Lethal Brandy for Christmas

by Bea Alex

We are making good progress with our text mining work in Trading Consequences and are able to identify related commodities and geo-referenced locations in our collections. We are working on creating different visualisations for the mentions of commodities in proximity to location, including dates and global frequencies to enable historians to get an overview of when things were traded and where in the world. Equally, they will be able to drill down to individual documents and see which documents are most relevant for a given commodity and study the mentions of commodities in context.

For example, at Christmas of 1746 brandy is mentioned in one of the documents in Early Canadiana Online in relation to York Factory on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay in northeastern Manitoba, Canada (Willson, 1899). In May of that year, two ships of The Hudson’s Bay Company had sailed from England to Hudson Bay aiming to discover a northwest passage to India. In September, they stopped not far from York Factory to stay there for the winter. They erected a log cabin as a shelter and called it Montague House (see a drawing of Montague House here).

The relationship between the local Governor Norton and the explorers was far from cordial. At Christmas, Norton sent them a couple of casks of brandy as a present to celebrate.  Soon afterwards, scurvy broke out amongst the explorers and several of them died. The disease was blamed on the brandy and Governor Norton was alleged to have refused to give assistance or suggest a remedy to cure the diseased. He had also prevented any Indians from approaching the explorers or provide them with any supplies. The latter resumed their voyage in the spring of the following year but eventually gave up their mission and returned to England without having discovered the a northwest passage. And the moral of the story is, be careful if someone offers you a lot of brandy for Christmas. ;-)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *