There was an annual horticultural show in Chiswick in the nineteenth century. Exhibitors displayed their plants and produce and there seems to have been an especially good array of fruit, some of it quite exotic. However, the trustees of the Horticultural Society of London had been aware form some time that certain exhibits were being stolen, to then be sold in London’s markets. When this happened again in 1842 they decided to do something about it.
One exhibitor, Mr Henderson of Collorton Hall (possibly Coleorton in Leicestershire) had sent seven pineapples to the show, one of which he’d earmarked as a potential prize winner. The exotic fruit was placed in a jar on a stand that belonged to another exhibitor, a Mr Chapman, but there was no doubt that everyone knew the pineapple was Mr Henderson’s, and he’d even marked it on its base.
The fruit was declared a winner, just as was predicted, but before it could be awarded its prize it disappeared! Someone had stolen the winning fruit, and so investigations were made.
Every year Henderson sold his fruit at Covent Garden to a fruiterer named Dulley. This year he’d promised Dulley seven pineapples but only six were handed over. Then, a day after the fruit vanished, an older man turned up at Covent Garden and offered Dudley a single pineapple for sale. The old man was Chapman’s father and the fruit was the missing ‘pine’ from the horticultural show.
The whole case ended up before Mr Jardine at Bow Street who seems less than happy that such a trivial thing had been brought to trouble him. Nevertheless he listened as witnesses testified to the fruit being found to be missing, and to its being offered for sale. One witness, a Fleet Street watchmaker called Dutton, testified that he had seen Chapman talking to a man at the gardens and negotiating the sale of the fruit. The pair shared a bottle of wine, which seemed to be a part of the bargain that was struck. Mr Dudley said he had paid 12s and a bottle of wine for the pineapple but he hadn’t realised it was not Chapman’s to sell.
Mr Jardine declared that while it was clear that the pineapple was Henderson’s to sell, not Chapman’s, so long as the money or fruit found its way to the right person he was confident no actual crime had taken place, and he dismissed the case. The society were more keen to have raised the issue as a warning that in future people should not think to steal from their show. It was hardly the crime of the century though, and I suspect it served more to amuse readers than to send them into a panic that the traders at Covent Garden were dealing in stolen fruit and vegetables.
As a postscript it does reveal just how expensive a luxury item such as a pineapple was in the 1840s. This one was sold at 9s in the pound and, as he said, Dulley paid 12s (plus a bottle of wine of course). That equates to about £36 today. If you want to buy a pineapple now it will cost around £1-£2 which shows how much has changed in the global food market.
[from The Morning Post, Monday, July 18, 1842]