camp coffee bottle

Until the late 1960s there was nothing camp about Camp Coffee.  I’m sure the name has something to do with the tent shown pitched in the background and I think the manufacturer was advertising an instant light refreshment for the colonial military, the ones who were tired of tea.  The thing is, though, I have never heard of anyone actually drinking Camp Coffee as coffee.  It is a very good coffee flavouring: if you add it to milk and ice and vanilla ice cream it makes wonderful iced coffee, we always had it for that purpose when I was growing up.  It’s also good for making coffee ice cream if you only have vanilla available — in fact, my mother likes it better than store-bought coffee ice cream.  She may have learnt about it in Australia, where each town has (or had) a milk bar.

First  produced by A. Patterson & Sons, Ltd, of Glasgow — not known to me as  a hub of the coffee trade, then neither was Seattle before Starbucks — when I try to look up the current manufacturer of Camp, I can’t find any reference.  There are clues at Wikipedia:

Camp Coffee … began (sic) production in 1876 by Paterson & Sons Ltd. in a plant on Charlotte St, Glasgow. Almost one-hundred years later in 1974 businessman Daniel Jenks merged with Paterson to form Paterson Jenks plc.In 1984, Twelve years later, Paterson Jenks plc was bought by McCormick & Company Inc. Thereafter, McCormick UK Ltd assimilated Paterson Jenks plc into Schwartz. Interestingly, McCormick claims not to be the manufacturer on their main site, and the product can’t be found on the Schwartz site either.

It could be that the manufacturer is hiding because the label symbolises colonies and racism (apparently there was some trouble in England about its unpc-ness, some years ago).  The Wikipedia entry continues by describing what Camp Coffee is:

Camp Coffee is a glutinous brown substance which consists of water, sugar, 4% coffee essence, and 26% chicory essence. This is generally used as a substitute for coffee, by mixing with warm milk in much the same way as cocoa, but it is commonly found on baking aisles in supermarkets as it is also used as an ingredient in coffee cake and other confections.

On the label it’s called “Camp Coffee and Chicory”, and I think it was always so.   One of the best things about Camp Coffee is its label:

The label is …  a drawing of a Scottish soldier (allegedly Major General Sir Hector Macdonald) and a Sikh soldier sitting down together outside a tent, from which flies a flag carrying the drink’s slogan, “Ready Aye Ready”. Originally the picture depicted the Sikh as carrying a tray of coffee; it is widely believed that this was changed to avoid the imperialist connotations of the Sikh as a servant, although the company does not confirm or deny this. The original drawing was by William Victor Wrigglesworth.

Yes, that’s interesting, here’s the tray on the old label (with its tiny Camp bottle, he, he):

Sikh with tray

The newer version has removed General Macdonald’s bearskin too, though that may be as much because of lousy draghtsmanship as to appease the animal rights lobby. In today’s version, below, the Sikh has normal-sized legs, General Macdonald has his bearskin back and the two soldiers sit together as colleagues:

Camp now

Makes you wonder why they wanted us out, really.   It’s not a very interesting drawing, though; unlike in the earlier versions there’s nothing you could discuss at the breakfast table while you’re eating your cornflakes except that they’re now sitting on astroturf with their backs to the pyramids.  There is no depiction of the Camp bottle any longer; nowadays, they’re probably having a nice cup of tea.

I haven’t been able to find anything about the Sikh or his outfit.  Major General Sir Hector Macdonald is shown below dressed, not as a magician, but as a commander of an Egyptian army brigade:

HectorAMacdonaldThe son of a poor Scottish crofter, he had been apprenticed at fifteen to a draper and subsequently to the Royal Clan Tartan and Tweed Warehouse, in Inverness.  In the photograph he’s wearing what looks like a linen suit.  Ideal for a hot climate would have been a kilt made from linen; the thought must have crossed his mind, though such a garment would have got very creased.

There’s an interesting Wiki article about General Macdonald.  The military commander in Ceylon in 1903, he was being investigated for alleged homosexual relationships when he shot himself dead, poor man.


He had just had his fiftieth birthday.  He left a wife he had secretly married nineteen years earlier (Kitchener disapproved of his officers marrying) and a young son.