‘Drown the bugger!’ A policeman is pitched into the canal

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At half past one on the morning of Saturday 3 November 1849 police constable Henry Hewitt (164N) was on his beat in Islington, proceeding along Thornhill Road and adjacent to the towpath of the Regent’s Park Canal.

He noticed two men, one carrying a large sack over his shoulder and he became suspicious that they were up to no good. PC Hewitt moved over and stopped them, asking to see what they had in the bag. Even by the dim light of his lantern he could see that the bag was stained with fresh blood.

The blood was from the remains of four dead geese and when the men failed to provide a satisfactory answer for why they had four dead birds he attempted to arrest them. The men were desperate however, knowing they’d been caught, and decided that attack was the best form of defense. They pushed him and tripped him up, turned tail and ran, dropping the sack in to the process.

PC Hewitt recovered himself and set off in pursuit, quickly catching one of the men. His captive shouted for help, calling on his accomplice to ‘drown the b_____r!’ At first the other man did help his mate, but as a battle raged between the policeman and his captive the other took the opportunity to make his escape.

Now Hewitt was left fighting with one thief and the pair tumbled into the canal. The policeman might have drowned in the water but he had a firm grip on his assailant’s neckerchief and in the end the noise of their fight and the officer’s cries for help drew assistance to the towpath and both men were dragged out of the water.

The next morning the prisoner was set in the dock at Clerkenwell Police court and identified as James Knight, alias ‘Macclesfield Bill’, and charged with theft and attempted murder. The court was packed and listened with horror as the policeman described his narrow brush with death.

The magistrate, Mr Tyrwhitt, wanted to know if the owner of the geese had ben traced. They had, the constable told him: two belonged to a Mr Millard of Salisbury Street, Agar Town, while the other pair were the property of a gentleman named Caxton.  In both cases the thieves had broken into buildings to steal the animals. This was a very serious crime – robbery and breaking and entering, plus attempted murder and violence. The justice had no hesitation in sending Knight to trial and Inspector Thatcher promised that ‘every exertion would be made to discover the prisoner’s confederate’.

Seemingly they never did find the other man nor was a jury convinced that Knight was guilty of attempted murder. At his trial on 26 November James (or William) Knight was found guilty of common assault, which usually attacted a small fine or short period of imprisonment. Since he’d been remanded in custody for the best part of a week he was released.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, November 05, 1849]

Animal cruelty exposed in the early years of the RSPCA

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Richard Martin, founder of the RSPCA

It is often stated that we are a nation of animal lovers, something I must say that I wonder about given how little we seem to care about the provence of our meat. Almost half of us owns a pet and that means there are something like 58,000,000 of them in the UK. A quarter of these are dogs, closely followed by cats (17%) and then it is fish, rabbits, and birds.

Another way in which we might measure our love for animals is in the existence, since 1824, of the RSPCA which answers the phone every 30 seconds to someone with an animal cruelty or health issue to report. The oldest animal welfare organisation in the world, the RSPCA predate the NSPCC (which campaigns to protect children) by 60 years.

The RSPCA covers pets and farm animals and so the term ‘animal welfare’ includes the way animals are kept, transported and slaughtered for human consumption. They have been campaigning for better conditions for livestock from their very inception in 1824, and the very first success in the prevention of cruelty actually came two years before then, in 1822. A law, brought and championed by Richard Martin the founder of the SPCA, was passed to prevent the improper treatment of cattle. This was ‘extended in 1835 to include dogs and other domestic animals’.*

At the end of February 1869 an Essex farmer and his son were summoned to the Marlborough Police Court to face a charge brought by the RSPCA (now Royal thanks to Queen Victoria’s patronage).

James and William Hall were accused of ‘cruelly ill-treating  151 ducks, seven geese, and five fowls’ which had been packed in crates and sent over from Ireland. The 163 animals were squeezed into 5 baskets measuring just 9 inches deep, by 5 tall and 2 and a half feet long.

They were spotted when the they arrived at Regent Circus railway office by officers from the RSPCA who investigated . They discovered that the animals had been travelling for 48 hours with food or water and were so closely packed that ‘some were on the others backs, and a great many were found to be dead’.

The justice didn’t act immediately but told the defendants and the prosecutors from the society that he would consider the evidence before ruling.

Hopefully he did act but I doubt whether the Halls would have received anything other than hefty fine. It may well have deterred them of course, but cutting costs when it comes to animal welfare has a very long history and continues to be a blight on our own society.

[from The Standard, Monday, March 01, 1869]

*https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/whoweare/history (accessed 27/2/17)