In January 1876 George Leeds paid Thomas Stevens £10 for a white fox terrier. He named the dog ‘Norman’ and asked no questions about its pedigree, or how Stevens had come by it.
In fact Stevens had acquired the dog by chance, or rather the dog had acquired him. Stevens had been in the Swakeley Hotel, a pub on Goldhawk Road at Shepherd’s Bush, when he noticed a dog running around the place. It followed him home and he had kept it for several weeks, renaming it ‘Tiger’, before selling it to Mr Leeds. In the meantime he said he notified the police that he had found a missing dog, but nothing had come of it.
However, the dog was not Stevens’ to sell, it already had an owner, a Mr Alfred Larmuth. Alfred Larmuth had been looking for his pet since he had lost it, in October 1875. Larmuth and the dog, who he called ‘Prince’, had been in the Swakeley when the dog had disappeared. He had called out for it but couldn’t find it.
Presumably his search was eventually successful because, perhaps with the help of the police, he had tracked down his dog (or seen it with Leeds in the street) and he took out a summons to bring it (and George Leeds) to court.
The magistrate in the Hammersmith Police Court now had a complicated issue of ownership to adjudicate on. George Leeds was summoned for ‘detaining’ Larmuth’s dog. Thomas Stevens appeared to give evidence, but was not charged with theft. Just whom did the dog belong to, and was it the same dog anyway?
While the magistrate decided ‘Prince’, ‘Tiger’, or ‘Norman’, sat quietly in court waiting to find out who would be taking him home. It was quickly decided that regardless of the different names it had bene given, it was the same terrier Mt Larmuth had lost back in October.
In the end the magistrate, Mr Ingham, determined that no crime had been committed but Alfred Larmuth was not the legal owner. If he had bought ‘Prince’ in Leadenhall Market he would have ‘had an indefeasible right to it’, but instead he had bought it privately, which conferred no legal protection.
Nor was Stevens the owner; after all he had just found ‘Tiger’ in a pub. Which left Leeds in possession. The magistrate did say that the complainant (Larmuth) had a right to ask Stevens for the £10 (since the dog was not his, but Larmuth’s, to sell).
Confused? Me too!
All that is clear here is that the dog that was once Prince, then Tiger was to spend (hopefully) its remaining days as Norman, and it went home with George Leeds, who had the summons against him dismissed.
[from The Morning Post, Thursday, June 01, 1876]