This is one of those cases that the newspapers probably chose to report because it would have amused their readership, so I hope it amuses you.
William Harris kept a parrot (a ‘parroquet’ as the reporter from The Standard described it in February 1888) at his house at Paget Road in Plumstead. In June 1887 the parrot disappeared and he saw and heard nothing of it until New Year’s Eve. Then he received intelligence that one of his near neighbours – Herbert Mackavoy, of 41 Llanover Road – has somehow acquired a very similar bird at exactly the time his had vanished.
His suspicions aroused, Harris set off to confront his neighbour.
At first Mackavoy refused to let him see the parrot, demanding that he both describe it carefully and give some detail as what the bird could say (give parrots well-known ability as mimics). Harris described it as a young bird, not yet in full plumage when he’d lost it, and just beginning to moult. He said it knew the phrase ‘Polly wants her breakfast’ and the name ‘Toby’. When he saw the bird and recognized it as his own he demanded its return, and when Mackavoy refused he summoned him to court to settle the matter.
At Woolwich Police court several witnesses testified to seeing the parrot in the gardens between the two rival ‘owners’ houses, which were only 100 yards apart. William Mackavoy said his brother had caught the bird on the 3 June and thereafter Herbert had taught it to speak a great deal more than it had done previously.
Now it could say: ‘Oh dear doctor, Polly is sick; run for the doctor, quick, quick, quick’ and ‘the doctor’s gone away; why the Devil didn’t he stay?’
All of this caused laughter in the courtroom and the whole case was in danger of turning into a farce, something Mr Marsham had no desire to see. The magistrate could see that the bird was the property of Harris but that there was no real evidence that his neighbour had stolen it. The parrott should be returned he decided but since the Mackavoys had purchased a cage for it they should be compensated to its value, which was 10s.
The defendant’s solicitor tried to argue that a further 5s should be billed to cover the keep of the parrot during the past eight months but Mr Marsham rejected that:
‘He [Mackavoy] has had the pleasure of its company’, he declared, ‘and that outsets the keep’.
In a gracious end to the case Herbert Mackavoy handed the 10s that Harris gave him back to the court and this was paid into the poor box to be distributed to the needy, those that couldn’t afford the luxury of a speaking pet.
[from The Standard, Monday, February 27, 1888]