In January of 1865, a young charwoman appeared at the Lambeth Police Court in London seeking assistance from the magistrate after having been attacked by her employer’s favorite dog. A January 7 edition of the Kentish Independent reports that her employer’s name was Miss Mary Baker, “a maiden lady of over 70 years of age.” Two years prior, Miss Baker had inherited a substantial fortune, the bulk of which she now expended on “feeding and keeping” a large pack of dogs inside of her house. As the article relates:
“The [charwoman] said that Miss Baker had been in the habit of spending 10s. a day in the purchase of beef and mutton of the best description to feed her dogs with, and that, in addition, she gave them French rolls, the best fresh butter, and the purest milk she could find in the neighbourhood; and her custom was to eat, drink, and sleep amongst the animals herself.”
Among all of her dogs, Miss Baker had a particular favorite. He was a small, reportedly vicious bulldog that she called “Little Bobby” or her “little angel.” A January 6 article in the Illustrated Berwick Journal states that, according to the charwoman, Miss Baker was in the habit of chaining Little Bobby to the foot of her bed and, each night, allowing him to sleep in the bed with her.
On the Saturday morning of the attack, Miss Baker suspected that Little Bobby was ill. She sent her charwoman to the market to procure a “tender chicken” for his dinner, telling her “not to mind the price.” When the young charwoman returned with the chicken, Miss Baker was in her bedroom with Little Bobby. As the Kentish Independent reports:
“Miss Baker unlocked the door of her chamber to admit her, and for some reason or other locked the door again, and ‘Little Bobby’ observing the intruder within his reach, rushed at her and made a most ferocious attack upon her.”
Unfortunately for the charwoman, she was wearing a wire cage crinoline. Invented in 1856, wire cage crinolines were constructed of hooped wires and fabric tape that stood out from the body, supporting skirts that were (by the early 1860s) sometimes as much as 10 to 15 feet in circumference. Beneath these skirts, there was plenty of room for a small dog to run amok and, according to the Illustrated Berwick Journal, that is just what Little Bobby did.
“The animal got under her crinoline and bit and tore her legs and one of her thighs in a frightful manner, so much so that she was obliged to go to the hospital and have the wounds cauterized and dressed, and she was then suffering severely from the injuries she received.”
The magistrate questioned the charwoman about Miss Baker’s behavior during the attack, asking specifically:
“Did your mistress not assist you in getting away from the dog or getting the animal away from you?”
The charwoman replied:
“No, Sir; all she did was to cry out ‘Do not injure my dear little Bobby, my dear little angel;’ and the door being locked I could not get away. I screamed out as loud as I could, and a crowd having collected about the house, the room door was forced and I was released.”
“…that it was much to be regretted that the friends of Miss Baker did not interfere and cure her of her extravagant and eccentric fancies and indulgence of the canine species.”
“[Pincher] was fairly caught in the crinoline. His fore paws and head had got through one of the small divisions which compose those frameworks of the outer attire of the lady, and, as he could neither proceed nor retire from the net, there he was.”
“She had to walk a considerable distance, till she came to a narrow wynd, where she entered off the street, the dog walking all the distance on its hind legs, underneath her clothes. Here getting rid of her encumbrance, she went on her way nothing daunted.”
There are other examples of dogs caught in wire cage crinolines, but rather than regale you with those, I leave you instead with the following dog and crinoline poem from the November 17, 1857 issue of the Morning Advertiser.
CRINOLINE IN RHYME.
Thus concludes another of my features on Animals in Literature and History. If you are interested in adopting a dog or if you would like to donate your time or money to a rescue organization, I urge you to contact your local animal rescue foundation or city animal shelter.
This post originally appeared on mimimatthews.com and has been reprinted with permission.
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Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. Her articles on nineteenth-century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture. When not writing historical non-fiction, Mimi authors exquisitely proper historical romance novels. Her latest Victorian romance The Matrimonial Advertisement can be ordered at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To learn more, please visit www.MimiMatthews.com.