Animal rights activists, feminists, and students clashing with one-another and the police…
It may sound like it happened recently, but it actually happened over a century ago, between 1903 and 1910.
At the heart of the discord lay the fate of a large brown dog whose name we do not know. Early in 1903 this unfortunate dog was dissected while alive by Dr. William Bayliss (later to be Sir William Bayliss) during a lecture to 60 medical students at the University of London in the UK.
However, two Swedish animal rights campaigners were present at Bayliss’s lecture. Their names were Lizzy Lind af Hageby and Leisa Katherine Schartau. They had begun an investigation of practices in the university’s medical school.
The women alleged that Bayliss dissected the dog while it was awake. This would have been illegal. Bayliss was legally obliged to fully anesthetize the dog. The women’s account stated:
A large dog, stretched on its back on an operation board, is carried into the lecture-room by the demonstrator and the laboratory attendant. Its legs are fixed to the board, its head is firmly held in the usual manner, and it is tightly muzzled.
There is a large incision in the side of the neck, exposing the gland. The animal exhibits all signs of intense suffering; in his struggles, he again and again lifts his body from the board, and makes powerful attempts to get free.
The women also said that medical students at the lecture had joked and laughed at the dog’s plight.
Stephen Coleridge, a lawyer who was opposed to animal experiments, read Lind af Hageby and Schartau’s account of the dissection and was horrified. He made a public accusation that Bayliss had broken the law and had tortured the dog.
With his professional reputation at stake, Bayliss sued Coleridge for defamation.
At the resulting trial medical students who had been present at the lecture testified that the dog had not struggled, but had only twitched. Three women students and a male student testified that the dog had looked unconscious to them at all times.
The jury unanimously found Coleridge guilty of defamation. He had to pay Bayliss damages of £5,000 including legal costs – a very large sum of money indeed.
The Brown Dog’s Controversial Memorial
Animal rights campaigners were outraged at the trial’s result. One of them, Anna Louisa Woodward, raised money to have a bronze statue of the dog erected in Battersea, London in 1906. The statue is shown at the top of this page. Below the statue was an inscription:
In memory of the brown terrier dog done to death in the laboratories of University College in February 1903 after having endured vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed over from one vivisector to another till death came to his release.
Medical Students Riot
When London’s medical students learned about the inscription they were furious. By the end of 1907 their fury was transformed into action.
First, 10 of them attacked the memorial with crowbars and hammers. They were arrested and quickly taken to court, where they were fined by Judge Paul Taylor. This triggered a fresh eruption of anger among medical students; over 1000 marched through London with an effigy of the judge, which they threw into the River Thames.
Students also vented their anger on feminists and suffragettes, violently disrupting their meetings. (Lizzy Lind af Hageby and Leisa Katherine Schartau were feminists as well as animal rights campaigners.)
100 students marched to the brown dog memorial intent on pulling it down and throwing it in the River Thames. People living near the statue drove the students off.
Meanwhile 1000 students marched into central London where they fought a battle with 400 police officers and were charged by police mounted on horseback.
Sporadic violence continued after this, with students disrupting meetings organized by Lizzy Lind af Hageby. Trade Unionists, socialists and women’s activists fought battles with students in the vicinity of the Brown Dog Memorial, trying to prevent its destruction.Eventually the cost of policing the statue wore down the local council, who removed it in 1910. It is believed to have been melted down a number of years later.
More recently, the statue has been replaced by one designed by Nicola Hicks. The new statue can be seen in Battersea Park, close to where the original one stood.
Medical students have not attacked the new statue!
Creative Commons licensed images
Image of The new Brown Dog Statue by Tagishsimon, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.