Victorian-era Bristol chocolate goes under the hammer

The chocolate is 123-years old! Credit: Eddisons

A tin of chocolate made in Bristol 123 years ago has gone under the hammer after attracting attention from around the world.

The antique is one of the gift tins that Queen Victoria sent to her troops fighting in the Boer War in South Africa at New Year in 1900.

The tin comes with all chocolate intact, with not a piece eaten - it retains its entire half-pound of Fry’s best chocolate.

Members of the family that has treasured the memento for more than a century onceoffered to donate it to a regimental museum – the Rifles Museum in Hampshire – but weretold: "We don’t want that. We’ve got loads of them."

Descendants of Private Eddy Midlane, the original recipient, then instructed auctioneers Eddisons to put the tin under the hammer in an online auction.

They intend to split the proceeds between two charities, The British Heart Foundation and Macmillan Nurses.

Auctioneer Paul Cooper said: “The Rifles Museum may have loads of the tins -they’re not uncommon - but what the chap missed was that this one still contained all thechocolate.

"That is really rare. We also know the name of the original recipient of the tin – and that’s off the chart unusual.”

Auctioneer Paul Cooper with the chocolate tin. Credit: Eddisons

Private Midlane was a 20-year-old who joined the 1st Battalion of the Rifles Brigade as a volunteer just before the outbreak of the Boer War in the autumn of 1899.

The Battalion was in action within weeks of arrival in South Africa, first in the Battle of Colenso on December 15 (a Boer victory) and then in the heavy fighting throughoutFebruary 1900 as British forces attempted to relieve the besieged Natal town of Ladysmith.

Private Midlane was killed on February 27 at Pieters Hill, the battle that broke Boer resistance in Natal and led to the relief of Ladysmith the following day.

Mr Cooper said: “Eddie’s chocolate tin has remained with the family, along with hismedals and those of numerous later Midlanes who served with the Rifles in 20th centuryconflicts.

The family wished to donate everything to the Rifles Museum but whilst the medalswere welcomed the offer of the Boer War tin was rebuffed apparently rather dismissively.”

He added: “Unlikely as it sounds, this is probably some of the most controversial chocolate ever made, a commission that prompted a right Royal temper tantrum and a bust-up involving Joseph Fry and the other two leading chocolate makers who had been chosen to fulfil the Queen’s order.”

“The problem was that all three – Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree - were owned by Quakers.

"They were pacifists, opposed to the war and appalled by the idea of being seen to profit from the fighting. They really did not want to be involved but realised that a refusal to comply with the Royal Request to supply the chocolate was going to cause them immensereputational damage at a time when British and Empire soldiers were fighting and dying inthe conflict.”

“They tried to compromise, offering to donate the chocolate free of charge but unbranded and in tins that did not carry their names. Queen Victoria was not amused.

"She wanted the boys to know they were getting best British chocolate. The firms backed down again and some of the chocolate was then marked although the tins never were.”

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