24th November 1900

Death of the inventor of Bovril

Roslin-born butcher, John Lawson Johnston, invented Bovril, which was a natural offshoot from his first product, a long-lasting stock produced by boiling up and reducing scraps of beef. This proved successful, and demand was so strong that he set up factories to produce it on an industrial scale, and when he emigrated to Canada he took the process with him.

Army contract

The invention of Bovril came out of a contract with Napoleon to supply the French army during the Franco-Prussian war, which resulted in the production of a product that remained viscous, rather than solid, as his beef stock had been. Initially this had borne the rather less catchy title, Johnston’s Fluid Extract of Beef.

In the 1880s, he moved back to the UK, but rather than returning to Scotland he settled in England, just outside London, and at the end of that decade started selling shares in the company.

By then, the Bovril company was a significant enterprise and, according to the Lancashire Evening Post of 26 November 1900, a few days after Johnston’s death, it had “purchased extensive properties for raising cattle in the Argentine Republic and Queensland.”

His English home was the Victorian Kingswood House, which was colloquially named Castle Bovril.

Bovril butcher’s death in Cannes

The Dundee Evening Post of 24 November 1900 reported his death in Cannes, the previous day, from syncope, which is, effectively, fainting, usually caused by insufficient flow of blood to the brain. The same day’s Westminster Gazette, quoting the Press Association, expanded on this. Johnston had been on his boat, the White Ladye, in Cannes Harbour, and was just 60 at the time of his death. He had 13 children.



Other events that occured in November

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.