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Crimes of milling

This week’s blog covers three exciting cases of espionage or crimes linked in some way to the world of milling. These tales have been taken from two publications from our library, one of which has only just arrived at the Archive…

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Case Number One is a tale of industrial espionage. Our protagonists: Carl Friedrich Ganzel and Friedrich Wulff. Their mission: to discover how the Americans made their high quality flour during the early 19th century. Duration: 1 year and 9 months.

On the 23rd October 1827, two young Prussians arrived in the United States of America with the listed occupation of ‘Gentleman’. They may have been undertaking a trans-Atlantic version of the ‘grand tour’, but they weren’t. Instead they were intending to infiltrate the American milling world to discover how the new automatic processes designed by Oliver Evans and others worked best. They had arrived in America with no-one to recommend or hire them at a time when many mills had closed down for winter. A daunting start. However, they endured these difficulties and soon split up hoping ‘that singly we would get a position in a mill with less difficulty’.

Wulff’s biggest challenge was getting hired in a position in an updated mill that would allow him to observe anything of use. He frequently obtained positions in mills without the updated system, or jobs of packing flour in updated mills, neither of which were of use to him. When trying to gain better positions he came across the same problem, the owners, probably in attempt to prevent industrial espionage, wanted him to commit to work for them for two years. He could not commit to this and would then have to move on again. Eventually he gained success with a Mr. McCoun in Troy after forthrightly stating that if Mr. McCoun ‘would allow me to dress the stones, to operate the stones and other machines, then I would provide for myself.’ Only by offering to work for no wages or accommodation could he obtain a position that would allow him to ‘spy’ on the foreign process. He worked for this company from September 1828 to March 1829 gleaning important information about the milling trade to share once he got home.

Ganzel, on the other hand, had more immediate success but had a greater chance of being exposed. He worked for Messrs Botteler & Ronnels to help build their mill. Their millwright agreed to his appointment and ‘was not averse to my enthusiasm for the work and my attention to every detail of construction’. However, his knowledge of milling almost caused his downfall. The millwright began to suspect he had ulterior motives for being there and that he would not accept the position of chief miller that the owners were thinking of offering. Once the offer was made and rejected, Ganzel had to move on from the mill and gained more information from all over America, which, together with Wulff’s knowledge, went safely back to Prussia and has been preserved in the form of reports, translated and published by The International Molinological Society.

Case Number Two is the horrific murder of an eight-month old baby. Main suspects: Mary Hoskins and Anne Tooke. Witnesses: Edmund Brown (miller). Chief Constable: Captain Bent.

In 1877, Edmund Brown, one of the Brown members covered by Peter Sinclair in his work on The Brown Family, became the miller at Powhay Mills, Exeter. In May 1879, he discovered the torso of an eight-month baby boy, Reginald Hyde, in the mill leat. The leat was then drained and the other body parts were discovered. A young woman, called Mary Hoskins, was suspected to be the mother of the child but she had been persuaded, by her brother, to give her child up to a nurse, Annie Tooke, for the price of £12 plus 5 shillings a week. Annie Tooke was then visited and she was unable to present the child, claiming he had been taken away two weeks earlier. Mary Hoskins was the main suspect at this time and Annie Tooke was asked to identify her. Captain Bent then became suspicious of Tooke’s testimony and arrested her instead. She was taken to Exeter gaol where she confessed to the crime of smothering and chopping up the baby. She was tried, found guilty and hanged on the 11 August 1879.

Case Number Three is the tale of selling a carcass of meat. Perpetrator: Edmund Brown

The same Edmund Brown who had discovered the corpse of Reginald Hyde found himself on the wrong side of the law a few years after the hanging of Annie Tooke. On 29 January 1884, he was charged for selling a pig at the Guildhall in St. Sidwell’s, contrary to the Exeter Market Act. For this crime he was fined 1s and costs. Not the worst of punishments but for a man who would be declared bankrupt a year later, not ideal either!

So just a brief snapshot of some of the more remarkable events millers and milling engineers found themselves caught up in during the 19th century before the advent roller milling. Next week’s blog will contain details of more crimes that took place once roller milling had been established. More details can be found about the tales in this week’s blog in:

  • Ogden, Derek & Bost, Gerald, ‘Ganzel & Wulff The Quest for American Milling Secrets’, The International Molinological Society, BM 20 (2010).
  • Sinclair, Peter, The Brown Family: Ten flour mills in a hundred years (The Mills Archive, 2017).

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