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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hogarth, William; Captain Lord George Graham (1715-1747), in His Cabin; National Maritime Museum
Tennis was all the rage in the mid-1700s, as was gambling, so put the two together and you have a winning combination. The game itself was somewhat different to its format today, however, the concept was the same, with professional players being able to command a high price to display their talent.
For the British, the major competitor was a Mr Tompkyns, but the French dominated the tennis scene, led by Monsieur Masson, born around 1740 and from Paris.
In 1767 Masson arranged for another French tennis player to compete, a Monsieur Macon, he took on the British champion Tompkyns. They played four sets on the Friday, three of which Macon won, the remaining sets were played the following Monday and once again Macon won. Reports saying that he won due to the superiority in his management of his strokes. Tompkyns was more active at catching balls, but Macon had the racquet and ball so much at his command, that he could almost strike it to within an inch of where he wanted it to go and that he noticed that there were two ‘dead places’ where the ball would not rebound which allowed him to drop it perpendicularly down so that Tompkyns had no chance of returning it. Had Tompkyns won he would have received five hundred guineas, so he suffered quite a loss.
Tennis was a sport for both sexes though and the name which appeared in the press in the late 1760s was a Madame Bunell, aged, apparently about sixty, again from France, who was more than happy to take on any man at the game. Madame Bunell was reputed to be able to play fairly well, but would never wear the male attire to play but instated upon wearing a short skirt and a light jacket, which would allow her to move freely around the court. She was, somewhat derogatorily described as resembling a scarecrow.
Reports stated that she had been seen practising at the tennis court in James Street every morning, from five o’clock until seven. That practise paid dividends, as in February 1768 Madame Bunell competed against Mr Tompkyns at the tennis court in James Street, where she beat him fairly and squarely two sets to one. Let’s hope that you had put your money on Madame Bunell as considerable bets were placed on that match. A week later there was a re-match, perhaps Mr Tompkyns hoped to redress the balance. It was not the outcome he had perhaps hoped for as Madame Bunell beat him again, this time six sets were played of which she won four. Maybe he had hoped for a ‘third time lucky’ but there are no references for a third attempt.
The next big name to arrive on the tennis scene in the 1790s was Madame Masson, from Paris, who was said to be related to Monsieur Masson through marriage. She was described as around thirty years of age, of short stature and was dressed á la grecque with a short petticoat and drawers. She was said to possess such uncommon powers, that she could beat any man at a stroke; and in addition to that, she knew how to manage the balls better than any gentleman who attended the courts.
According to the Caledonian Mercury:
Madame Masson, the celebrated tennis-player, lately arrived from Paris, has had an audience with his Royal Highness the Duke of York. This Gallic heroine of the racquet, it seems challenges to play with any person in Europe for one thousand guineas.
The Royal Duke is to have the honour of first entering the lists with her: She plays in her female attire, a la Grecque, with a short petticoat and drawers.
In March 1790, she took on the notorious Colonel Banastre Tarleton with resounding success.
She was also challenged by a Mr Bisset, who was described as:
a young man of good fortune, who was in a gown and cap at Oxford about five years ago. We know not the gentleman’s degree, but the lady is apparently an undergraduate at tennis.
On this occasion, Bisset won.
We will leave you with this image to conjure with, from the Morning Post of July 1777.
Charles Fox is become conspicuous at the tennis court. When he leaves off play, being generally in a violent perspiration, he wraps himself up in a loose fur coat, and in this garb, is conveyed to his lodgings.
Marshall, Julian. The Annals of Tennis
Public Advertiser, Tuesday, February 14, 1758;
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Monday, April 13, 1767
Derby Mercury 24 April 1767
Lloyd’s Evening Post, May 20, 1767 – May 22, 1767.
Public Advertiser, Thursday, February 25, 1768
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Monday, March 7, 1768
Caledonian Mercury 12 March 1768
Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, July 2, 1777
As we all know the ‘well to do’ women of the Georgian era were regarded as objects of beauty that simply swooned and fainted at the sight of a gallant gentleman. They wore stunningly beautiful clothes and shoes and spent hours on their hair and beauty regime. They paraded around Georgian London, Bath, Brighton etc. in their finery and partied into the early hours, but on the whole, they were regarded as fairly vacuous creatures.
STOP RIGHT THERE!
OK, so we’ve done the whole film thing, now let’s move on and dispense with that image. If we’re being totally honest that is, to a certain extent, the stereotypical image held of women from that period as, let’s face it, they had very few, if any ‘rights’ during that time. Only those in what was regarded as the lower class, worked, the remainder were kept in comfort by their spouses or parents if not married, they had no voting rights, rarely any disposable income of their own unless they had inherited money that was solely for their use and their husband could divorce them with minimal discomfort on their part.
Whilst women were maybe not able to publicly ‘have a voice’ in the world around them and how it worked it, appears from reading the newspapers of the day that actually they took more than a passing interest in the arts, science and politics. Many of the names we have become familiar with over the years did, in fact, take a more active role in politics than we had at first assumed with many of them engaged in gathering support for their chosen politician during elections using whatever methods were at their disposal.
One of the most famous election campaigns that took place was that of the 1784 Westminster election. If you thought politics and political campaigning today was vicious then take a look back to the Georgian era when things were far worse! We came across a book written October 1784 that provides a detailed account of all the events during the campaign – History of the Westminster Election from 1st April to the 17th May.
The Westminster election was of paramount importance as this was one of the key boroughs for two reasons – firstly every male homeowner could vote and secondly due to the number of voters it was equally important to both the Whig and Tory parties. There were two seats to be had and three candidates, so the battle was between Cecil Wray and Lord Hood, both Tory’s, and Charles Fox, Whig, therefore the candidates needed to use every weapon in their armoury to achieve success; none more so than Charles Fox. The battle then commenced.
The Duchess of Devonshire led the female canvassers accompanied by her sister Lady Harriet Duncannon, as she was titled at that point, later to become Lady Bessborough. The list of women involved in the election included Albinia, The Countess of Buckinghamshire, the Duchess of Portland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth née Linley, Lady Jersey, the Honourable Mrs Bouverie and the Scandalous Lady Worsley.
Others including Perdita aka Mrs Robinson, The White Crow, aka Maria Corbyn, The Bird of Paradise aka Gertrude Mahon, Lady Archer, Lady Carlisle, Mrs Crewe, Mrs Damer and the Miss Waldengraves, Lady Grosvenor and Mrs Armistead, the future Mrs Fox, so quite a little collection.
The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 6th April 1784 confirmed that the
‘Duchess of Devonshire along with Lord Derby & Lord Keppel are the firm of Mr Fox’s responsible committee.
This seems to imply that her role was a little more than just to ‘look pretty’; presumably, she was there to help to obtain votes however she could. It is reported that she canvassed every day and that she arranged for a thousand coalition medals to be struck, one of which she gave to every voter who agreed to support Fox.
Just over a week later The Bath Chronicle reported that
‘ It was observed of the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Duncannon, while they were soliciting votes in favour of Mr Fox, on Saturday last, they were the most lovely portraits that ever appeared upon a canvas’.
Like most people we had heard the story that the Duchess secured votes for Charles Fox by offering kisses in exchange for their vote, but until now we had assumed this was simply a myth that has evolved over time due to the astounding number of caricatures of such a scene, but it does seem from this letter written by a certain Duchess to Fox that there was some truth in it*.
Yesterday I sent you three votes but went through much fatigue to procure them. It cost me ten kisses for every plumper. I’m afraid we are done up – I will see you at the porter shop and we will discuss ways and means’.
NB Clare Market is a filthy place – keep up your spirits. I have a borough – you know where.’
The was much printed in the newspapers about her ‘method’ and many derogatory comments made about morals. The reality, however, was that amongst the public she was a very popular figure, not only because of her looks but also because she did actually engage with the public and by all accounts was able to discuss eloquently and put forward information about what Fox stood for.
As a campaigner for Wray we have the much quieter and more demure Duchess of Rutland, needless to say, we don’t have a plethora of caricatures for her!
‘we can assure the public, that the beautiful and accomplished Duchess of Rutland does not drive about the streets and alleys, or otherwise act in a manner unbecoming of a lady of rank and delicacy’.
Despite the mocking and caricatures of these women, predominantly of the Duchess of Devonshire, and the vile abuse they apparently received from Wray’s supporters and the press, the only person who apparently clearly objected to her participation in the election was her mother who felt that she was being used by Fox, no-one else appeared to have any objection which is quite telling; it appears that even the Queen was a supporter of the Duchess of Devonshire:
‘Her majesty has all the morning prints at breakfast every day and the Princesses are permitted to read them. Her eye caught the indecency of that one which attacked the Duchess of Devonshire. She gave it to an attendant and said let that paper never more enter the palace doors. The story got round and the same orders were given everywhere else.’
There were even comments made that women’s participation in politics could result in them wanting to vote – shock horror, how times have changed!
The Duchess of Devonshire suffered greatly at the hands of the press, but she clearly had a passion for politics and felt that the country would benefit from Fox’s appointment. We are aware from The Cavendish Family by Francis Bickley, that she wrote to her mother advising her of how miserable she was, but that she had begun her involvement and that she would see it through to the end. Given that the odds were stacked against Fox winning the election from the beginning, it could be argued that a win from Fox was highly unlikely that without the help of these women!
15th May of 1784 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser printed the following letter purporting to be from Lady Worsley to the Duchess of Devonshire, whether it was genuine or not we have no idea, but it is nevertheless interesting
Before the General Election in the year 1780, the name of Lady W____y stood fair and respectable; the gay world derives no entertainment from her follies. The forms of decency and decorum had not been neglected, and, therefore men of gallantry felt but little encouragement to make approaches. Sir Richard found not Cassio’s kisses on my lips, for neither Cassio nor Roderigo revelled there. But, Madam in the general Election of that day I acted like yourself – like a woman of life – a woman of spirit, but how unlike a politician! As you set your face against Sir Cecil Wray, I opposed my influence to that of Jervoise Clerk Jervoise. I coaxed, I canvassed; I made myself, in the language of Shakespear ‘base, common and popular’. I was charmed with the public attention I received from the men; they talked to me of irresistible graces; the pressed my fingers; they squeezed my hand and my pulse beat quicker; they touched my lips, and my blood ran riot; they pressed me in their arms and turned my brain. O, the joy! The rapture, the enchanting, thrilling, aching sensations, which beset my soul! They banished in an instant, all ideas of a cold, a formal education; they drove from my mind all decent forms which time and observation had copied there. Your Grace is apprized of the sequel. Before the canvas – Was your Grace strict? So was I. Was your Grace modest? So was I. And if after the canvas, your Grace should find a violent metamorphosis in your feelings; I am ready to confess – so did I.
I am, Madam
If you found this article interesting then you might also enjoy our book, A Georgian Heroine, about an 18th century woman who lived life on her own terms and who took far more than a passing interest in the politics of the day!