Animal cruelty is nothing new sadly. In recent weeks there have been reports of dog fighting gangs, hare coursing, even the re-emergence of cockfights; and there countless small acts of human cruelty towards animals, most of which don’t get reported. One area which has decreased is cruelty towards working animals, notably horses. This is chiefly because we don’t employ horses as we used to.
In my forthcoming book on the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders I look in some detail at London’s meat trade and at the role of the Victorian horse slaughterer. Horses were ubiquitous in the nineteenth-century capital: the pulled hansom cabs, omnibuses, trams, carriages for the wealthy and carts for tradesmen, individuals rode horses and horses were everywhere. Horses died or grew old or sick and were slaughtered and invariably their carcasses were processed and reused as meat or glue or some other by-product.
Legislation in 1849 and 1850 allowed prosecutions of those that willfully mistreated animals and many of these prosecutions were brought by, or with the support of, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) which had been founded as early as 1824. Sometimes however, accusations of cruelty were linked to other issues, as this case from 1839 (and before the acts applied) reveals.
In February 1839 Thomas Green was brought before Mr Rawlinson at Marylebone Police court charged with ‘being drunk and cruelly using his master’s horse’. Green was one of London’s cabbies, men who never enjoyed a very good reputation amongst the magistracy, police and press in the period. Cab drivers like Green drove for others rather than owning their cabs and animals as independent businessmen. Theirs was a hard life with long hours in all weathers, and often with drunken or otherwise belligerent and difficult customers.
Hansom drivers had a reputation for being awkward, aggressive, and for drinking and all of these combined in Thomas Green to find him arraigned before a court of law. His boss was William Green (no relation) who lived in Dorset Square. William was too ill that day to attend court so his wife went along in his stead. Mrs Green told the magistrate that the prisoner had brought his horse home the previous night in a terrible state:
The poor beast was ‘covered in weals and sweat, and so weak it could hardly stand’. Moreover Green was drunk and when she berated him for this he turned on her and ‘called her the most disgusting names’.
Mrs Green called the police and had Thomas arrested.
There were plenty of offences that cabmen could be charged with, of which one was being drunk in charge of a vehicle. He might also be prosecuted for bad language, or assault. I suspect in this case Mr Rawlinson wasn’t clear exactly what he was going to do the man with but was intent on punishing in for something.
He decided to send Thomas Green to prison for a month and as he saw him as ‘a very bad offender’ he added ‘hard labour’ to the punishment: Green would spend a month on the treadmill, pointlessly walked and climbing until he literally fell down with exhaustion. Given that this is pretty much how he had treated his horse the punishment, for once, seems fitting.
[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, February 22, 1839]