—made an attempt to reach her, so as to see if anyone remained on board. They succeeded and were soon followed by others, who found several people, including two women and as many children. The women and some of the men were safely conveyed ashore, but the children were drowned. There were altogether upwards of a hundred drowned, including the captain, who stood by the frigate to the last. The exact number was never known, as many of the soldiers deserted on reaching the shore.
The survivors salved a good deal from the wreck, amongst which were watches, jewellery, and many articles of considerable value. They were placed all together in a bedroom of the old inn at Porthleven, with a soldier with drawn sword on guard. One of the beams that bent under such an unusual weight may be seen bowed to this day. A local militia sergeant was soon afterwards sent to Helston in charge of a wagon-load of these valuable goods, and when halfway to his destination was accosted by a Jew, who offered him £50 in exchange for his load. “Here is my answer,” said the sergeant, presenting a loaded pistol at his head, and the fellow hurriedly took his departure.
Much indignation was raised at the time by the way in which the victims of the disaster were buried. They were bundled in heaps into large pits dug in the cliff above, without any burial service being performed over them. It was customary everywhere at that time for all bodies washed ashore to be interred by the finder at the nearest convenient spot. But as a result of the indecent methods of burial of the Anson victims, an Act of Parliament was framed by Mr Davies Gilbert, and passed on 18th June 1808, providing “suitable interment in churchyards and parochial burying-grounds” for all bodies cast up by the sea.
The Anson was a sixty-four gun frigate cut down to a forty-four and had seen much service. Among many fights, she figured in Lord Rodney’s action on 12th April 1782, formed part of the fleet which repulsed the French squadron in an attempt to land in Ireland in 1796, helped in the seizure of the French West Indies in 1803, and in 1807 took part in the capture of Curaçao from the Dutch. It was not long after her return from this latter place that she left Falmouth for the cruise on which she met her fate.
In 1902 the hull of the Anson, after having been submerged for ninety-five years, came to light again. She was found by Captain Anderson of the West of England Salvage Company, whose attention had been directed to the wreck by a Porthleven fisherman. Unfortunately at the time, the weather was so stormy that Captain Anderson could not proceed with any efforts of salvage, and with the exception of one visit of inspection the interesting relic was left untouched. But in April 1903, with a bright sky and a light breeze from the northeast, he proceeded to the spot and inspected the remains. The hull of the vessel was not intact, and several guns were lying alongside. One of these, about 10 ft. 6 in. long, Captain Anderson secured and hoisted on to the deck of the Green Castle by means of a winch, and afterwards conveyed it to Penzance. It was much encrusted. Amongst the mass of débris also raised were several cannon-balls.
But to return to Henry Trengrouse, who had stood on the beach watching the wreck, the rescue of some and the perishing of others.
Drenched with rain and spray, and sick at heart, Henry Trengrouse returned to his home and was confined to his bed for nearly a week, having contracted a severe cold. The terrible scene had made an indelible impression on his mind, and he could not, even if he had wished it, drive the thought away. Night and day he mused on the means whereby some assistance could be given to the shipwrecked, some communication be established between the vessel and the shore.
He was a great friend of Samuel Drew, whose life was devoted to metaphysics, and it was perhaps the contrast in the two minds that made them friends—one an idealist, the other practical.
Trengrouse had a small competence, besides his trade, and he devoted every penny that he could spare to experiments, first in the construction of a lifeboat, but without satisfactory results.
The King’s birthday was celebrated at Helston with fireworks on the green; and as Henry Trengrouse looked up at the streak of fire rushing into the darkness above and scattering a shower of stars, it occurred to him, Why should not a rocket, instead of wasting itself in an exhibition of fireworks, do service and become a means of carrying a rope to a vessel among the breakers? When a communication has been established between the wreck and the shore, above the waves, it may become an aerial passage along which those in distress may pass to safety.
Something of the same idea had already occurred to Lieutenant John Bell in 1791, but his proposal was that a shot with a chain attached to it should be discharged from a mortar. Captain George William Manby had his attention drawn to this in February 1807, and in August of the same year exhibited some experiments with his improved life-preserving mortar to the members of the Suffolk House Humane Society. By the discharge of the mortar, a barbed shot was to be flung onto the wreck, with a line attached to the shot. By means of this line a hawser could be drawn from the shore to the ship, and along it would be run a cradle in which the shipwrecked persons could be drawn to land.
Manby’s mortar was soon abandoned as cumbrous and dangerous; men were killed during tests; notwithstanding which he was awarded, £2000. The great merit of Trengrouse’s invention was that the rocket was much lighter than a shot from a mortar, and was, moreover, more portable, and there was a special line manufactured for it that would not kink, nor would it snap, because the velocity of the rocket increased gradually, whereas that from a discharge of a mortar was sudden and so great that the cord was frequently ruptured.
The distinctive feature of Trengrouse’s apparatus consisted of “a section of a cylinder, which is fitted to the barrel of a musket by a bayonet socket; a rocket with a line attached to its stick is so placed on it that its priming receives fire immediately from the barrel”; whereas a metal mortar could not be conveyed to the cliff or shore opposite the scene of disaster without being drawn in a conveyance by horses, and where there was no road with the utmost difficulty dragged over hedges and ploughed fields by men. Not only so, but a shot discharged by Captain Manby’s mortar was liable to endanger life. Wrecks generally happened in the dark, and then the shot would not be visible to those on the wreck. But Trengrouse’s rocket would indicate its track by the trail of fire by which it was impelled and could be fired from either the ship or the shore.
Trengrouse expended £3000 on his experiments and sacrificed to this one object—that of saving life—his capital, his business, and his health. He cut off the entail on Priske, which had belonged to the family for several generations, and sold it to enable him to pursue his experiments. There was much that was pathetic in his life: there were the long and frequent journeys to London from Helston, four days by coach, sometimes in mid-winter and in snowstorms, with the object of inducing successive Governments to adopt the rocket apparatus, meeting only with discouragement. Nor was this all. After all his own means had been exhausted, he received a legacy of £500 under a brother’s will, and this sum he at once devoted to further endeavours with H.M. Government for the general adoption of his rocket apparatus.
The Russian ambassador now stepped forward and invited Trengrouse to S. Petersburg, where he assured him that, instead of rebuffs, he would experience only the consideration due to him for his inventions. But Trengrouse’s reply was, “My country first”; and that country allowed him, after the signal services he had rendered to humanity—to die penniless.
His original design was to supply every ship with a rocket apparatus; as vessels were almost invariably wrecked before the wind, the line might the more easily be fired from a ship than from the shore.
Trengrouse once met Sir William Congreve, who also claimed to be the inventor of the war-rocket; and Trengrouse said to him in the course of their discussion, “As far as I can see, Sir William, your rocket is designed to destroy life; mine is to save life; and I do claim to be the first that ever thought of utilizing a rocket for the saving of human lives.”
Trengrouse moreover invented the cork jacket or “life preserver.” This was a success and has never been improved on. It has been the means of saving many hundreds of lives. He also built a model of a lifeboat, that could not be sunk, and was equal to the present lifeboats of the Royal Lifeboat Association in all respects except the “self-righting” principle. It was not until February 28th, 1818, after many journeys to London, and much ignorant and prejudiced objection that he had to contend against, such as is found so usual among Government officials, that Trengrouse was able to exhibit his apparatus before Admiral Sir Charles Rowley. A committee was appointed, and on March 5th it reported favourably on the scheme.
In the same year the Committee of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House reported in high terms on the invention, and recommended that “no vessel should be without it.”
Thereupon Government began to move slowly; in the House, the matter was discussed and haggled over. One speaker exclaimed: “You are guilty of sinful negligence in this matter, for while you are parleying over this invention and this important subject, thousands of our fellow-men are losing their lives.”
At last, Government ordered twenty sets of the life-preserving rockets, but afterwards resolved on making the apparatus itself, and paid Trengrouse the sum of £50, the supposed amount of profit he would have made on the order. Fifty pounds was all his ungrateful country could afford to give him. In 1821, however, the Society of Arts pronounced favourably on his apparatus and presented Trengrouse with their silver medal and a grant of thirty guineas.
Through the Russian ambassador, the then Czar sent him a diamond ring, in consideration of the great advantage his apparatus had proved in shipwrecks on the Baltic and the Black Sea. Even this he was constrained to pledge, that he might devote the money to his darling project.
With these acknowledgements of his services, he had to rest contented, but ever the news of lives having been saved through his invention was a solace to an even and contented mind.
Henry Trengrouse died at Helston on February 19th, 1854.
As he lay on his deathbed with his face to the wall, he turned about, and with one of his bright, hopeful smiles said to his son, “If you live to be as old as I am, you will find my rocket apparatus all along our shores.” They were his last words; in a few minutes he had passed away.
The rocket apparatus is along the shores at 300 stations, but not, as he had hoped, onboard the vessels. He had despaired of obtaining that, yet that is what he aimed at principally.
In April 1905, owing to the loss of the Kyber on the Land’s End coast, questions were asked in the House of Commons relative to wireless telegraphy between the lighthouses and the coast. On that occasion one of the most valuable suggestions was made by a shipping expert, who considered that the Board of Trade should make it compulsory that a light rocket apparatus should be carried by all vessels, so that, when in distress if near the coast, the crew could send a rocket ashore. This marine engineer said: “On shore the rockets must be fired by practised men, such as coastguards because they have to strike a small object; but on a vessel, they have only to hit the land, and if people are about, the line will quickly be seized and made fast. At present, too, horses and wagons have to be used, and sometimes it is difficult to find a road leading down to the spot from which help must be rendered. Probably for twenty pounds an appliance could be kept on board a vessel which would send a line ashore in less time and with more certainty than at present. When a vessel is being blown ashore, I have seen rockets fired from the land return like a boomerang to the cliff on account of the strength of the gale. In my judgment, mariners should assist in their own salvation.”
On this Mr H. Trengrouse, grandson of the inventor, wrote to the Cornishman, 24th April 1905:—
“Your suggestion in the Cornishman of the 15th instant … that all vessels should be compelled by the Board of Trade to carry this apparatus, is very practical, and should, and I trust may be soon adopted.”
It may interest your readers to learn that the inventor, my grandfather, the late Mr. Henry Trengrouse, of Helston, urged this upon successive Governments without any encouragement whatever, and I on two occasions have also suggested it to the principals of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, who have informed me of a strong opinion always entertained, that on the occasion of wreck, there would probably not be any one on board possessing sufficient knowledge of the use of the apparatus to render it of any value; which seems very strange indeed, and might be readily obviated by, at least, the captain and officers of vessels being instructed in its use—surely simple enough. My grandfather devoted much time to make it so; and the advantage of an appliance for use on board is so palpable, and the loss of life during many years by its absence so considerable, that it is extremely gratifying to observe a renewed and increasing interest in the subject, which I hope, Sir, as you state, being so important, may now be kept to the fore.”
I am, Sir,
“Your obedient servant,”
That this admirable letter to the Cornishman should at the time produce no effect on the Board of Trade is what every one who has had any dealings with that Board would predicate.
At length, however, some goading has roused that obstructive, inert body into inquiring into this matter. I read in the Daily Express of 27th January 1908: “The question whether the carrying of rockets for projecting lifelines should be made compulsory on all British ships is being investigated by a special committee appointed by the Board of Trade. One witness before the committee said that he had seen fifty men drowned within sixty yards of the shore in a gale, and that all might have been saved had the vessel been equipped with line-throwing guns.”
So—after the lapse of eighty-six or seven years, and the loss of thousands of lives that might have been saved had not the Board of Trade been too inert to move in the matter—an inquiry has once more been instituted. Let us hope that after this inquiry the matter may not be allowed to fall again into neglect.
That the rocket fired from the shore has been already the means of saving lives, the following report on it made to the Board of Trade, for the year ending 30th June 1907, will testify:—
“During the year ended as above, 268 lives were saved by means of the life-saving apparatus, that is to say, 127 more than the number saved by the same means during the previous year, and 67 more than the average for the previous ten years. The total number of lives saved by the life-saving apparatus since 1870 is 8924. This number does not include the large number of lives saved by means of ropes and other assistance from the shore.”
After the loss of the Berlin, belonging to the Great Eastern Company, in 1907, the attention of the Dutch Government was called to the advantage of having the rocket apparatus on board ship, and legal instructions were drafted, making it obligatory upon all vessels of over two hundred tons gross to carry rocket apparatus.
Henry Trengrouse’s noble life was a failure in so far as that it brought him no pecuniary results—covered him with disappointment, reduced him to poverty. He received, in all, for his life’s work, and the sacrifice of fortune and the landed estate of his ancestors, £50 from Government, £31 10s. from the Society of Arts, and a diamond ring that in his time of need he was constrained to pawn, and which he was never able to redeem.
Russell Lowell puts these lines into the mouth of Cromwell, in his Glance behind the Curtain:—
My God, when I read o'er the bitter lives Of men whose eager hearts are quite too great To beat beneath the cramp'd mode of the day, And see them mocked at by the world they love, Haggling with prejudice for pennyworths Of that reform which this hard toil will make The common birthright of the age to come— When I see this, spite of my faith in God, I marvel how their hearts bear up so long; Nor could they, but for this same prophecy, This inward feeling of the glorious end.
Henry Trengrouse married Mary, daughter of Samuel and Mary Jenken, 19th November 1795. She was born at S. Erth, 9th September, 1772, and died at Helston, 27th March 1863. By her he had one son only who reached manhood, Nicholas Trevenen Trengrouse, who died at the age of seventy-four; and one daughter, Jane, who married Thomas Rogers, solicitor, of Helston; Emma, who married a Mr Matthews; and two, Mary and Anne, who died unmarried, the first at the age of eighty, the latter at that of ninety-four.
To Mr. Henry Trengrouse, the son of Mr Nicholas T. Trengrouse, I am indebted for much information relative to his grandfather, as also to a lecture, never published, delivered in 1894 by the Rev. James Ninnis, who says in a letter to Mr H. Trengrouse, junior: “Most of the detail I have taken from notes of my father, dated 1878; he got them from a conversation with your respected father.”
Mr J. Ninnis’ grandfather had stood on the beach by the side of Henry Trengrouse, watching the wreck of the Anson.
A portrait of the inventor, by Opie the younger, is in the possession of the family at Helston, as is also the picture of the wreck of the Anson sketched at the time by Mr. Trengrouse. For permission to reproduce both I am indebted to the courtesy of the grandson of the inventor.
De Beer, G., Paterson, A., and Olivier, H.. 2003. 160 Years of export. The History of the Perishable Products Export Control Board.
The Bush Advocate. Thursday, May 11. New Outlet for Farmers, Volume IX, Issue 777, 11 May 1893, Page 2
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The Jewish Voice, St. Louis, Missouri, Friday, December 04, 1908
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