How to Kill a Victorian

In honor of Queen of Victoria’s birthday, May 24, 1819, today’s post is solely dedicated to all of the ways in which living in Victorian England was deadly.

Death by steamboat

We will start with Canadian Victorians and then cross the ocean. First of all did you know there is a Thames river in Ontario? The steamer Victoria capsized in the Thames River today in 1881, the Queen’s 62nd birthday, killing almost 200 people.

Isabella Beeton: Book of Household Management

Poison Food

If the bovine TB in unpasteurized milk didn’t make you ill, the fix to make it safer might. That fix was good old boric acid. Apparently Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management advised that treating milk with boric acid was a good way to purify it and rid the milk of any sour taste. Wise words if you know your goal is also to clear out your insides of those pesky organs. And if the milk didn’t scrub and liquefy your insides, the bread should do the job. Flour was often cut with alum, a compound now most often found in detergents.

Modern Day equivalent: Where to start? Popcorn lung? How about potassium bromate bread? The virtual non-difference between natural and synthetic additives?

Modern day equivalent of this at times shockingly uninformed reference book:

pick one

Poison Vapors

Scheele’s Green wall paper The bright pigments of Victorian wallpaper were often, it turns out, quite poisonous, particularly this popular shade of emerald green, which was made with arsenic-laced paint. As you can imagine, arsenic vapors are toxic, and easily metabolized. Green wallpaper probably killed Napoleon. Also arsenic candles don’t sound great.

Modern day equivalent Flame retardant pajamas and furnitureradon showers?

Your Bathroom

If a methane explosion didn’t do you in, then carbon monoxide from the gas water heater could.

Image: William Heath, 1828, Wellcome Library, London, via Gizmodo

Modern day equivalent: Eating Tide podsportable generators?


This category is long. Arsenic clothing, lead make up, flammable plastic dresses, mercury hats. You know the phrase mad as a hatter? That’s mercury poisoning.

Modern day equivalent titanium whitening toothpastedeath by selfies?

Death by Electric Tablecloth

All numbers of ill-advised electric products sold and used before electrocution was well understood.

Modern day equivalence: video game addiction?

Ok, let’s wrap this up.

Fortune today: Overall, things look bright. But none of us are getting out of here alive.

Originally published at on May 24, 2018.