Edward Dando: History’s Hungriest Thief

November 10, 2023 | Samantha Henman

Edward Dando: History’s Hungriest Thief

In October 2023, a woman from Atlanta went viral after she posted a TikTok describing an incident where she ate 48 oysters—only for her date to leave without paying after the bill arrived. If you can believe it, both characters in this story have an even more bizarre historical precedent all rolled into one man. His name was Edward Dando.

Edward Dando was born at the turn of the 19th century in England and worked as a hat-maker—though that’s not what he became known for. At some point in his 20s, Dando lost his job. He refused aid meant for the poor. Though he didn’t want charity, he certainly wasn’t above stealing—because he began eating meals and skipping out on the bill at food stalls and inns in London and Kent. And he didn’t just do it once or twice—he made a career out of it. 

The first incident was noted in 1826, and Dando was arrested many times over the next six years. Though the menu would vary, Dando had an affinity for oysters, which, at the time, were a basic food source for the poor. He was thrown behind bars for his crimes multiple times, but would steal bread from fellow inmates. And upon getting out of jail, Dando would head straight for the nearest oyster shop. 

In one incident, he ate 156 oysters without paying the very same day he was released from a workhouse in Brixton—and that was actually his second stop of the day. He’d eaten almost 4 shillings’ worth of oysters at another shop before that. After another period of imprisonment, he repeated the stunt, but only made it through 132 oysters before the oyster seller caught on. Cartoon showing Edward DandoBritish Museum, Wikimedia CommonsDetail of a cartoon showing Edward Dando

As the decade came to end, Dando’s reputation for dine-and-dashing preceded him. In one case that made it to court, the magistrate told an innkeeper that he should’ve charged Dando before giving him food and drink. Not every officer or judge that Dando came across was as understanding, though, and he also served time for public drunkenness and vagrancy. 

While behind bars in 1832—just six years after his eating spree began—Edward Dando caught cholera and died. Before his death, he’d complained that the coverage of his exploits had been sensationalized, and that he could eat only 25 dozen (300) oystersmaybe 30 dozen (360)—tops. He never expressed any regret for what he’d done, saying “I refuse to starve in a land of plenty.”

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