The Eighteenth Century Custom of Throwing Dead Cats and Dogs

Today, we love our pets and when they’re no longer around we go to great lengths to give them a good send off. No necessarily so in the eighteenth century. Who knew that dead cats and dogs were frequently used as missiles in the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries?

I heard about this recently in a podcast, hosted by social historian, Greg Jenner about eighteenth century elections and needless to say, I had to find out more about such a grotesque practice and somewhat surprisingly came across plenty of examples of this ‘custom’ if you can call it. So along with some of these instances I’ve also some soothing artworks of cute cuddly cats and dogs to try to make up for it.

A Little Girl Nursing a Kitten by James Northcote, 1795
(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The first incident to report, took place in 1768, when a pregnant woman was in her carriage near Piccadilly when she was assaulted by a mob, one of the mob, a woman, threw a dead cat into the woman’s carriage. Needless to say she was so shocked that she fainted, and the fright caused her to have a miscarriage.

Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) by Charlotte Jones, 1807.
Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) by Charlotte Jones, 1807.

In April 1780 a plasterer and a coachman were charged with a detestable crime. As they weren’t named I haven’t been able yet to find out their detestable crime. Anyway, they were taken from New Jail, Southwark, to St Margaret’s Hill, and set in the pillory according to their sentence.  As was the norm many people gathered to thrown things at the pair. People gathered from seven in the morning having collected dead dogs and cats which they threw at them, but then someone threw a stone and hit the coachman on the forehead, he immediately dropped to his knees, everyone thought he was dead. He was taken out and laid on the pillory until the hour was finished for the plasterer. They were both returned to New Jail, the coachman showing no signs of life, but a surgeon was sent for , but of course it was too late the stone had killed him. The person who threw it was well known and was arrested.

A Girl Holding a Cat by Philippe Mercier, c.1750
(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Easter 1780 was time for enjoying some fun and games, which, in Greenwich for many boys and girls who had gathered they participated in a game of roley poley and the sport of flinging dead cats, which was a great feature apparently.

Bachelier, Jean Jacques; Dog of the Havana Breed; The Bowes Museum

A report from the Northampton Mercury March 28th, 1785 provided another example of this practice

Yesterday a very numerous concourse of people assembled in the vicinity of Tottenham Court Road to witness the ascension of Comte Zambeccari and Admiral Sir Edward Vernon, in the balloon which had been exhibited for some time at the Lyceum in the Strand.  Despite trying to keep this quiet, word had leaked out and the streets were full of people wanting to see the spectacle, in spite the snow they turned out in their hundreds.

The crowd waited patiently for over three hours, but began to get restless, tired out waiting they began hurling missiles of dead dogs and cats at each other, whilst this commotion was going on the pick pockets made off with many of their possession.

They waited until four o’clock until the weather was better to take their aerial excursion, just as they were about to lift off a Miss Grice, of Holborn offered to accompany them.  Despite throwing out much of the ballast to make way for her, the balloon was still too heavy, so she had to give up on the idea and the balloon set off. The balloon eventually landed at quarter to five at Kingsfield, Sussex, about three miles from Horsham.

van der Myn, Herman; Portrait of an Unknown Lady in an Orange Dress with a Lap Dog; National Trust, Middlethorpe Hall

Hampshire Chronicle of 1803 reported of a young man aged 23 who stood in the pillory at the bottom of Blenheim Street and Oxford Street, following his sentence for an attempt to commit a most detestable crime. A great many people gathered to see this spectacle where the culprit was pelted very severely by them with rotten eggs, dead dogs and cats, after which he was conveyed back in a coach to Newgate.

Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight by Joseph Wright of Derby, c.1768-70
(c) English Heritage, Kenwood; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In 1814, Mrs Susanna Walters, the wife of Mr T Walters of Norwich arrived home and found that some mischievous persons had tied a dead cat to her door. Being near her due time, she was so shocked the unexpected discovered that she was immediately taken ill and her death a few day later was attributed to this.

Wootton, John; Muff, a Black and White Dog; Tate;

A different use for dead cats and dogs appears to have been quite popular in 1774 by gardeners. The dead animals were thrown upon the roots of the vine, then covered with earth, this apparently created an excellent plants which would produce a high yield.

To finish I’ll share with you, a witty retort by the MP, Charles Fox at the 1784 election when a dead cat was thrown on the hustings. One of Cecil Wray’s party observed that it stunk worse than a fox; to which Mr Fox replied

there was nothing extraordinary in that, considering it was poll-cat.

Featured Image

Hogarth, William; Captain Lord George Graham (1715-1747), in His Cabin; National Maritime Museum

10 thoughts on “The Eighteenth Century Custom of Throwing Dead Cats and Dogs

  1. pennyhampson2

    The mind boggles! Where on earth did they find all these dead animals? Perhaps the 18th century equivalent of roadkill? A thought-provoking article as ever, Sarah, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. mistyfan

        I suspect something far worse as to why the cats and dogs were dead, considering the lack of animal welfare at the time.

        And not just animals. People often threw far worse things than dead cats and dogs at the people in the pillory, including stones and even saucepans. For this reason being clamped in the pillory could be a death sentence.

        Like

  2. ironrailsironweights

    I believe the term “detestable crime” was also known as the “abominable and detestable crime against nature.” A Google search will show what that actually means.

    Peter

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Merkwaardig (week 49) | www.weyerman.nl

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