Arthur Hill Hassall’s Adulterations Detected, or, Plain Instructions for the Discovery of Frauds in Food and Medicine (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1857) brought the problem of food and drug adulteration in London to public attention and led to major public health reforms.
Arthur Hill Hassall (1817-1894) was an English physician, microscopist, chemist, and pioneer in public health and food safety. He made major contributions in botany and histology, conducted some of the earliest research in what would become the field of phytopathology and wrote the first English text on histology. His research and activism improved the safety of the English food and water supply, and he was a pioneer in the sanatorium treatment of tuberculosis in Europe.
The youngest son of a physician in Middlesex, Hassall left home in 1834 to study at the Dublin Medical School and apprentice with his uncle, Sir James Murray, and became interested in microscopy and botany. In 1845, he moved to London, where he established a medical practice and continued his botanical studies. His research resulted in books on freshwater algae (1845) and the quality of London’s water supply (1850).
Hassall then turned to the problem of food quality. In 1850, he tested several samples of coffee, demonstrating that, contrary to popular belief, it was possible to detect adulteration microscopically and chemically. Publication of these results in The Lancet led to his becoming the chief analyst of the Analytical Sanitary Commission. From 1851 through 1854, Hassall analyzed over 2500 samples of food and drink from various London vendors. Chemical tests identified alum in bread, iron, lead, and mercury compounds in cayenne pepper, and copper salts in bottled foods. Vendors of both adulterated and pure products were named in the resulting reports, which were published in The Lancet. In 1855, Hassall published revised and expanded versions of his reports in a book, Food and Its Adulterations, followed two years later by a new work, Adulterations Detected. His work raised public awareness of how common adulteration was, which led to the Food Adulteration Act of 1860. In 1874 Hassall became the founding president of the Society of Public Analysts, and gained fame giving expert testimony in support of further reforms and legislation.
In addition to his investigative work, Hassall maintained a private medical practice in London. He was also elected to the staff of the Royal Free Hospital in 1853, where he served for fifteen years. In 1866, flare-up of pulmonary tuberculosis, which he had contracted as a student in Dublin, interrupted his career for several months while he sought treatment in different places, finally ending up in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight. A Ventnor, he devised an innovative design for sanatorium living quarters, and the following year organized fundraising and construction of the facility. The Royal National Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest opened in Ventnor in 1868. In 1877 Hassall retired from his position as Chief Physician of the hospital and moved his family to San Remo, Italy, where he continued to treat patients and write on climatic treatment of tuberculosis until his death.
The Health Sciences Library’s copy of Adulterations Detected is the first edition. It was rebound in gray linen ca. 1970 by the Head of Denison Library, Frank B. Rogers, with a gilt-tooled black leather label from the original binding on the spine, and a former owner’s armorial bookplate affixed inside the front cover.
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[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]