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On the best Mode of extracting the Nutritious Portion of Bones, and on its Economical Applications. By M. Charles de Gimbernat.
FORTIFIED places, however well provisioned, are occasionally exposed to scarcity in time of war, either in consequence of the length of the blockade, or from the provisions being spoiled and decayed, or destroyed by bombardment, where the magazines are not bomb-proof. In these cases, it is important that the garrisons should have some means of subsistence without resorting to unwholesome and disgusting substances, in order to prolong the defence; for, where the fate of states depends on the preservation of their fortresses, military annals attest that famine and epidemic diseases produce greater ravages than the bayonet, or even than artillery. Thanks to the progress of science, the effects of these scourges may now be avoided, or at least diminished. The discovery made by Guyton-Morveau on the disinfecting property of chlorine, and certain acids, renders it possible to preserve armies from contagious diseases; and since the Guytonian fumigations have been practised in barracks and military hospitals, mortality from such cause has considerably diminished. But, unfortunately, the preservative against famine recommended by Dr. Papin more than a century ago, has not been hitherto sufficiently attended to: I allude to the use of bones in alimentary economy. True it is that the difficulty of employing steam in extracting the nutritious substance of bones prevented the application of Papin's method; but that is no excuse for the indifference shown by military administrations as to so important an object; for all danger in the use of Papin's digester would long ago have disappeared, had as much attention been given to it as to the boiler of the steam-engine; nor can another serious inconvenience of this process, namely, the decomposition of a great part of the gelatine, occasioned by the high temperature of the steam, excuse the negligence of not having profited by this resource in case of famine. The learned philanthropist, Cadet de Vaux, with a view to remedy the inconvenience just mentioned, proposed to crush bones in the first
instance, and then to extract the gelatine from them by the action of boiling water. The Society for the Encouragement of Industry in France considered this idea sufficiently important to offer a premium for the invention of the best instrument for the purpose, and it was adjudged to Mons. Guerin, of Strasbourg, in 1804. This machine has been employed in several hospitals, as a means of providing the poor with an economical nourishment; but never made use of in fortresses distressed by famine. It is true that experience has not answered the expectations which were formed of this mechanical mode; for the trituration of the bones in considerable quantities heats them, and excites a degree of fermentation, which gives a rank taste to broths prepared with gelatine obtained by this process. All such inconveniences are avoided by the chemical process, which consists in separating the earthy part of the bones by means of muriatic acid, an operation by which they are reduced to a state of a cellular, flexible, and transparent albumino-gelatinous substance, almost perfectly soluble in boiling water. This method has the advantage of affording more nutritive matter, and is preferable from its simplicity, since it requires no extraordinary or expensive apparatus, as where the digester and the crushing-machine are employed. It may be practised without difficulty wherever muriatic acid can be obtained. There is no doubt that this process offers great advantages to the alimentary economy of charitable institutions, and to those arts in which gelatine of a superior quality is required; but, in my opinion, its principal utility consists in offering to military administrations an immense resource, in victualling garrisons when threatened with dearth or famine. With this view I proposed and practised it at Strasbourg in December, 1813. A that period, so critical for the safety of France, Strasbourg as very insufficiently provisioned, the sudden reverses of the Freneing totally unexpected on the invasion of the French territory, Mons. de Lezay-Marnesia, Préfet of the Lower Rhine, anxious to put the chief place of his department in a condition to withstand a long siege, and not having the means of obtaining provisions in sufficient quantity, consulted several persons on the best mode of employing
bones as a means of subsistence for the garrison and inhabitants, The processes of Papin and Cadet de Vaux were proposed, the only ones then known: the second was more particularly recommended; for as there was at Strasbourg the crushing-machine, invented in that town, the trituration of bones was more practicable than the process of softening them by steam, an operation which could not conveniently have been practised upon a large scale. The experiment did not answer, the broth thus obtained having a rancid taste, for the reason above-mentioned. Being at that time at Strasbourg, I was asked by the Préfet if some other means could not be found of accomplishing the object? I answered, that it might be accomplished without difficulty, by dilute muriatic acid and boiling water. The Préfet, pleased with this idea, desired me immediately to make the experiment. I did so. My success was complete; two days afterwards, soup made from the animal matter of bones, extracted by this process, was served at his table, and highly approved. In consequence of this, immediate measures were taken to obtain an abundant supply of bones from the slaughter-houses and kitchens. I did everything in my power to second the zeal of the Préfet, and remained at Strasbourg, in order to co-operate with him in protecting the inhabitants and the garrison from disease and famine, the only enemies they had to fear. By degrees the disinclination of the people to this form of food was overcome. The process, of which I published the details, grew into general use; and the soups and jellies so made, when properly seasoned and flavoured, were acknowledged to be of an unexceptionable quality.
As Strasbourg was blockaded at the beginning of January, 1814, a short time only after the plan of bones had been suggested, the quantity necessary for the relief of a garrison could not be procured; but all which could be obtained were carefully employed during the blockade, for the nourishment of the poor, who ate this kind of broth without repugnance, and liked it better than the aqueous soups of Count Rumford: thus a great quantity of meat and other provisions were daily economised. The blockade was fortunately raised before the scarcity was felt; these measures of precaution, therefore, became
superfluous for the moment, but they ought not to be overlooked in future.
It was natural to presume that an experiment so important would not be lost, but that it would attract the attention of the military administrations, especially as the process was practised at Paris as well as Strasbourg, whilst all communication between the two towns was interrupted. But as soon as the danger had disappeared it was no longer thought of. I attribute the neglect into which it has fallen principally to the death of the Préfet, who acknowledged its importance, and intended to have furnished the fortresses of his department in peace-time with supplies of bones and acid. When Strasbourg was again threatened, in 1815, I returned there, and made the same proposal to the Duke of Albufera, who commanded the military division of the Rhine. The Marshal expressed his intention of profiting by it, but a few days afterwards he gave up the command: on that occasion his principal staff-officer, Baron de St. Cyr-Nugues, inserted in the Journal of Military Medicine for 1815, printed in Paris, an account of what had been done at Strasbourg in 1814. This was the first public announcement of the advantages of my process. This process was afterwards recommended by M. Michelot, in the Révue Encyclopédique for 1822, vol. xiii.
Still I am not aware that any country has adopted this precaution, so easy of adoption and so important. I attribute this neglect partly to habitual, but dangerous, indifference to perils which are not immediate, and partly to the opposition of private interests. A supply of bones and acid, which are not liable to damage, holds out no temptation to speculators, and little profit to commissaries. The French government, in 1817, began to supply their colonial garrisons and their navy with gelatine prepared in the manufactory of Robert and Co. in Paris; but this application, however good, is not what I recommend-viz. the supplying fortresses, with gelatine, not prepared by art, but gelatine contained in bones in their natural state, together with a proportionate quantity of acid. This recommendation is founded on this important circumstance, that the mineral part of bones is the best preserver of their animal substance. Bones are, therefore, an important resource against
famine; because, as long as they are kept in their natural state, a food as nutritious as fresh meat may be obtained from them. For this reason, a supply of bones is preferable to cakes and other preparations of gelatine, which cannot be so perfectly preserved, and are always liable to the attacks of vermin. It has been ascertained that even bones, which are commonly reputed antediluvial, furnish an unexceptionable jelly. We may, therefore, safely assume, that bones kept for ages will furnish man with wholesome food, and that a large supply of these will be a security against famine.
The subsistence of garrisons might always be provided for, if there were in the fortresses a sufficient quantity of bones; which might easily be procured in time of peace, and almost without expense, for all that would be necessary would be to preserve the bones left after the daily consumption of meat; and an order, which prescribed to the garrisons such a measure, would render the necessity of capitulating for want of provisions less frequent. In a few years bones enough would be accumulated to feed several thousand men for a considerable time; the quantity thus collected, indeed, would be immense; but there would be no difficulty or expense in preserving them: it is not necessary to have magazines for an article, which can be kept equally well above, or under ground, provided it be secured from excessive humidity. The bones might be buried in the dry ditches of the ramparts between two beds of sand, together with a proportionate provision of acid.
Here, then, is a security against famine, which would at the same time be proof against weather, shells, fire, and the ravages of time. It is scarcely possible to have food better preserved, than by this process, which might not improperly be called a para-famine, by the French Academy, since they allow the terms para-tonnerres and para-gréles.
Recent events sufficiently show the importance of making regulations for the preservation of the bones of the meat consumed in fortresses. The garrisons of St. Jean d'Ulloa and of Callao made a most honourable defence; but famine at length forced them to deliver up these places, the last possessions of Spanish power, to the republics of Mexico and Peru. By their surrender, Spanish dominion has terminated in the