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. Not 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 throw 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, but as the coachman was showing no signs of life, 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 of 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

John Nicholson’s ‘The Learned Pig’

The Georgians enjoyed nothing more than a spectacle be it the ‘freak shows’ or the sight of new animals, but something which caught their attention in the 1780s was a pig … no ordinary pig, but one who could perform tricks, so I thought as a bit of light relief, I would share a few anecdotes about this curious animal and leave you to draw your own conclusions as to the truth of any of it.

By all accounts the pig had previously been owned by a Scotsman, Samuel Bisset, although there were also reports that it was a native of Ireland, educated in Chester, so, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from that.

After the death of Bisset, the pig became the property of a John Nicholson, who toured the country with his ‘learned pig’. The pig was not the first creature who he had worked with, oh no!  Nicholson  possessed a peculiar power over animals, he taught a turtle to fetch and carry, a hare to beat a drum with its hind feet; he taught six cocks to perform a country dance; his three cats to play several tunes on the dulcimer with their paws and to imitate Italian opera, but he became best known for conquering the natural obstinacy and stupidity of a pig by teaching him to unite the letters of any person’s name, count the number of people in the room, the hour and minutes of any watch, etc.

The Wonderful Pig. British Museum
The Wonderful Pig. British Museum

Mid 1784, Nicholson took the pig on tour, covering Leeds, Wakefield, The Assembly Rooms in Derby, Nottingham, Northampton and onward to London.

In April 1785 however, Nicholson was invited along with his learned friend to attend Brooks’s gentlemen’s club, one of the oldest in London, to perform at a private exhibition, which according to the newspapers didn’t go quite as expected:

A good deal of confusion arose to the master of the pig and the company present, from the improper questions which were put to this grunting philosopher. He counted the company well enough; but when he was asked how many Patriots were present, snorted at every member, and looked around for fresh orders.

How many are there present who are six pence clear of encumbrances? The pig stood still.

How many honest gentlemen? The pig would not stir.

Here the master was obliged to apologise and in a confounded passion whipped the pig and beat a hasty retreat.

Despite this slight hiccup, by all accounts this was a lucrative little earner for Nicholson as he was reputed to be making over one hundred guineas a week with his ‘grunting philosopher’.

A visit to the Irish Pig!
Yale Centre for British Art

There was great excitement when it was announced that the learned pig was visiting a town, with newspapers giving all the hype you would expect.

We hear from Colchester, that there is arrived in that place, and to be seen during the fair, that most sagacious animal the learned pig, that so long and so deservedly engaged the attention of the nobility and gentry at Charing Cross and afterwards at Sadler’s Wells, where he met with universal applause to the end of the season. The above curiosity is expected in Ipswich as soon as Colchester Fair is over.

Three Pigs in a Byre by George Morland
Three Pigs in a Byre by George Morland; Kinloch Castle, Rum (Scottish Natural Heritage)

We couldn’t resist including this article from the Chester Chronicle of 1792.

Nicholson’s learned pig has, we hear, lately arrived from Oxford, where he was admitted a fellow of Brazen-Nose* college, and is now returned to his seat at Bunbury, in this county, with those two profound marks of erudition A.M. annexed to his name – the learned in that neighbourhood say ‘it would do your heart good to hear him grunt Greek’.

Pigs by T. Horsley
Pigs by T. Horsley; The Bowes Museum

The idea of a performing pig was not restricted to just this one, apparently there were several, but who knows. As we’ve said, the concept of a talking pig was a money spinner, but also a great excuse to poke fun at the government, nobility and academia, so we’ll end this with a little ditty I came across.

Gruntledum, gruntledum, gruntledum, squeak,

I hope very soon to be able to speak;

Thou’ my gristly proboscis I find that I can

Already cry ‘aye’, like a parliament man:

Like a maid I can squeak, like a lover can whine,

And snort like an Alderman laden with wine.

Gruntledum, gruntledum, gruntledum, squeak,

I hope very soon to be able to speak.

Farmyard Scene by George Morland
Farmyard Scene by George Morland; Doncaster Museum Service

* In case you wondered, no this is isn’t a typo on my part!


Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser 21 September 1785

Northampton Mercury 04 April 1785

Northampton Mercury 25 April 1785

Ipswich Journal 29 October 1785

Bury and Norwich Post 04 January 1786

Sussex Advertiser 03 July 1786

Chester Chronicle 16 March 1792

Paul, John Dean; Greyhound in a Landscape by John Dean Paul

Tales of faithful dogs from the Georgian era

There are many accounts of dogs seeking help for their owner following an accident. Here we’ve collected a few tales from contemporary newspapers.

In the early evening of a mid-November day in 1767, a man named Gabriel Park was walking to his home at Carntyne, a Glasgow mining area, when he fell into an old and deep abandoned coal pit by the roadside. Luckily it had no water in it, but he had no way of escape. Gabriel’s small pointer dog was with him, and all night it ran around the mouth of the pit, yelping and howling. This noise alerted several colliers who, early the next morning, were walking to their place of work; they came over to see what the commotion was. Gabriel was fair spent by this time, and had barely the strength left to call his name, but his rescuers heard his faint cries for help. They fetched ropes and brought him to safety; although he was in a bad state, Gabriel was expected to survive. And, if the Gabriel Park who was buried at Glasgow in 1794 at the age of 67 is him, then survive he did, thanks to his dog.

Another rescue by a dog also occurred in Scotland, on a similar winter’s evening in 1811. Andrew Frame and John Corbet, from Larkhall, were on their way home in an open cart together with their dog. They had to cross the Clyde, which was swollen, and by a mishap, cart, horse and the two men ended up in the river. John Corbet disappeared under the surface and was drowned, but his companion, Andrew, survived, thanks to the dog who grabbed hold of his master’s clothes and kept his head above the water until they got to the shore. The horse also managed to make it to safety; after getting away from his harness he swam to one side of the river only to find the bank too steep to escape, so made his way to the opposite side where he was able to scramble out.

View of the Clyde, by John Knox.
View of the Clyde (in better weather!) by John Knox; Government Art Collection

When the Comet II paddle steamer collided with another steamer off Kempock Point, Gourock, Scotland, and sank with the loss of 62 of the 80 passengers on board, a lady named Jane Monro was saved when she managed to grab hold of a greyhound who had been onboard, and who kept her afloat. The fate of the greyhound was not recorded (but we hope he was pulled to safety too!).

Paul, John Dean; Greyhound in a Landscape by John Dean Paul
Paul, John Dean; Greyhound in a Landscape by John Dean Paul; Leicestershire County Council Museums Service

Many other accounts relate stories of faithful hounds refusing to leave their dead masters. The following is from early February, 1799.

On Tuesday, an officer’s servant belonging to West Suffolk, was found near the Newmarket turnpike, supposed to have lain in the snow since Saturday. A faithful dog was found lying near his deceased master, buried in the snow by whose barking the body was discovered.

Several years earlier, in 1778, a Southampton man known as French Frank was sent on horseback to Stoke, accompanied by his faithful Newfoundland dog. Somehow met with an accident and both French Frank and the horse ended up tangled together in what was described as ‘the Barge River’ (possibly this means the Trent and Mersey Canal which was completed the year before and that French Frank was heading to Stoke-on-Trent). They both drowned, the bodies discovered due to the Newfoundland, who swam next to French Frank’s body and who could not be coaxed from the water until he was almost exhausted.

A clearly well-to-do gentleman from the London area (for the family had servants) had, in the summer of 1752, been missing for a fortnight. He had a favourite dog who rarely left his side, and this dog had also been absent, returning only for his dinner each day, then quickly vanishing again. Eventually, someone decided that it would be an idea to follow the dog, to see if he could lead them to the missing man. The dog led his owner’s relations to the side of a flooded gravel pit on the road to Marylebone where the dog’s master was found drowned.

Kensington Gravel Pits (1811-1812) by John Linnell
A later depiction of Gravel Pits at Kensington (1811-1812) by John Linnell; The Tate

Guide Dogs

Faithful dogs to guide the blind are nothing new.

In the summer of 1810, a blind man accepted a bet of seven shillings, that he could walk six miles in an hour and a half.  In this undertaking, he would be guided by his faithful dog. The pair started at 8 o’clock in the morning, on the Fulham road, and walked one mile out and then one mile back in until the six miles was completed. There was a huge crowd of people gathered to watch the event and, to their surprise, the whole six miles was completed with fifteen minutes to spare. The spectators, so impressed by the blind man’s feat, hastily started a collection amongst themselves, and in no time at all they’d raised 40 shillings, which was handed over to the blind pedestrian. Let’s hope he treated his pooch to a good meal with some of the proceeds!

Blind girl led by a dog, 1785.
Blind girl led by a dog, 1785. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Things didn’t always go so well, though. In 1776, a blind woman was walking along Newcastle’s Quayside, led by her dog. Unfortunately, the dog got a bit too close to the edge, and the poor woman fell into the water. It was near full tide, and a passing stranger grabbed a boat hook, managed to get hold of her dress, and dragged her back to dry land before any great harm came to her.

Ferry boat with passengers disembarking; Newcastle upon Tyne; Luke Clennell;
Ferry boat with passengers disembarking; Newcastle upon Tyne; Luke Clennell; Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

We found another account of a blind man falling into a river, but this time you couldn’t blame his faithful dog as it was down to foul play.

Sunday night a poor blind man, who was led about the streets by a dog, fell into the Liffey, and was drowned. This was occasioned by some abominable villain cutting the cord with which the poor man was guided by the dog. The animal displayed astonishing affection to the body of his master, when taken out of the river, by licking it over, and signifying great concern at his fate.


Derby Mercury, 17 July 1752

The Scots Magazine, 1 November 1767

Newcastle Courant, 11 May 1776

Hampshire Chronicle, 11 May 1778

Cambridge Intelligencer, 9 February 1799

Oxford Journal, 9 October 1802

London Courier and Evening Gazette, 19 July 1810

Globe, 20 December 1811

Morning Chronicle, 26 December 1825

The taxing of dogs in the eighteenth century

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, those pesky Georgians struck again with their diverse ways of taxing people.  We have previously looked at a whole range of taxes from hair powder tax and window tax that were implemented during the 1700s, but we came across a tax which appears to have proposed from much earlier than we had thought – the dog tax.

A Gentleman Out Shooting with Two Setters by John Francis Sartorius
A Gentleman Out Shooting with Two Setters by John Francis Sartorius; Walker Art Gallery

This was initially proposed in 1758, along with, interestingly, a bachelor tax which was a tax on bachelors aged over 25 and widowers under 50 having no children.

A Setter in a Landscape by Thomas Gainsborough
A Setter in a Landscape by Thomas Gainsborough; National Trust, Petworth House

Returning to the dog tax, in our research, we have never come across an Act of Parliament that has been so divisive nor taken Parliament quite so long to pass – nearly forty years!! Parliament simply could not agree on the best way to implement it.

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

Initially, the plan was relatively simple.

A tax for one dog of 1 shilling, for two dogs 5 shillings and for every dog between two and ten 5 shillings each. Between twenty and forty – £10 and for more than forty – £20.

Clearly, this was an extremely unpopular option and eventually, after four years of debate, the whole concept was dropped in favour of a horse tax instead.

However, it reared its head again in the 1782 budget which said that there was to be:

An annual tax of ten guineas on every pack of hounds and five shillings for every other game dog.

Maria, from Sterne by Joseph Wright of Derby
Maria, from Sterne by Joseph Wright of Derby; Ferens Art Gallery

This bill took a further two years to be passed by Cabinet and to then be heard in Parliament by which time they had firmed up the actual tax, which of course had increased and was more specific. It is interesting to note that a ‘guide dog’ was to be exempt.

The dog-tax bill, it is said, has passed in the Cabinet and we apprehend will be carried into the House at the ensuing Meeting of Parliament.

Greyhounds and Lurchers are to be paid for at the rate of twenty shilling each

Pointers and all other dogs of sport, ten shilling each

And dogs of different descriptions, such as mastiffs, lap-dogs etc five shillings each.

Blind men’s dogs should be exempted for the tax.

A person who keeps a flock of sheep, can very well afford to pay for his shepherd dog.

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

It all went quiet for a while as this proposal was thrown out by Parliament, as the collection of such a tax was deemed too difficult. However, feelings around the country ran high about the taxation of dogs, both for and against as can be seen in this letter to William Pitt the Younger, in March 1791.

Finally, according to the Staffordshire Advertiser of 19th March 1796, William Pitt gave his support to a dog tax. The tax of two shillings and sixpence (half a crown), was to be paid by all dog owners, with just a few exceptions.

A Hound, a Spaniel and a Pug (A Portrait of a Mastiff) by Francis Hayman
A Hound, a Spaniel and a Pug (A Portrait of a Mastiff) by Francis Hayman; Norfolk Museums Service

This was not the end of it, however, as the battles on either side of the argument continued, so much so that even Parliament itself commented on that fact that this proposal had been kicked around for nearly forty years – clearly, they couldn’t agree on how or if to implement it.

A simple proposal was put forward that with the exception of guide dogs that everyone who owned a dog should pay a flat tax of two shillings and sixpence, which was estimated would generate an income of £125,000 per annum.

Study of a King Charles Spaniel by Henry Bernard Chalon
Study of a King Charles Spaniel by Henry Bernard Chalon; Laing Art Gallery

But no! This option was not suitable. Goodness, how this debate dragged on, it even became so dramatic that there was talk in Parliament of possible bloodshed across the Kingdom over it! One of the main problems appears to have been the emotional attachment we have to dogs.

An Old English Terrier by John Nost Sartorius
An Old English Terrier by John Nost Sartorius; National Trust, Fenton House

Finally, we found the wording of the Act, in a newspaper dated 11th June 1796. This was nothing like keeping it simple. If it could be made complicated, then Parliament really did manage to achieve this. See what you make of it. We think it’s as clear as mud and the reference to guide dogs appears to have vanished.


The words of the Act are “That from and after the 5th day of July 1796, every person who shall keep any Greyhound, Hound, Pointer, Setting Dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier or who shall keep two or more dogs, of whatever description or denomination shall be charged and assessed annually with the sum of five shillings for each Greyhound, Pointer, Setting dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier;

and also, for each dog, where two or more dogs shall be kept, and every person who shall inhabit any dwelling house, assessed toto any of the duties on inhabited houses, or on windows or lights, and shall keep one dog and no more, such dog not being a Greyhound, Pointer, Setting dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier, shall be charged and assessed annually, with the sum of three shillings for such dog.

There are clauses which provide, that the duty shall not extend to dogs not six months old, and that gentlemen keeping hounds may compound for any number, on paying this year fifteen pounds, and every subsequent one, twenty pounds; as it is understood only three-fourths of the tax are to be collected this year.”

It’s no wonder that people began to complain about it and try to find loopholes to avoid paying – and in this instance below – winning.  This remained in place until 1882.

A gentleman near Warwick, who keeps only one dog merely for the purpose of a house-dog, returned it as such to the Surveyor of Taxes. That return was objected to because, it was insisted, the dog, of a spaniel kind, was liable to the higher rate of duty, the same a sporting dog. The gentleman remonstrated; stating that the dog not being, in his opinion, a true sporting spaniel, but a common mongrel, did not, therefore, come within the letter of the Act of Parliament; and, at all events, not being trained nor even used for the purpose of sporting, most certainly did not fall within the spirit and meaning of the act. The remonstrance was, however, unavailing: and notice of an appeal was given. The case was heard before the Commissioners at Wellesbourne, when, without a moment’s hesitation, it was decided against the Surveyor of Taxes.



Leeds Intelligencer 14 March 1758

Derby Mercury 04 November 1784

Bury and Norwich Post 07 March 1792

Hampshire Chronicle 09 April 1796

Lancaster Gazette 02 March 1811

Featured Image

A Couple of Foxhounds, George Stubbs. Tate.

A camel outside Dr Fountain's Boarding School on Marylebone High Street by James Miller, 1780.

The Wonderful Dromedary and Surprizing Camel

In the late 1750s, Mr Richard Heppenstall caused a sensation when he toured England with a ‘wonderful’ dromedary from Persia and a ‘surprizing’ camel from Grand Cairo, Egypt. If you know anything at all about camels, you’re probably already shouting, ‘stop right there!‘. Yes, we know, we’ll get to that shortly.

A writer from The London Magazine, or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer caught up with Heppenstall at the Talbot Inn in the Strand, where the beasts were on show (the article was published in the May 1758 edition).

The beautiful Dromedary from Grand Cario [sic] in Egypt [actually a Bactrian camel from Persia (Iran) despite the pyramids shown in the background], 1757.
The beautiful Dromedary from Grand Cario [sic] in Egypt [actually a Bactrian camel from Persia (Iran) despite the pyramids shown in the background], 1757. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Heppenstall was, the writer notes, very communicative. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not believe that a camel had a ‘reservoir for water in the gullet’. His dromedary and camel devoured about five trusses of hay a week and shed their hair every year. A sketch of both the animals was taken, and at the time they were being exhibited in the Strand they were shedding ‘otherwise they would have been described as covered with an abundance of scrubbed, curling hair, of a sand hue, which renders colouring the print unnecessary’.

Because just about every print and article we’ve looked at for this blog mislabels the dromedary and camel in question, let’s just get the facts straight. The dromedary or Arabian camel, native to the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, has one hump and the Bactrian camel, native to Central Asia, has two. Heppenstall’s Surprizing Camel appears to be a dromedary from ‘Grand Cairo’, Egypt. Maybe that’s what was most surprising about it? His Wonderful Dromedary is, therefore, a two-humped Bactrian not an Arabian camel and from Iran (then Persia). Confused? You will be!

The print below is a later copy (by C. Randle and c.1813) of the drawings which accompanied the May 1758 edition of The London Magazine.

An 1813 (and incorrectly labelled) copy by C. Randle of the prints found in The London Magazine or Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer, May 1758. Top is Heppenstall's supposed dromedary (really a Bactrian camel lately brought from Persia) and bottom the Surprizing Camel (actually a dromedary, from Grand Cairo, Egypt).
An 1813 (and incorrectly labelled) copy by C. Randle of the prints found in The London Magazine or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, May 1758. Top is Heppenstall’s supposed dromedary (really a Bactrian camel lately brought from Persia) and bottom the Surprizing Camel (actually a dromedary, from Grand Cairo, Egypt). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

By the autumn of 1759, Heppenstall, with his dromedary and camel in tow, had reached Scotland. For a few weeks, he exhibited the animals in Edinburgh to much acclaim. On one day, a young lady in mourning asked some questions about these curious beasts of the gentleman standing next to her. Maybe she wanted to know whether it was the dromedary or the camel which had two humps? Hopefully, the gentleman in question knew his camel facts and managed to suitably impress the lady, for she certainly left an impression on him. Did he ever find his lady love again, one wonders?

If the lady who was on Thursday last, at the head of Craig’s close, to see the Dromedary and Camel, dressed in a black silk sack, be unmarried, and her affections disengaged, a gentleman then present, will think that meeting the happiest moment of his life. She may please to remember a young gentleman, in second mourning, whom she asked several questions with regard to the nature of those amazing creatures, their manner of travelling over desarts [sic], &c. If the said lady will please to leave a line, directed for F. W. at the Exchange Coffeehouse, opposite to the Cross, where he may be waited on, it will be esteemed the highest obligation, and such proposals will be immediately made, as he flatters himself will not be disagreeable. The strictest honour and secrecy will be observed.

(Caledonian Mercury, 27th October 1759)

Views in the Levant: a Dromedary or [Arabian] Camel. Willey Reveley, 1785.
Views in the Levant: a Dromedary or [Arabian] Camel. Willey Reveley, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
By the following summer, the travelling show was back in northern England. Did Heppenstall really know his dromedaries from his Bactrian camels? We’re beginning to wonder…


Just arriv’d in this Town, and to be seen at the Sign of the Red-Bear, in Briggate, A Wonderful DROMEDARY and a Surprizing CAMEL. The DROMEDARY was brought from Persia, and is the only one that has appeared in this Kingdom for upwards of fifty years. He has two large protuberances on his back of sold gristle, with large tufts of hair around them, a small head, a fine eye, chews his cud like a cow, and is nineteen hands high. His leg is as fine as a deer’s, and his hind part resembles a mule; and, what is very remarkable, he will walk ten days successively, at the rate of six miles an hour, without drinking. The CAMEL was brought from Grand Cairo, in Egypt. He has only one protuberance, his head and neck resemble the DROMEDARY, and is 21 hands high. They live to a great age. Their common load in 12 or 14 hundred weight. They will continue here ‘till Saturday se’nnight, and then proceed for Bradford, in their way to Halifax.

(Leeds Intelligencer, 3rd June 1760)

This print by Robert Dighton depicts a travelling showman exhibiting his ‘surprizing camel’, maybe the same one albeit some years later (Dighton wasn’t born until 1752). And, as the sign in the etching clearly shows a dromedary and not a camel, perhaps Dighton was working from the same mislabelled copies of the 1758 prints as Mr Randle did in 1813? Or, maybe, Richard Heppenstall was still dragging his dromedary around the provinces of the country. With no further information, we’re not sure whether, if he was, he still thought it was an central Asian rather than a middle eastern variety of camel. We’re thoroughly confused now, as you probably are too!

The Travelling Show Man by Robert Dighton, demonstrating the Surprizing Camel.
The Travelling Show Man by Robert Dighton, demonstrating the Surprizing Camel. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Both camels and dromedaries can live up to 40 or 50 years; in 1780 a camel was depicted outside Dr Fountain’s Boarding School in Marylebone and perhaps this too was the Surprizing Camel which had toured England more than twenty years earlier?

A dromedary or Arabian camel outside Dr Fountain's Boarding School on Marylebone High Street by James Miller, 1780.
A dromedary or Arabian camel outside Dr Fountain’s Boarding School on Marylebone High Street by James Miller, 1780. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

And yes, despite any notations to the contrary on the original, which just names it as a camel, it is a dromedary, albeit one of the ‘Surprizing Camel’ variety.

The Royal Menagerie, Exeter Change, Strand.

An Elephant Never Forgets

The adage that an elephant never forgets seems very appropriate given the following accounts.

The scientific elephant now displays his sagacity and the uncommon improvement of his natural powers, at Pidcock’s Grand Menageries, Exeter ‘Change, Strand, where, at the desire of the company and command of the keeper, he exhibits a perfect knowledge of the value of different pieces of money; tells with the greatest precision the hour and minutes of the day, when shown a watch by any of the spectators; locks and unlocks doors, takes off and puts on any lady’s or gentleman’s bonnet or hat, that he may be requested of him, with a great and pleasing variety of other performances. His improvement in the space of the last six months exceeds all belief.

Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

In another story to confirm that an elephant never forgets, we offer this account which was reported in an English newspaper, although the event took place in Paris, 1799.

A sentinel on duty at the menagerie, agreeably to the orders he had received, was always particularly careful to caution the visitors not to feed the elephants. However, his behaviour was not calculated to gain him the favour of the elephants. One of the females especially resented his officious zeal to enforce his orders and several times she attempted to correct his bad habits by throwing water on his head with her trunk.

A few days ago, a great number of people came to see the elephants, which the latter considered a fine opportunity to receive, by stealth, plenty of scraps of bread. Unfortunately, for her, however, the officious sentinel was on guard that day.

The female took her station beside him, watched all his words and gestures, and the first time he began to give his usual notice she squirted him in the face with her trunk full of water much to the immense amusement of the audience. The sentinel quietly wiped his face and retiring a little way, he continued to give his notice to everyone informing them not to give any bread to the elephants and the elephants were likewise instructed not to take any.

This time, however, the female was ready and waiting, she took hold of his musket, whirled it around with her trunk, then trod on it, it was not until she had twisted it like a screw did she return it.

Destruction of the noble elephant at Mr Cross's, Exeter 'Change
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

From the Bath Chronicle of August 1791, we offer a somewhat tragic story.

Among the elephants that were sent to Madras with the troops in 1781, under the command of the late Colonel Pearce, there was apparently one keeper who it was reported was quite neglectful and who pilfered from his drams on the line of march. Upon every such occasion, the elephant discovered signs of anger and resentment, as if he was insensible to negligence, nor ignorant of the mal-practices, of his keeper.

One morning the cattle etc. were ordered to be mustered for review and when the commanding officer, in going along the line, passed in front of the elephant, the animal roared out as if to attract the commanding officer’s attention. When he caught the eye of the Colonel the elephant took hold of his keeper with his trunk, put him under his feet and instantly crushed him to death.

The elephant then immediately fell upon his knees and salaamed to the Colonel for pardon. The singularity of this act induced Colonel Pearce to make an immediate enquiry respecting it, when he learnt that the elephant had been forced, contrary to his natural disposition, to inflict this punishment on his keeper, for the incorrigible neglect he was prone to commit and the frauds practised on his daily allowance. Unfortunately, we do not know the outcome of this investigation, but punishment had already been served.


The story of a domesticated tiger

On December 26th, 1788 the ship, Pitt East Indiaman, which was owned by the East India Company and captained by Edward Manning set sail for St Helena, Benkulen and then China. She reached St Helena in March 1789, Benkulen in July, arriving in China November 1789.

The 'Pitt' near Dover returning from China, 1787. Wikimedia Commons.
The ‘Pitt’ near Dover returning from China, 1787. Wikimedia Commons.

In China, she collected her cargo began the return journey back to England via St Helena, reaching England in August 1790.  There was nothing unusual in journey except that when they arrived in China they acquired an additional piece of cargo – a tiger.

A Tiger Resting: the frontispiece for "Oriental Field Sports", 1805, Samuel Howitt. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
A Tiger Resting: the frontispiece for “Oriental Field Sports”, Samuel Howitt. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

When first brought on board, the tiger was no larger than a puppy of one month to six weeks old, and the ship’s company were determined, if possible, to tame him. The familiarities used with this creature grew with his growth and strengthened with his strength until by the time he was almost a year old he was harmless and as playful as a young kitten.

We have no explanation as to why this tiger was onboard, whether it was destined for a circus in England we cannot say. The animal was described by the newspapers as:

a beautiful young male tiger, about ten or twelve months old and nearly the size of a large mastiff dog.

The Kentish Gazette in its coverage described the animal as being:

a singular instance of the practicability of taming and domesticating wild beasts, a tiger being allowed to be the most ferocious of the savage creatures.

Until he grew too large he lived in the carpenter’s cabin and frequently slept with the sailors in their hammocks, each becoming very fond of the animal.

During the passage home, he was mischievous as most young animals are and frequently stole the sailor’s shoes and hid their clothes, at one time he had in his concealment no less than twenty-five pairs of silk breeches.

He was extremely playful and would often climb about the ship like a cat and perform antics which you would have to have seen to believe.  He was known to play with the dog on board, tossing him in the air and catching him in his paws. The sailors used to make him lie down on the deck and three of them at one time would rest their heads on him using him as a pillow, the tiger never stirred until the sailors had taken their nap.

In return for this familiarity he was known to steal their meat – they became so fond of the creature that he was never really punished. One day during the voyage, however, he also stole the carpenter’s favourite roast beef, the carpenter followed the tiger and retrieved the piece of meat. On this occasion, the animal was punished but apparently ‘took it with the patience of a spaniel’.

Caricature of a sailor. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Caricature of a sailor. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Mr Murray, the purser, having left his cabin door open, the tiger jumped into the cot whilst he was asleep, but not liking his bedfellow Murray hastily jumped out leaving the tiger in full possession of both his cot and his cabin.

When the ship arrived at Gravesend, an old woman came on board with a basket of gingerbread to sell, the tiger set upon the old woman as a cat does when chasing a mouse, seized its opportunity, sprang at her, jumped upon her from behind and threw his paws around her neck. This unexpected attack, on the part of the woman was depicted with every tragic emotion; the basket, gingerbread, fruit and all its contents fell on the deck, which when done, as if conscious of the woman’s situation, he released his prisoner and wandered off to find something else to do in another part of the ship.

Six or eight sailors, part of the men put on board the ship to work her up to the moorings at Deptford, had at this time their portion of fresh beef served to them; and whilst they were debating whether it should be boiled or roasted, a diversity of opinions having taken place, the tiger who lay close by watched for a favourable opportunity, made a sudden spring and seized it, which not only ended the contest, but even saved them the trouble of preparing it, as the tiger it had been observed, preferred his meat  raw rather than boiled or roasted.

A Tiger by Charles Towne, 1818; Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage
A Tiger by Charles Towne; Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

The above story was reputed to be true and was verified by a gentleman who went on board the Pitt. This gentleman wishing to see this domesticated tiger was led to the carpenter’s cabin, where the tiger lay sleeping at the feet of the carpenter’s wife and sister. Encouraged by the account he was given of this docility, he first ventured to touch him, and after growling a little, which he always did when disturbed from sleep, he patted him in the most familiar manner and then proceeded to put his hand into the tiger’s mouth. The tiger was perfectly content with this.

What became of the tiger we have no idea, but presumably he came part of the circus, but it would be nice to think he remained on board with the carpenter, but it seems unlikely as only a few months later the ship, still under Manning’s command became a convict ship.

Sources Used

Kentish Gazette 31 August 1790

Featured Image

Three Tigers in a Rocky Landscape by Sawrey Gilpin. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

The Bonassus.

The Bonassus

According to a book by John Barrow of 1749, the Bonassus was

a kind of wild ox, as high as a bull and bigger than a common ox. His flesh is very good. His horns are an astringent.

For a travelling fair owner, Earl James and Sons, the creature was far, far more than that very plain description. In the early 1820s Earl James acquired this amazing beast and described it in the following glowing terms:

This huge, terrific and extraordinary animal, which has, for the last eighteen months, occupied the attention of the naturalist, the historian and the whole of the cognoscenti and literati of the age and more particularly the inhabitants and visitors of the greatest metropolis in the world, who, from his hitherto unknown and unparalleled nature, has been the subject of editorial observations in the London newspapers. This most wonderful and interesting beast has been visited in London by upwards of 200,000 persons. In this wonderful phenomenon of nature is combined all the terrific grandeur of the animal creation: having the head of the elephant, the fore part of the bison, the mane and hind part of the lion, the eye on the cheekbone, and an ear similar to that of a human. He stands six feet high and weighs two tons! His consumption of daily food exceeds that of the elephant; he is not a carnivorous animal, but is particularly fond of fruit and vegetable; of the latter, he is most partial to onions and frequently consumes a bushel and a half at a meal.

The Bonassus.
The Bonassus. New York Public Library.

Needless to say, there was great excitement whenever a new animal was brought to the country and this one was no exception. This extract below is from a letter written by a Mrs Winifred Lloyd to her friend Mr Price at the Parsonage House somewhere in Monmouthshire, which was published in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 16 May 1822.

She began her letter by telling her friend that she and her children were having a wonderful time seeing everything London had to offer and added the following postscript which was published by the newspaper replete with her own unique spelling of words.

I forgot to say that we had seen Mr. Martin’s expedition, we went from the Bullock’s to the Bonassus, as it is but a step from wan to the other. The man says tis a perfect picter, and so it is, for sartain, and ought to be painted. It is like a bull, only quite different, and cums from the Appellation Mountings. My Humphry (son) thought it must have been catcht in a pound and I wundered the child could make such a natural idear, but he is a sweet boy, and very foreward in his larning. He was elely delited at the site you may be sure but Betty being tiresome shut her eyes all the time she was seeing it. But, saving his push now and then, the anymil is no ways veracious and eats nothing but vegetables. The man showed us some outlandish sort of pees that it lives upon, but he gave it two hole pales of rare carrots besides. It must be a handsome customer to the green grocer and a pretty penny I warrant it costs for vittles’.

An old Friend with a new Face or the Baron in Disguise Caroline kneeling in front of Bartolommeo Bergami, disguised as a bison, figure of a Beefeater and figure of a man with his hands in the air. Brighton Museums.
An old Friend with a new Face or the Baron in Disguise
Caroline kneeling in front of Bartolommeo Bergami, disguised as a bison, the figure of a Beefeater and figure of a man with his hands in the air. Brighton Museums.

However, not everyone was quite so enamoured with the creature, as this letter reprinted in the John Bull of January 1824 confirms.

‘Gentlemen, I am sorry to trouble you but I am so annoy’d by next door neighbour the Bonassus and with beasts, that cannot live in my house, for the stench of the beast is so great and there is only a slight petition betwixt the houses and the beast are continually breaking through in my different rooms and I am always losing my lodgers in consequence of the beast first a monkey made its way in my bedroom, next the jackall came into the yard and this last week the people in my second floor have been alarmed in the dead of night by the monkey breaking through into the closet and are going to leave in consequence, this being the third lodgers I have lost on account of the beast and I have been letting my second floor at half the rent – and those men of Mr James are bawling the whole day against my window and continually taking people’s attention from window – and I am quite pestered with rats and I am confidence they came from the Exhibition and in short the injury and nuisance is so great as almost impossible to describe, but to be so annoy’d by such an imposter I think is very hard – Gentlemen your inquiry will oblige. Your servant T.W. And if I mention anything to Mr. James he only abuses me with the most uncouth language’.

A claim for compensation if ever there was one!

The Sense of Touch by Philippe Mercier, 1744-1747

Curious 18th Century Cats

Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight by Joseph Wright of Derby, c.1768-70 (c) English Heritage, Kenwood
Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight by Joseph Wright of Derby, c.1768-70 (c) English Heritage, Kenwood

We thought today we would take a look at newspaper reports about these furry felines and were quite surprised by the articles we found, so here we go, were they fact or merely folklore, please don’t ask us to verify the truth behind any of them!

The Sun, 1st January 1795

A few days ago a cat kept by Mr. Wood, boatman, at Sleaford, produced a kitten with two heads and two tails, which was remarkably strong and lively and sucked alternately with each head, till puss, displeased with the monster she had brought forth, set her teeth and talons to work and killed it, and that after she had suckled it for two days and two nights.

Young Girl with a Kitten by William Mulready (attributed to) (c) Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage
Young Girl with a Kitten by William Mulready (attributed to) (c) Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

On the 30th October 1799, The Observer wrote the following:

Mr. Bowle, tool-maker of Ipswich, has a cat of the tortoise-shell kind, which last week produced a fine male kitten marked in like manner. This we believe to be the first instance of a male cat of this colour on record.

WRONG … Mr Bowle would have been out of luck as one was reported to have been born over 20 years earlier according to the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of August 29th, 1776:

Tortoise shell 1776

So do any of our readers know when the first male tortoiseshell cat appeared?

'Psyche', a White Persian Cat by Francis Sartorius I, 1787 (c) National Trust, Fenton House
‘Psyche’, a White Persian Cat by Francis Sartorius I, 1787 (c) National Trust, Fenton House

On the 24th October 1800, The London Packet, returned us to Ipswich with this article

Thursday a gentleman in this town bought a cod fish; on dressing it, a kitten and crab were found in its belly. It was afterwards cooked, but those who knew the circumstance preferred something else for dinner.

A Girl Holding a Cat by Philippe Mercier, c.1750 (c) National Galleries of Scotland
A Girl Holding a Cat by Philippe Mercier, c.1750 (c) National Galleries of Scotland

On the 25th April 1798, The London Packet wrote that:

On Thursday last a cat in the Groat Market, Newcastle, brought forth a kitten of the following curious description: – It has eight legs and four ears, two of the latter are close together upon the top of the head, the others in the usual places. From the middle backwards, it separates and has all the parts complete of two, one male and the other female. The foreparts are those of a single animal, except the ears and legs.

Teatotalism by Edward Bird, c.1795 (c) Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage
Teatotalism by Edward Bird, c.1795 (c) Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

Our final offering really does defy belief. It is taken from Stuart’s Star and Evening Telegraph, 17th April 1789.

Dr. Falconer, an eminent physician of Bath, has lately made a discovery that will astonish all mankind. The Horse of Knowledge, the Stone eater or the Learned Pig, will now be thought trifling, as the doctor has fallen upon a method to learn a cat to perform all the actions of a human being!

The doctor has always been very fond of this ferocious animal. If ever he hears that a cat is with kitten, he attends her carefully twice a day and administers such medicines as he thinks may operate favourably; and, though in this human practice he has often been received in a scratching manner, yet his perseverance is unalterable.

At present he has a cat tutored to such perfection that it dresses his hair, writes letters, prepares medicine, and some persons say he will soon learn it to wait on his patients.

He however, does not intend to make any public show of this surprising creature … but has in contemplation to set up a school to teach cats and to advertise places for them; and there is no doubt but their qualifications will be very extraordinary.

Our final painting is a rather ‘cute’ one by James Northcote which was, according to The Oracle and Public Advertiser painted around 23rd July 1795:

Northcote, the painter, is occupied upon a very difficult subject, the visitation to Balaam…the same artist has produced a beautiful portrait of a girl with a kitten.

A Little Girl Nursing a Kitten by James Northcote, 1795 (c) Paintings Collection
A Little Girl Nursing a Kitten by James Northcote, 1795 (c) Paintings Collection


Header image: The Sense of Touch by Philippe Mercier, 1744-1747

A Highland Scene by Edwin Henry Landseer; The Wallace Collection

Jess, the whisky loving pet mare

The following story was found in the London Standard newspaper, dated the 3rd July 1829.

Scottish Landscape: Bringing in a Stag (figure and animals by Sir E. Landseer) 1830 Frederick Richard Lee and Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1799-1879, 1802-1873 Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Scottish Landscape: Bringing in a Stag (figure and animals by Sir E. Landseer) 1830 Frederick Richard Lee and Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

A friend of ours, who travels a good deal in the course of the year – visiting by the way many outlandish corners, where inns and milestones are alike scarce – has a mare that follows him like a pet dog, and fares very much as he does himself. Her name is Jess, and when a feed of corn is difficult to be got at, she has no objection to breakfast, dine, or sup on oat-cake, loaf-bread, or barley-meal scones, seasoned with a whang from the gudewife’s kebbuck. In the remotest parishes such viands are generally forthcoming and failing these, the animal is so little given to fastidiousness, that she will thrust, when invited, her nose into a cofgull of porridge or sowens, or even the kail-pot itself, where the content are thick and sufficiently cool.

A Highland Scene by Edwin Henry Landseer; The Wallace Collection
A Highland Scene by Edwin Henry Landseer; The Wallace Collection

 Though her staple beverage is drawn from the pump-trough, the crystal well, or the running brook, she can tipple at times as well as her betters, particularly when the weather runs in extremes, and is either sultry and oppressively hot, or disagreeably raw, blashy, and cold. In warm days she prefers something cooling, and very lately we had the honour of treating her to a bottle of ale! A toll-keeper, when summoned, came to the door, with a bottle in the one hand and a screw in the other; but a clumsier butler we never saw, and, what with his fumbling, the mare got so impatient, that she seemed ready at one time to knock the lubber down. The liquor, when decanted, was approached in a moment, and swallowed without the intervention of a breath; and for some miles its effects were visible in the increased speed and spirits of the animal; and we were informed that the same thing takes pace, when the cordial is changed in winter to a gill of whiskey!

Mare and Foal; William Malbon; Museums Sheffield
Mare and Foal by William Malbon; Museums Sheffield

The aqua, of course, is diluted in water, several per cents below the proper strength of seamen’s grog; and her master is of opinion that a little spirits, timeously applied, is as useful a preservative against cold in the case of a horse as of a human being. Our friend’s system is certainly peculiar, but his mare thrives well under it; and we will be bold to say that a roadster more sleek, safe, and docile, is not to be found in the whole country. – Dumfries Courier.