Dando: the celebrated gormandizing oyster eater

Dando - gormandizer
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

To Gormandize – to eat (food) voraciously and greedily.

Edward Dando (not John Dando as he seems to be everywhere else recorded), born in Southwark on the 11th February 1803 to John and Frances Dando, grew up to be a ‘celebrated gormandizer.’

Edward Dando

Click to enlarge

He was also known by the appellation of the ‘celebrated oyster eater.’  For Dando, although not a thief (by his own reckoning) did not see why he should not have plenty of everything, even though he had no money to pay for it, when his betters relied constantly on credit to fund their lifestyles.  He was determined to live as they did.

Trained as a hatter, Edward Dando, when in his early twenties, embarked on his career as an oyster eater, devouring up to thirty dozen large oysters in a sitting, with bread and butter, washed down with quantities of porter or brandy and water, before informing the keeper of the oyster house that he could not pay for his fare, with the usual results of a beating or a spell in gaol, or sometimes both.  Although his dish of choice seems to have been oysters, he was not above devouring other fare too.

HATTON-GARDEN. – Last night the celebrated gormandiser at other people’s expense, Edward Dando, was brought before Mr. LAING, and in default of bail was committed to prison, charged with having, last evening about seven o’clock, devoured divers rounds of toast, and sundry basins of soup and coffee, at the Sun Coffee-house, Charles-street, Hatton-garden, without paying for the same.

(The Morning Post, Police Intelligence, 4th January, 1831).

Often notices were put in the papers, warning of his presence, ‘CAUTION TO SHELL FISH DEALERS, PUBLICANS, &c. – DANDO THE OYSTER-EATER, ABROAD’ (The Morning Chronicle 2nd April, 1832).

© Yale University Library
© Yale University Library

A few months later the Morning Chronicle repeated a paragraph on Dando from the Kentish Gazette; Dando had travelled into Kent to continue his gormandizing there, possibly having become too well known in his usual London haunts to carry on his trade.  The Kentish Gazette had issued a description of Dando.

DANDO ON HIS TRAVELS!  Dando, the celebrated oyster eater . . . committed for vagrancy . . . 29 years of age, lame in the right foot, stands five feet seven inches in height, his hair is brown, complexion fair, and he generally wears a gaol dress. (Kentish Gazette)

(The Morning Chronicle, 25th June 1832)

Edward Dando, now twenty-nine years of age, returned to London, having been imprisoned in Kent several times during his tour, and it was only a matter of days before he found himself in Coldbath Fields prison, otherwise known as the Middlesex House of Correction, located in Clerkenwell.  There he was taken ill with cholera, and a beggar named James Martin who was likewise a prisoner went to his assistance.  Both men were removed to the infirmary where they both died within a few hours of each other.  The two men were buried alongside each other on Wednesday 29th August 1832 at St. James in Clerkenwell.

Burial 1832

DEATH OF DANDO, THE OYSTER EATER – We have this day to record the death of the well-known Dando, the terror of shell-fish dealers, and all other purveyors of the necessaries of life.

(Morning Post, 1st September 1832)

 Years after Dando died his exploits were still remembered.  In 1838 Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, presumably unaware of his death, joked that ‘the celebrated Mr Dando, the oyster-eater’ was intended to be resident stipendiary commissioner of a “Central Metropolitan Oyster Emporium” in Dublin and Charles Dickens recalled Dando when he wrote to Professor Felton in 1842:
. . . but perhaps you don’t know who Dando was.  He was an oyster-eater, my dear Felton.  He used to go into oyster-shops, without a farthing of money, and stand at the counter eating natives, until the man who opened them grew pale, cast down his knife, staggered backward, struck his white forehead with his open hand, and cried, “You are Dando!!!” He has been known to eat twenty dozen at one sitting, and would have eaten forty, if the truth had not flashed upon the shopkeeper. For these offences he was constantly committed to the House of Correction. During his last imprisonment he was taken ill, got worse and worse, and at last began knocking violent double knocks at Death’s door. The doctor stood beside his bed, with his fingers on his pulse.

“He is going,” says the doctor. “I see it in his eye. There is only one thing that would keep life in him for another hour, and that is–oysters.” They were immediately brought. Dando swallowed eight, and feebly took a ninth. He held it in his mouth and looked round the bed strangely. “Not a bad one, is it?” says the doctor. The patient shook his head, rubbed his trembling hand upon his stomach, bolted the oyster, and fell back–dead. They buried him in the prison-yard, and paved his grave with oyster-shells.

Oyster Seller by O. J. Mason (c) City of London Corporation; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Oyster Seller by O. J. Mason
(c) City of London Corporation; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A farce by Edward Stirling, ‘Dandolo; or, the last of the Doges,’ produced in 1838 was based on Dando’s gormandizing career, Dandolo being played by Sam Vale.

 There was also a ballad produced about Edward Dando:
lifetimesofjames00hindrich_0360
lifetimesofjames00hindrich_0361
  IMPORTANT UPDATE
The brilliantly talented poet Luke Wright has written an amazing poem about Edward Dando that we would like to share with you . . . we’re sure you will enjoy it.
 Featured Image
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Sources not otherwise noted above:
The Life and Times of James Catnach of Seven Dials, ballad monger by Charles Hindley, 1878
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3 thoughts on “Dando: the celebrated gormandizing oyster eater

  1. Pingback: Edward Dando. 360 oysters at one sitting. (Call it a good lunch.) | Blue Anchor Corner

  2. Pingback: History A'la Carte 1-8-15 - Random Bits of Fascination

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