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The Curious Affair of The Vegetarian Advocate (1848-50)

In September 1848 the pro-‘vegan’ journal previously known as The Truth Tester was renamed as The Vegetarian Advocate. The editor and publisher, William Horsell in London, was also the first Secretary of the one-year-old Vegetarian Society, but this was a privately published journal which reflected some uneasy compromises within the new society.

In 1849 the society’s President started publishing The Vegetarian Messenger from Manchester, and for the next year the two journals were effectively in competition. The Advocate ceased in August 1850, and Mr. Horsell stepped down as Secretary.

The compromise was the usual one – the idea for the Vegetarian Society had come from the ‘vegans’ at Alcott House and Mr. Horsell’s Hydropathic Hospital, both near London; but the only way it could survive was with the considerable support of the strongly ‘ovo-lacto’ Bible Christian Church in Salford, near Manchester. William Horsell accepted the compromise on becoming secretary, and the first issue of the Advocate dutifully reported the banquet at the first AGM – including full details of the omelets and cheesecakes. But he couldn’t resist slipping in the alternatives.

October 1848 Advocate, p.39, included an article on diet and cookery (probably by his wife, Elizabeth), stating:

“. . . Pound cakes and tea-cakes are also extremely good made with oil (instead of butter and eggs), and cheese-cakes are well imitated by means of mashed potatoes mixed with oil and sugar put into a crust.  . . .  a very good and nutritious diet may be obtained from them [vegetables] without animal substance of any kind, or of eggs, milk and butter.”

We have no record of the response from the President, but nothing like this appeared again in the Advocate for almost a year. However, when the Messenger started appearing from Manchester, Mr. Horsell seems to have decided to more actively promote his own views, and his other publications, in his own journal.

September 1849 Advocate, p.10: review of ‘Kitchen Philosophy for Vegetarians’ published by W. Horsell, London. Quoting the book: “. . . butter and eggs are excluded . . .” This appears to be first known ‘vegan’ cookbook.

May 1850 Advocate, p.110:

“On Tuesday evening, the 2nd of April, a Vegetarian entertainment was given by Mr. Horsell . . . The treat was one in its nature purely Vegetarian. The repast consisted of barley, sago and apple, and carrot puddings, made according to the recipes in the Penny Domestic Assistant, Nos.  54, 55, and 37, without animal products. “

The ‘Domestic Assistant’ was edited by Mrs. Elizabeth Horsell, who was equally active in the movement in her own right. But they made a small concession to some of their guests: “This was followed by barley pudding made with milk.” (the italics were his).

July 1850, Advocate, p. 140, a letter from a reader:

“Sir.- Several of your correspondents appear to be anxious to adopt … a strict vegetarian diet; and, unfortunately for themselves find that their principle of not destroying animal life for the use of man, is ever and anon being assailed by the shoemaker, the harness-maker, the bookbinder, the furrier, the bed-maker, the brush-maker, the oilman, the chandler, the druggist, the bone-worker, the bug-killer, the rat-catcher, and fiddler, besides hundreds of others working and using an immense quantity of animal substances that have depended on animal life for their growth. I would ask you whether the vegetarians do not render themselves ridiculous by asserting a principle as a rule of action, which they can only maintain by a diet of purely vegetable matter; and not that which embraces the eggs of fowls largely, in omelets, cakes, and puddings…” [bold added - continued at some length referring with equal concern to butter, cheese and milk.]

At this point we get an intervention from another London journal, snappily titled: “The British and foreign medico-chirurgical review or quarterly journal of practical medicine and surgery”.  The July 1850 issue carried a 22 page review of the new cookbook published by the Vegetarian Society – all very heavily laden with eggs and dairy produce. They concluded:

” ...we find that the so called vegetarian positively consumes, according to his own diet-scale, as much animal food as the avowed flesh eater . . . it is not true Vegetarianism, being nothing else than the substitution of one form of Animal food for another.”

William Horsell had a background in the medical industry, and was now a publisher, all in the London area. It is tempting to wonder how much contact he had with the publishers of this particular London medical journal. They certainly expressed his own views very clearly . . .

The next issue of The Vegetarian Advocate, August 1850, was a mere four pages, and was the last available to us. The editorial said it would change to fortnightly, and appealed for more advertisers. There is a record of some ‘supplements’ over the next few months, but we do not have copies of them.

But Horsell went out with a flourish, printing a rather long and convoluted article by the American, Sylvester Graham, entitled ‘Butter and Cheese’.  Not surprisingly arguing against the use of these products.

The last issue also included a brief report from the Vegetarian Society for 1849-50, signed by the officers including William Horsell, secretary, still running the Society from his office in London up to July 1850. It appears that he was no longer secretary after that, and the Society’s office was moved to the Manchester area, where it has remained ever since.

We know that William Horsell continued publishing books on veg-related topics up to 1859, some written by his wife, Elizabeth. In 1856 he was apparently at the RSPCA AGM in London, arguing that the society should embrace vegetarianism, 150 years later they still have not. Mr. Horsell died in 1863 and his widow apparently went on to open a vegetarian girls’ boarding school. Further research on exactly what she fed them would be of interest…

For vegan history, see my free e-book: ‘World Veganism – past, present and future.” You can download it for free, or replace your existing copy at: (6mb)

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