‘Nothing but skin and bone’; animal cruelty on Putney Fields

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The British are, as everyone knows, a nation of animal lovers. The RSPCA was formed in 1824, fully 60 years before an equivalent society was founded to protect children. Of course we are also a nation of meat eaters, we just don’t like see animals abused before they become the centre piece of our Sunday roast or that morning breakfast bacon sandwich.

There were clear guidelines and rules to protect animals and humans in the Victorian meat industry. Inspectors regularly prosecuted butchers and market traders at the Police Courts and in 1858 the RSPCA helped the police bring a prosecution against an amateur  pig farmer from Putney.

William Watts was described as a tailor when he appeared before the police court magistrate at Wandsworth. He was accused of cruelty to animals; in this case several pigs that he kept on Putney Fields.

Several locals had complained to the police about the state of the animals and a policeman, Sergeant Backing (V Division) paid a visit to the piggery. He found the animals there in a dreadful state:

‘There were 2 pigs in a most miserable condition’ he reported. The animals were housed in 4 compartments and in these there ‘was a large quantity of stagnant water and a quantity of dung in each compartment, but there was no straw on which the pigs could lie’.

Worse still, the ‘animals appeared almost starved, and two of them stood up in a corner perfectly paralysed with cold and hunger’.

Watts promised to feed them better in future and the sergeant went away. When he visited again a few days later things seemed to have improved slightly but it was a false dawn. On a subsequent inspection Sergeant Backing found that the animals had been attacking each other. Watts claimed they had been fighting as pigs do, but the policeman was sure that they had been trying to eat each other, so starved were they.

He declared that he’d never seen pigs in such a poor condition; they were ‘perfect skeletons’ he said and averaged only 3 stone in weight even though they were at least 17 months old. Either he or the public alerted the RSPCA who sent an inspector named Knight to take a look.

Knight arrived too find one of the sows dead in the stye.

‘It was quite a skeleton’, he reported, ‘the carcase being nothing but skin and bone’. As for the other animals:

They were ‘large pigs, and their hind quarters were drawn quite to a point, and nothing remained but their frames’.

It was awful and Watts was fully convicted of animal cruelty at Wandsworth Police Court. He said he’d fallen ill himself and with no one to look after the pigs they’d been left to starve. He claimed to have looked after them well before that but Mr Dayman was not interested in his excuses. He wasn’t sure which was worse, the man’s ‘folly or his cruelty in withholding the food’. The animals would hardly be worth anything now in the state they were in, he’d get no meat from them even if they were now improving as Watts had argued.

He fined the tailor 50s and 2s costs which the man could not pay. Thus, for failing to feed his animals and allowing them to live in squalor William Watts was sent to prison for a month. One wonders who fed the pigs in the meantime.

[from The Standard, Monday, March 01, 1858]

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