The Brown Dog Riots – December 1907
Vivisection is an emotive subject and whilst you could understand in the days before scanners and X-ray machines that speculative dissections were the only way to improve human knowledge of the body’s inner workings, did the thing operated on have to be alive? In Britain the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1876 was supposed to have given greater protection to animals including limiting the number of experiments performed on any one animal to one and requiring the animal to be under anaesthetic if operated on in a public lecture theatre.
For reasons best known to himself Professor Starling of University College London decided to spice up his lecture in December 1902 by whipping out the pancreas of a brown terrier dog. Until February 1903 the dog lived in a cage and upset passers-by with its howling and whining. Then Starling opened up the dog’s abdomen to inspect the results of his first operation, clamped the wound with forceps and passed the dog to Doctor Bayliss who made a fresh and separate wound in the poor mutt’s neck for the purpose of demonstrating something to his students. The dog was put out of its misery shortly afterwards.
Amongst the students were two Swedish anti-vivisectionists who made copious notes of what they had seen. They decided to pass their notes to Stephen Coleridge, the Secretary of the National Anti-Vivisectionists at the time. He immediately recognised that there had been two breaches of the 1876 Act – the dog had been subjected to two experiments and in at least one had not been anaesthetised – but also saw that he had missed the six month window to prosecute. Instead, he decided to slander Bayliss who in turn sued him.
The case went to court and to many people’s astonishment Bayliss was awarded damages of £2,000. The verdict roused public indignation and the Daily News raised £5,375, some of which went to defray costs and some towards the erection of a statue to the brown dog at Latchmere Recreation Ground in Battersea which was unveiled with due ceremony on 15th September 1906. The statue carried the inscription “in memory of the Brown terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of university College” and went on, according to some, in the “hysterical language customary of anti-vivisectionists” and “a slander on the whole medical profession”.
The plaque enraged some of the medical students at London’s teaching hospitals and on 20th November 1907 William Lister led a party to attack the statue with a crowbar and sledgehammer. Ten were arrested by just two police officers. The fining of some of the miscreants the princely sum of £5 each led to a march of some 1,000 students down the Strand, waving miniature brown dogs on sticks and an effigy of the magistrate which they tried to set alight but had to content themselves with throwing it in the Thames.
The protests reached their climax on 10th December when a group headed for the statue but were driven back by locals. They then turned their attentions on the Anti-Vivisection hospital but were thwarted. One protester fell from a tram and the denizens of Battersea refused to come to his aid, claiming it to be the brown dog’s revenge.
Another group marched through central London to Nelson’s Column and a set to with the police, some of whom were mounted, quickly took place. The police separated the protesters into smaller groups and arrested some of the stragglers, including a Cambridge undergraduate, Alexander Bowley, whose crime was barking like a dog. Several were fined £2 by the beak or £3 if they had fought with the old Bill.
Some sporadic rioting followed thereafter but the casus belli, the statue, was removed in the early hours of 10th March 1910 and rather like Ed Milliband’s Edstone, was never seen again. A new memorial was commissioned and erected in the Battersea Park in 1985.