Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Corruption and Theft at the Colonial Bakehouse

As every reader of Melbourne Punch knew, working class people were shifty.

ANSWERED. (1884, March 6). Melbourne Punch (Vic. : 1855 - 1900), p. 10. Retrieved August 19, 2015, from

In my last post, I explained that many people in the colonial era bought their bread from a baker, rather than baking at home, because they didn't have an oven or couldn't afford to run it. For the same reason, they also sent roasts and other main meals to be cooked in the baker's oven.

Knowing this, I'm sure you will find the following account of one baker's dishonesty as alarming as the original readers would have in 1829:

Mr. Maton was apprenticed, in the year 1792,   to a person in Salisbury, who was miller, baker,   &c., and who had some army contracts ; he afterwards came to London, and entered the service   of a baker, where on the first Sunday, he got initiated into one branch of the business, that it,   of managing the dinners sent to be baked.  
'As   I was an underman,' he says, ' it became my duty to take the dishes out of the shop into the bakehouse ; the second hand, as the cant phrase is,   shaves the meat (that is to say, cuts as much off   from each joint as he thinks will not be missed) ; the foreman drains the water off, and puts the   dishes into the oven until they require to be turn-   ed : after which, the liquid fat is drained off   from each dish, and the deficiency is supplied   with water ; this fat is the master's perquisite! Here is a pretty particular way of robbing Sunday   dinners, as our friend Jonathan would say.  
While   living with this master, Mr. Maton acquired a knowledge of the trade of dealing in ' dead men,'     or charging loaves to the customers which they   never had ; this is another lucrative branch of   the business, in which master and man strive   which can get the monopoly. Such at least was   the case in this place, and Maton kept a check   on his master. He found that four shillings per   week, with the spoils of the ' dead men,' was more profitable than sixteen shillings per week,   with lodging, bread, beer, a Sunday dinner, bro-   ken victuals, and the spoils of a ' sharp knife in   the bakehouse, which would shave off a dinner   to a hair's breadth.'  
This baker, who appears to have been a terrible plunderer, used to send a peck of flour four pounds short of the proper   weight.— To be continued.    
CONFESSIONS OF A JOURNEYMAN BAKER. (1829, August 24). Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 - 1846), p. 4. Retrieved August 19, 2015, from

So when you next enjoy a store-bought loaf, spare a moment to be thankful for modern health and safety laws and consumer protection bodies!