10th December 1907. The Brown Dog Riots.

We think we live in frenetic times, but rarely does our concern centre on a brown terrier dog and vivisection, as happened between 1903-10 in Edwardian London.

This long forgotten episode resulted in lawsuits, rioting and deep-felt animosity between doctors and medical students, and anti-vivisectionists, trades unionists, suffragists and feminist groups.

The controversy began in February 1903 when Physiologist, William Bayliss, of University College, London performed, before students, an illegal dissection on a brown, terrier dog.

There was also the question as to whether anaesthesia had been used, which The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) considered as cruel and unlawful.(1) Bayliss was then libelled by Stephen Coleridge.(2)

Three things ensued from this sorry mess: Bayliss won his libel case before Lord Chief Justice, Lord Alverstone; Professor Ernest Starling, working with Bayliss, discovered in 1905 ‘Secretin’ which was called ‘hormone’ (from the (Greek ‘I excite’), and finally the inevitable (second) Royal Commission of 1906.(3)

This Commission investigated the use of animals in experiments, took six years to publish, (in 1912) with the inevitable anodyne outcome, recommending for instance, an increase in the number of Home Office Inspectors.

However the spark to violence came after the unveiling of a memorial to the brown dog victim, on the 15th September 1906 by the NAVS, in Latchmere Recreation Park, Battersea, before the likes of playwright, George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Despard, suffragist and member of the Vegetarian Society.(4)



However this only inflamed feelings and legal action was considered, which led to various acts of violence on the statue culminating in widespread disorder Today in 1907.

After disorder at the statue site itself, students from London’s medical schools and others, moved on to Trafalgar Square where 1000 clashed with trade unionists, animal rights and suffragist supporters, along with 400 police, many of whom were mounted.

The constant need to guard the statue and the ill-feeling it engendered, caused the now Conservative Battersea Council in 1909, to remove it in February 1910

Not surprisingly this resulted in another mass demonstration in Trafalgar Square by the animal rights protesters, wearing dog-masks.


Socialist Battersea was always the ideal place for the statue, being the borough of the dog sanctuary and hospital, founded in 1860. Also it was the constituency to a socialist, militant, John Burns MP and activist, Charlotte Despard.

Ironically Battersea was also the home of the Brown Animal Sanatory Institute 1871 created by Sir John Burdon Sanderson, which used animals for scientific use.


Medical students continued to protest up until World War I, in protecting what they considered their right to use animals, and it was common for them to attack anti-vivisection shops.(5)

In 1985 a new memorial was erected only to be removed again in 1992, but finally to be restored again in a less prominent place in Battersea, where it still stands.


Animal Rights in the new millennium is still a powerful protest movement: medical students have become much quieter!

One interesting comment on those times of conflict, was seen when a doctor writing in the South West Star said that it was reported that ’10 students were arrested by 2 policemen, which he regarded as utter degeneration of junior doctors, as he remembered a time when it took 10 to arrest one’.

He concluded that ‘the Anglo Saxon race was played out’. A new take on the ‘good old days’.(Author)

(1) Swedish lady anti-vivisectionists had infiltrated the lectures.

The number of cases of vivisection had risen from 300 in 1875 to 19,084 in 1903. In 2012 it was 4 million.

(2) Coleridge was a descendant of the poet S.T.Coleridge.

The verdict from the jury came within 25 minutes on 13.11.1903.

(3) The 1st Royal Commission of July 1875,  banned dogs, horses, cats, mules and donkeys, but after objections from the General Medical Council (GMC), any restrictions were watered down. It led to the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876.

(4) The provocative plaque ended with words: ‘Men and women of England how long shall these things be’?

(5) Anti Viv Review Vol 1 July 1909-10, P ,179.

Ref: Peter Mason re quote about medical students in South Western  Star, Brown Dog Affair, Two Sevens Publisher 1997 P.51-6.

Ref: Abolitionist vxiv 1.1.1913. P.3

Ref: Tansey 1998 P.20-1.

Ref: crackedhistory.com.

Ref: animalsandsociety.org.

Ref: wikipedia.org/brown_dog_riots.

Ref: Hilda Kean, Animal Rights and Political and Social Change Since 1800. Reakston Books 1998 P.153.

Ref: The Old Brown Dog, Carol Lansbury, Uni of Wisconsin, 1985, pp.10-12/126-7.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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