"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Here's a change of place for this blog:  no murder mysteries, no weird bloodstains, no ghosts. Just a slice of life in a London courtroom that I found to be a rather delightful Victorian vignette. It comes from the November 23, 1878 issue of what is rapidly becoming my favorite publication, the "Illustrated Police News."

William Needham, of Lucas-street, Commercial-road East, appeared to answer a summons taken out against him by "Professor" Moffat, trainer of performing animals, for detaining a black and tan English terrier dog. Mr. Moffat, who resides at 40 Dean-street, Commercial-road, said he was a trainer of  "professional" dogs, sheep, goats and other animals. It was his business to instruct the creatures in the particular line in which they were required to perform. About nine months ago he had a black and tan terrier dog in his possession, but by some means the dog got astray and he lost it. Last week, when he was passing through High-street, Stepney, he saw the dog in the defendant's possession, and at once went up and claimed the animal. The defendant, however, declared that the dog belonged to him, and refused to part with it. They together went with an officer to the Arbour-square station, and then, as defendant still persisted in his refusal to part with the dog, the inspector on duty advised witness to apply to the court for a summons, and this he accordingly did.

Mr. Lushington inquired how witness identified the dog. Witness said he identified it from its general appearance, also from some marks it had on its head. The dog was a great favourite, and shortly before witness lost it had been in the habit of going through the "trapeze" business with a cat. (Laughter.) His worship: What? A performing cat? I did not knew there was such an animal. Witness said that he had a performing cat, and he believed it to be the only performing cat in Europe or the world. The dog, whose "professional" name was "Soot," could do the "trapeze" very well, with "Jim," the cat. (Laughter.) The witness added that he had the cat with him, and with his worship's permission he would show him what the cat could do. He then put his hand into a capacious bag he had with him and produced the renowned "Jim," to the gaze of the audience.

Although there were a large number of persons standing about the Court, "Jim" seemed nothing daunted at his position in the witness box, but looked round with a self-satisfied and complacent air. At a word of command from his master he stretched himself out stiffly, as if dead, lying thus for some few minutes, apparently oblivious to all around. At the words "fat mutton," however, Puss at once started into active life and frisked and gamboled about like a three months' old kitten. He was then told to answer to his name when called upon, which he did in a series of loud "mews," and he followed this by standing straight up on his hind legs and kissing his master with apparently much affection. Mr. Moffat then held up a stick, on which "Jim" jumped, and hung by his hind legs, swinging about a la Leotard amidst considerable laughter.

via British Library

Mr. Moffatt then called to the dog, who, however, did not come forward to perform his part as "Jim" had done. Two witnesses then were then examined for the complainant, and they had seen the dog, and believed it to be the property of Mr. Moffatt.

In reply to the case, the defendant stated that he had had the dog four years and a half. It was given him by a female friend who was about to go abroad. He called witnesses to prove that this was the case, and one of them, a Mr. Bann, was very positive as to the identity of the animal. His worship enquired what made him so sure. Witness: Oh, some long time ago, sir, he bit me in the leg, and I have always remembered him well ever since. (Laughter.) His worship: Then the dog is no friend or yours? Witness: Oh, no, sir; an enemy. (Renewed laughter.) After some further evidence had been called, his worship stated that he did not think the complainant had made out his title to the dog, and he therefore dismissed the summons.

Alas, it will be forever lost to history whether or not this dog really was Soot, and if the Professor was ever reunited with his trapeze-performing dog.

Luckily,  he still had the renowned Jim.


  1. The cat at least seemed to like performing. If he hadn't, he would have bolted as soon as he had been let out. That's a switch from my cats having me perform for them.

    1. "That's a switch from my cats having me perform for them."

      My thought exactly.

  2. I share your love of the Illustrated Police News. If you don't already have it, Linda Stratmann's Cruel Deeds And Dreadful Calamities is a very entertaining read about the paper, and full of some of the most amazing stories and illustrations from the publication. Professor Moffat sounds remarkable. How did he manage canine/feline role reversal?

    1. No! I didn't know there was a book devoted to the IPN. I'll have to check it out, many thanks!


Comments are moderated. The author of this blog reserves the right to delete remarks from spammers, trolls, idiots, lunatics, jerks, and anyone who happens to annoy me on days when I've gotten out of bed the wrong way. Which is usually any day ending with a "y."