Rough on Rats was a poison composed of arsenic, with a little coal added for colouring, was used to kill vermin. Advertisements for its sale began appearing in the 1880s and it became a household name.
It was easily obtainable from chemists. Unfortunately, people started using it to take their own lives, especially those from the lower echelons of colonial society.
Our interest in “rough on rats” began with our passing acquaintance with it in relation to the life of prominent crank Dr Henry Bakewell a man drawn to many esoteric fancies (see the bottom of this post for some examples), specifically this sad incident involving his daughter.
SUICIDE—THE RESULT OF OVER-STUDY.
Northern Advocate , 10 June 1893, Page 4
This poignant incident we assumed would be easily found, so it came as a surprise to us to see over one thousand stories hinting at an unspoken despair, then as now, infusing New Zealand society .
the following is a mix of singular and representative stories showing the broad effect the easy availability of this product had on society
Marlborough Express, Volume XXIII, Issue 235, 7 November 1887, Page 2
SUICIDE BY A SERVANT GIRL.
Marlborough Express, Volume XXI, Issue 153, 10 July 1885, Page 2
SUICIDE IN AN AUCKLAND PARK.
Evening Post, Volume LIV, Issue 89, 12 October 1897, Page 5
SUICIDE OF A GUMDIGGER.
New Zealand Herald, Volume XXVII, Issue 8358, 11 September 1890, Page 5
SUICIDE AT INVERCARGILL.
Otago Daily Times , Issue 8890, 22 August 1890, Page 2
Marlborough Express, Volume XXXVIII, Issue 29, 4 February 1905, Page 4
SUICIDE AND CRIME INCREASING.
Northern Advocate , 15 July 1893, Page 4
“ROUGH ON RATS” AGAIN.
Grey River Argus, Volume XXXI, Issue 5269, 15 August 1885, Page 2
THE SUICIDE MANIA.
Auckland Star, Volume XXV, Issue 84, 9 April 1894, Page 3
SUICIDE OF A WELL-KNOWN AUCKLANDER. [BY TELEGRAPH—PRESS ASSOCIATION.] Auckland, 8th March.
Evening Post, Volume LV, Issue 57, 9 March 1898, Page 5
THE SUICIDE MANIA-
Auckland Star, Volume XXV, Issue 50, 27 February 1894, Page 5
COMMITTED FOR TRIAL FOR ATTEMPTED SUICIDE.
Daily Telegraph , Issue 3944, 11 March 1884, Page 3
A MOTHERS SUICIDE.
Wairarapa Daily Times, Volume XVI, Issue 6578, 15 June 1900, Page 2
ANOTHER CASE OE “ROUGH ON RATS.”
Wanganui Chronicle, Volume XXIX, Issue 11219, 17 June 1886, Page 2
A “ROUGH ON RATS” SANDWICH.
Grey River Argus, Volume XXXI, Issue 5077, 5 January 1885, Page 2
POISON IN THE TEAPOT.
Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XL, Issue 13152, 12 August 1913, Page 3
DEATH TOO EXPENSIVE. Customer: Twa pen’oith o’ u Rough on Rats.1′ Chemist: We only sell it in sixpe… [truncated]
Free Lance, Volume VII, Issue 323, 8 September 1906, Page 15
with thanks to the national library of New Zealand