1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Boer War chocolate found after 121 years

Seerat Chabba
April 1, 2021

British troops deployed in South Africa were in for a treat from Queen Victoria in 1900 — a tin of chocolate with a message wishing them a happy new year.

Chocolate commissioned by Queen Victoria
A 121-year-old tin of chocolate that was commissioned by Queen Victoria for British troops fighting in South Africa.Image: National Trust/Victoria McKeown/REUTERS

A 121-year-old tin of chocolate commissioned by Britain’s Queen Victoria has been found with its original contents — chocolate and wrapper — in the attic of an English manor, the trust that manages the property has revealed.

The chocolate was discovered in a Boer War helmet case at the 500-year-old Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, which served as the ancestral home of the 8th Baronet, Sir Henry Edward Paston-Bedingfeld, who fought in the Second Boer War.

Over 100,000 such tins with half-pound (226-gram) bars of chocolate were commissioned by the Queen for troops deployed in South Africa in 1900. Each soldier and officer was to receive a box that read "South Africa 1900" and "I wish you a happy New Year" in the Queen's handwriting to boost morale.

While many soldiers preserved their tins, only a few survived. It was even rarer to find one with the chocolate intact.

"Although it no longer looks appetizing and is well past its use by date – you wouldn't want it as your Easter treat – it is still complete and a remarkable find," said the National Trust’s Cultural Heritage Curator Anna Forrest. The trust manages Oxburgh Hall.

Chocolate bar commissioned by Queen Victoria
The bar of chocolate was discovered in a Boer War helmet case in the attic of a manor in Norfolk, UKImage: National Trust/Victoria McKeown/REUTERS

"We can only assume that the 8th Baronet kept the chocolate with the helmet as a memento of his time in the Boer War," she added.

Fought between 1899 and 1902, the Second Boer War pitted British troops against two independent South African states run by the Boers or Afrikaans-speaking farmers.

Three of Britain’s main chocolate manufacturers – Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree – were commissioned to produce the chocolate. However, they were run by the Quakers, who opposed the war. 

All three manufacturers refused payment and left the chocolate unbranded, according to the Reuters news agency. Upon the Queen’s insistence, they branded some of the chocolates but not the tins.