After Dublin shellfish seller Molly Malone died of a fever, according to the ballad, her ghost continued to walk her barrow, crying cockles and mussels. Molly's fever was almost certainly typhoid, contracted by sampling her wares. During the nineteenth century, an extensive urban culture of shellfish eating had become established in urban Britain. Around 1900, however, the link between shellfish consumption and typhoid was established. Dramatic outbreaks of typhoid due to oysters eaten at mayoral banquets had a damaging impact on the shellfish trades. Extensive newspaper publicity helped to disseminate suspicion of shellfish among consumers, and this was reflected in popular food writing and cookery manuals. The steady decline in consumption during the twentieth century has been attributed, for oysters, to ‘social change’ and government failure to support the native industry. This paper argues a different case: that the adverse publicity generated by shellfish‐related typhoid outbreaks was compounded by the efforts of the public health organization and local government to sanitize and regulate the shellfish trades. The impact of this campaign was to erode consumer confidence in shellfish, and largely to destroy the culture of shellfish consumption in Britain.
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