The Brown Dog Affair

‘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 from one Vivisector to another till Death came to his Release. Also in Memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and Women of England, how long shall these things be?’

Riots in Trafalgar Square over the statue of a dog? That was the state of affair in the early 1900s when a campaign again vivisection led to pitched battles between medical students and workers with mounted police caught in the middle.

The controversy started in 1903 when Professor William Bayliss (knighted in 1922 for his contribution to medicine) took part in an experiment on a brown terrier dog at the University of London. Anti-vivisection campaigners (two women from Sweden) who had infiltrated his lecture protested that the dog was not properly anaesthetised – an illegal act.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society took up the case and Bayliss sued for libel. He won massive damages and costs (the equivalent of more than £250,000 today), soon paid by a campaign led by the Daily News.
However, Anna Louisa Woodward, founder of the World League Against Vivisection, then suggested a memorial, which was duly erected in Battersea in 1906 in the form of a drinking fountain topped by a statue of the brown dog, with the inscription above.

Battersea was one of London’s poorest boroughs at the time, packed with slums and seething with social unrest. It was also closely tied to the anti-vivisection movement, being the home of Battersea Dogs Home and Battersea General Hospital, which even refused to employ doctors who agreed with the practise.

The memorial was placed in the Latchmere Estate, a set of new homes for workers at fair rents, with George Bernard Shaw speaking at the unveiling.

The inscription caused great controversy among the medical establishment – even The New York Times called it ‘a slander on the whole medical profession’ – while the memorial became a focal point for those fighting injustice: trades unionists, suffragettes, socialists and temperance campaigners.

Repeatedly attacked by medical students, it became necessary to have a nightly police guard for the statue. When the police asked Battersea council to help with the cost of this, Councillor John Archer replied: ‘You might as well ask a neighbourhood where burglaries are frequent to pay the expenses of detectives who scour the country to apprehend the thieves.’ Archer was a strong supporter of the anti- vivisection movement and London’s first black councillor, later being its first black mayor (see below).

In December 1907, the rioting reached a peak with an attack on the statue by 100 students, repelled by workers from the Latchmere Estate. The students then attacked Battersea General Hospital, which the workers again successfully defended.

Another group of 1,000 students was meanwhile in Trafalgar Square, their protest turning into a battle against a force of 400 police, many on horseback.

Tired of the controversy – and the expense – Battersea council demolished the statue in 1910 under cover of night, despite a petition signed by 20,000 people. More than 3,000 people demonstrated in Trafalgar Square.

A replacement was erected in Battersea Park in 1985. It was moved into the trees near the Old English Garden in 1992.

John Archer
The first black mayor of a London borough was John Archer, elected in 1913 (by 30 votes to 29). Born in England, his father was a ship steward from Barbados and his mother Irish. His wife, from Canada, was also black. He worked as a photographer in Battersea before his election.
Battersea was a poor area and Archer was an outspoken campaigner for better conditions for the working classes. He was also scathing about the fad of spiritualism – popular at the time.


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