This is a very strange piece of history which I discovered in Henry Williamson’s The Story of a Norfolk Farm. I’d heard that after the discovery of mummies in Egypt, thousands of cats had been brought to England to be ground up and used as fertiliser on farms, but this is something else, and very creepy.
After the Napoleonic wars … England imported 30,000 tons [of bones] from the continent, grinding them up in mills to put them on the cornfields. Wheat was then nine times the price it was today. I had just read this in one of Sir Daniel Hall’s books, which quoted the protest of an early 19th century chemist,Liebig:
England is robbing all other countries of their fertility. already in her eagerness for bones she has turned up the battlefields of Leipsic and Waterloo, and of the Crimea; already from the catacombs of Sicily she has carried away the skeletons of many successive generations. annually she removes from the shores of other countries to her own the manurial equivalent of 3 million and a half of men, whom she takes from us the means of supporting, and squanders down her sewers to the sea. Like a vampire she hangs on the neck of Europe, nay of the whole world, and sucks the heart-blood from nations without a thought of justice towards them, without a shadow of lasting advantage to herself.