Snuff and Nonsense

Before people had the handiness of paper-rolled ‘cigarettes’ for their tobacco intake, there was ‘snuff’ – where the tobacco was ground into a powder which was then inhaled (or “snuffed”) into each nostril. Snuff-taking was wildly popular in Georgian and Victorian England, albeit a rather middle-class activity (all the rich kids were of course taking things like opium and writing creepy poetry). However the person who wins the prize for being maddest about snuff was a Georgian woman called Margaret Thomson.

Margaret Thomson’s Last Will & Testament must have made for some interesting reading. It stipulated that her beneficiaries would not receive their due unless they ensured that her last wishes be carried out, in full. These wishes included that her coffin be padded with all of her (unwashed) snuff handkerchiefs. Her six pallbearers were specifically chosen as they were great snuff addicts, and were instructed to wear snuff-coloured hats.

Six young girls were instructed to follow the hearse procession, each carrying – and liberally using – a box of snuff. Margaret’s servants walked ahead of the convoy throwing snuff onto the road and into the crowd of – no doubt rather bewildered – onlookers. The priest who gave the funeral service was bequeathed five guineas on the condition that he partook of snuff during the ceremony. For the entire day of the funeral, snuff was distributed to anyone who happened to come to Margaret’s house.

The finishing touch was that her corpse inside the coffin be sprinkled with freshly ground snuff… naturally.


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