In 1899, British soldiers and sailors were in South Africa, fighting the second Boer War1 which lasted from October 1899 to May 1902. Queen Victoria was concerned about the morale of her army and navy and wanted to do something to lift their spirits. She had heard that officers had gained much pleasure in receiving gifts from home so she decided she would send chocolate, a luxury item to the majority of people in those days. She would send chocolate to all of her army and navy serving in South Africa (including Australian contingents) as a Christmas/New Year gift in 1899/1900.
The chocolate manufacturer, Cadbury, which since around 1854 had a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Victoria with cocoa and chocolate, was contacted and requested to produce the royal bars of chocolate, each in its own individual tin. This put Richard and George Cadbury in a dilemma because as Quakers they were pacifists and did not agree with the war. However, they did not want to refuse a request from the Queen. To prevent their confectionery rivals from accusing them of going against their principles, Richard and George's solution was to invite fellow Quakers, Joseph Storrs Fry2 and Joseph Rowntree in a temporary three-way partnership to complete the order.
Forty thousand tins, designed and made by Fry, were produced in two different sizes. The larger of the two tins is 15×9cm (6×3½ inches) and it has a gold-coloured rim around the edge of the lid; this contained two layers of chocolate. The slightly smaller or rather thinner tin, which measures 16×8cms (6¼×3¼ inches) has a blue rim around the edge of the lid, and contained one layer of chocolate. The design on the lid of both sizes is the same; in the middle of the red lid of the tin is a gold-coloured embossed picture of Queen Victoria's head. To the left is Queen Victoria's insignia, and to the right are the words South Africa 1900 and is inscribed I wish you a happy New Year and signed Victoria running along the bottom.
It was decided, by all three companies, that the tins would carry no brand name. However, Queen Victoria was not amused about this decision; she wanted her army and navy to know that she was sending them quality British chocolate. As a compromise, the Cadbury name appeared on interior packaging of the chocolate. The tins remained unbranded.
It can be assumed that the soldiers and sailors appreciated their gifts, some of which were saved, often complete with the chocolate bar as a souvenir, or as a gift for their mother, wife or girlfriend.
Tin Full of Mementoes
The empty tins had a more sombre use for the men who died in battle: the tins, containing their few personal belongings, were sent home to the fallen soldier's or sailor's family.
The tins were not big enough to hold much, depending on which size the tin was used. They may have included items such as medals, talisman, coins, jewellery, photos, documents or letters and the soldier's identity disc, also known as a 'dog tag', which was first used in the Second Boer War.
The tins have become collectable items. While some have been kept in the family, as treasured items, other are sold at boot sales, antique shops and fairs, and quite regularly on eBay. The monetary value of the tins is dependent on their general condition, and whether or not they contain the original chocolate. The smaller of the tins, with the blue rim around the tin, are said to be scarcer, and are therefore more valuable than the larger version.
Some of the tins are displayed in museums, particularly those specialising in Second Boer War memorabilia.