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Historical Notes

Excerpts from: The Rat: Its History & Destructive Character
By James Rodwell
Published in 1858


Now we come to the true friend of man, the remorseless destroyer of rats when he can get at them. He will protect his master night and day from thieves of every denomination. Nothing can shake his fidelity ; and all he requires, in return, is a crust and a friendly pat. With these he feels amply rewarded, and will exert every faculty with which nature has endowed him to serve and amuse his master. I mean the well-bred Bull-Terrier dog. I say the bull- terrier, because the thorough-bred terrier, though an active, sagacious animal, and very fond of hunting, is nevertheless a very careful one, and kills a rat more by cunning than courage. He likes to wait his opportunity, and catch the rat while running, so as to give him a nip without having a bite in return. This you may say is sound generalship. So far, so good. But if there happen to be thirty rats present, twenty-nine will make their escape while he is dodging and fretting over one. Still I am satisfied, that if you take dogs in general you will not find more than one in fifty that will kill a rat; and if you lump all kinds of terriers together, both rough and smooth, I am equally satisfied, that, where you will find one that will kill ten rats off-hand, you will find ten that will not kill one each without the assistance of their master. They will do all the fretting and barking, if the master will do all the thumping and kicking ; and thus kill the rat between them. But often, when the rat is dead, to the great delight of the master, the dog will give it a most unmerciful shaking, and thereby earn for himself not only a host of caresses, but a wonderful reputation...

I have, at various times, had at least half a hundred terriers of one sort or another, but there was only one out of the whole that would kill a full-grown rat single-handed ; but even he was very soon satisfied, since he mostly declined killing a second till another day ; and this I have found to be the case with the great majority of thorough-bred terriers. The truth is, they are too cunning and too soft for such hard work. But when they are bred in with the bull-dog, then you have the most active, resolute, and hardy dog that can be produced ; and all those dogs that have performed such wonderful feats in the art of rat- killing are of this breed.

The great object, among the various breeders of these dogs for rat-killing, is to have them as nearly thorough-bred bull as possible, but at the same time preserving all the outward appearance of the terrier as to size, shape, and colour. Black and tan are considered the essence of perfection. The head, neck, body, and tail must be jet black, and not the shadow of a white hair about them. The legs, feet, chest, under jaws, and glottis must be the colour of a deep, ripe chestnut, with a full round spot over each eye. The hair on every part must be very short, fine, close, and glossy; the feet long and extremely narrow, with long black claws, and a pencil mark or black streak up each toe; the head round, and firmly fixed on an arched or longish strong Roman neck, well set in the shoulders; thin, transparent ears, cut clean out at the bur, and brought to a graceful point ; eyes black, bright, prominent, and well set; jaws full and firm, but rounding smoothly ofi' to a muzzle of sufficient length, strength, and substance; small, thin lips; nose flat at the point, with inflating nostrils; fangs long, strong, and straight; chest deep and full, but not too broad ; body rather short than long; loins firm, but gracefully working off to well-rounded haunches, rather light than heavy ; and the whole must terminate with a thin, tapering tail, about the length, shape, and substance of a highly-bred young lady's, delicate little finger. His action must be bold, yet graceful as an Arab steed's. At the same time he must be agile as a kitten, and as springy and elastic as an India- rubber ball j but in his every movement, look, and expression there must be an air of whining, restless, dauntless defiance. His weight should be from ten to fourteen pounds, not in starved, but trained muscular condition. With these requisites you will have a dog that may be pronounced a perfect specimen of a black-tan bull-terrier...

Perhaps the most extraordinary animals for rat-killing that the world ever saw, were two celebrated dogs, named Tiny and Jem, of whom I have already spoken at some length. A small account of these most wonderful creatures may not be wholly uninteresting; and therefore I will wind up the subject on dogs with " Tiny and the Baby."

Tiny was a very slender, pretty black-tan bull-terrier, about the size of an ordinary cat, and weighed only five pounds and a half in trained condition. He was a most excitable little creature, and could not stand still for one instant. When his master brought him into the parlour to show me, I certainly never saw such a sight. I could scarce tell which was the head and which the tail; for he went round about, up and down, in and out, this way and that, with such rapidity that I could form no idea at all as to his size, shape, or colour, except that he looked like an India-rubber ball with glistening red streaks about it; or rather like a bundle of affrighted eels twisting and twining in and out of each other for the purpose of hiding. But as he grew older, he became more steady and dignified, and used to sit in state, on a crimson velvet cushion fringed with gold lace, and placed on the bar-parlour mahogany table, with large bright candlesticks and mould candles on each side, so that visitors might see him from the front of the bar. And this was Tiny, the then rat-killing wonder of the world, and conqueror in about five thousand life and death battles with rats.

I shall now give some of his wonderful performances.

When nine months old, and weighing only four pounds and a half, he won two matches at six rats each. When he weighed five pounds, he won twenty different matches at twelve rats each, and fifteen matches at twenty rats each. His next match was to kill fifty rats before he was taken out of the pit, which he won cleverly, never stopping till he had destroyed the whole. Tiny was then matched to destroy one hundred rats in thirty-five minutes, which task he accomplished in thirty-four minutes and fifty seconds, winning the match by ten seconds. He afterwards defeated the celebrated Somer's-town dog, Crack, eight pounds weight, in a match at twelve rats each. He beat the renowned dog, Twig, six and a half pounds weight, at thirty rats each ; and was matched to kill two hundred fair barn rats in three hours. This task he accomplished in fifty-four minutes and fifty seconds ! thereby winning the match, with two hours, five minutes, and ten seconds to spare. Tiny was matched to destroy twenty of the largest rats that could be produced, in ten minutes, and which task he completed in eight; thereby winning the match, with two minutes to spare. A fortnight afterwards he beat the celebrated bitch, Fan, eight pounds weight, in a match at fifty rats each. He was then matched to destroy fifty rats in twenty minutes, without any one being in the pit with him, and which task he accomplished in fifteen minutes and twenty-five seconds. He was matched to kill twelve of the largest rats they could find, in three minutes; which he won in two minutes and thirty seconds.

We next find him struggling by himself with fifty large rats, having been backed to destroy them in twenty-one minutes, but which he did in twenty minutes and tea seconds. A month afterwards he was backed to destroy one hundred rats in thirty-one minutes, and which he completed in thirty minutes and three seconds. Again, he was backed to kill another hundred in half an hour, and which he accomplished in twenty-eight minutes and five seconds.

Tiny was again pitted with two hundred rats. This match was a close run, having been backed to destroy them in one hour, and it took him fifty-nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds; thereby, winning the match by only two seconds. He was again backed to kill one hundred fair barn rats in half an hour. This match he won in twenty-nine minutes and ten seconds. He was backed to kill twenty of the largest rats they could find, in four minutes, which feat he accomplished in three minutes and seven seconds ; and a few days afterwards he was again pitted with twenty of the largest rats they could produce, being again backed to destroy them in four minutes, which he completed in three minutes and fifty seconds.

To say nothing of private matches among gentlemen

Tiny, when he died, had contended in upwards of fifty public matches, all of which he won. Suffice it to say, he had never suffered a defeat, and had destroyed over five thousand, or nearly a ton and a half weight of rats. He had also been presented with numerous beautiful and valuable collars, both by gentlemen of rank and public subscription. On one occasion a nobleman offered a, hundred pounds for Tiny ; or rather, he offered a hundred guineas for Tiny and a lesser dog, worth only five pounds, which left a hundred pounds for Tiny ; but which offer was promptly refused by his master. His manner of killing was different from anything of the kind I ever saw. In a heavy match, when put into the pit, he would set as steadily to work as any little old man going on a journey. The rats always get into the corners, and there form pyramids, five and six layers deep, resting on each other's backs. Sometimes, if they do not stir them about, the under ones will be suffocated. But instead of dashing in among them, as most high-bred dogs do, Tiny would stand quietly at one heap, and pick out the largest first, and then be off to the next heap ; and so on, till he had disposed of all the biggest. He never bit a rat twice, or ever shook one; but after he had dropped it, it was a pound to a penny that it never rose again. When he became tired, he would leave off, and lie down in the middle of the pit for his master to wash his mouth, and refresh him by blowing on him ; but as soon as he had gathered his wind a little, he would up and at it again ; and so on until every rat lay dead. On one occasion, all his front teeth fell out, except one fang, with which he finished the match victoriously. Several gentlemen begged a tooth each as a great favour, and had them mounted in silver and gold, to preserve as relics of this most wonderful little creature.

Tiny died from over excitement. Some men had a rat in the parlour, and though Tiny was chained in the bar, and could not see it, still, such was the state he had worked himself into, that they became alarmed ; and though they let him kill it, he died soon after. On examination it was found that he had burst his heart in three places ; at least so his master informs me. And this was the end of Tiny, the rat-killing wonder of the world. He was afterwards stuffed, and w now exhibited in a glass case. But his master tells me that for him as he is he would not take a hundred sovereigns.

Jem, the champion, was a fallow-coloured bull-terrier, about eighteen pounds weight, with a head nearly all white, and in his general appearance as plain a looking dog as you would wish to see, except that he had an unusually long, strong, square muzzle. But for steady perseverance and powers of execution he has never been equalled. His public exploits were numerous. He contended in eighty public matches: namely, 20 matches at 20 rats each, 30 matches at 50 rats each, 28 matches at 100 rats each, and 2 matches at 200 rats each; thus destroying in public 5,100 rats. The longest time he took to destroy a single hundred was eleven minutes and twenty seconds; and the shortest was five minutes and fifty seconds. This is the quickest time in which one hundred sound rats were ever fairly destroyed by a single dog. But to add to the wonder, Jem, when he had had but ten minutes' rest, was again pitted with a second hundred, and in six minutes and one second every one lay dead ; thus destroying two hundred fair barn rats in the short time of eleven minutes and fifty-one seconds, or at the rate of seventeen each minute. This I believe to be the greatest feat in rat-killing ever performed by a dog.

The celebrated rat-killer, Billy, who exhibited some thirty years since, did not perform anything near the feat of Jem ; for though Billy's time, in destroying a hundred rats, is stated to have been five minutes and a half, still, let it be borne in mind, and I assert it on the testimony of living witnesses, that numbers of the rats were dead before the dog commenced, and that the whole had been poisoned with nux-vomica before being put into the pit. This is the poison that rat-catchers give those rats that may sometimes be seen crawling about them in the streets. Of course they give them but little, or they would die too soon. It has the effect of partially or wholly paralysing them, according to the quantity they have eaten ; and this is the supposed charm that many rat-catchers have over rats to tame them.

A gentleman, a friend of mine, who witnessed Billy's feat, leant over and picked up two or three of the rats that were crawling about, and he declares they were perfectly harmless, and not able to see. Not only that, but the instant the dog touched them, they were taken by the tail and slung out to the pit, whether they were dead or not. But as it has been shrewdly remarked, had Billy stopped at home till the following day, the rats would have saved him the trouble, because they would all have been dead before morning.

In our day there are different rules and regulations for rat-matches ; for if there be one suspicious rat put into the pit, it is instantly replaced by another, so that they are all approved rats. Then, when the dog has done his work, and his master, or second, has picked him up, should there be any rats lingering, they are placed in the centre of the pit; and if they can induce them to rise and crawl the length of their bodies, the dog has to come in a second time, and finish them ; and the time thus employed is added to the rest, thus does many a furious animal lose the match. And had Billy been bound by such rules as these, I am persuaded he would have been nearer twelve minutes than five in accomplishing the task. The truth appears to be that Billy did not destroy a hundred rats at all, for numbers were dead from poison before he commenced ; and when he did commence, several were thrown out as dead that were able to crawl away. So that, taking these matters into consideration, the question is, did Billy in reality kill three-score rats in five minutes and a half, instead of five score f Not so with Tiny and Jem. They did their work to the satisfaction of every one present, both winners and losers, and never left a doubt upon the question.

That these dogs are not the properties of the humbler classes, the following will prove most clearly. Jem's owner informs me that it cost him scores and scores of pounds to bring Tiny and Jem to their state of perfection. This I can easily believe, from the fact that they knew so well the difference between the words, head and dead; for if they seized a rat by the hind quarters they were almost certain to be punished for their trouble. To avoid this, their master would sing out head, which summons was always responded to by seizing the next rat across the head, neck, and shoulders. Then, when he sang out dead, the rat was instantly dropped, and another as quickly seized; thus showing a great degree of perseverance and practice. But he tells me that Jem had destroyed over 10,000 rats. Here, then, can we calculate pretty nearly the cost of training him. In public he had killed exactly 5,100 rats, and that leaves about the same number for training. Now 5,100 rats, at prime cost, namely, three shillings per dozen, amounts to 63 15s. Od. But if an amateur purchases rats for the purpose, he has to pay the retail price, which is sixpence each, or six shillings per dozen. In that case the training of Jem would have cost 127 10s. Now, whether the rats be bought wholesale or retail, pray what man in humble circumstances can afford the expense ? No, the great majority of real rat-match dogs are the properties of persons who can not only pay the cost of training, but back them besides ; and among which persons we may rank, not only publicans, but noblemen and gentlemen, both civil and military, as well as citizens of London and first-class tradesmen in Bond-street, Oxford-street, and Regent-street; besides master butchers, bakers, milkmen, and a host of others. Still, let it not be supposed that gentlemen either train or second their dogs in such cases. They can always hire persons for such offices, while they themselves can look on as casual observers. Nor am I aware that they are less qualified to fill their various positions in life, because they feel a fancy for dogs, or an interest in the destruction of vermin. But, after all, I must confess that rat-matches seem a good deal like hunting a bagged fox, or a Cockney sportsman filling his pockets with poultry in a farm-yard, instead of traversing over moor and mountain in quest of game. And though it is true, that in a pit Jem has destroyed two hundred rats under twelve minutes, yet, if left to hunt them in their natural runs and retreats, pray would he have killed two hundred in twelve months? or would he have caught as many rats in the year as one of those little flat-headed cats I have already spoken of? Remember, rat-matching is one thing, and rat-catching another...

After having estimated rat-match dogs and rat-pits at their highest possible value, let us, in turn, bring them to their proper level. In the first place, we must bear in mind, that all the rats are first caught, and then carried some miles to the pits, for these dogs to kill. Consequently these dogs are neither more nor less than rat butchers, and the pits but mere rat slaughter-houses. Secondly, there is this fact staring us in the face, which says, would it not be far easier for us, when we have the rats secure in cages, just to drop them, and the cages too, in the first pond or brook we come to, and thus not only save these dogs the trouble, but render both them and the pits entirely useless? And lastly, if farmers in general will only do their duty in following out the plans I have laid down, not only will they enrich themselves, but increase national independence, by doing away with the necessity for the importation of so much foreign corn, while, at the same time, rat-pitting will die a natural death, from the want of rats to carry out their matches. But unless farmers bestir themselves, and do their duty in this respect, it will remain a matter for serious consideration as to the propriety of putting down rat- pitting,—a system which, from London alone, annually lets loose above 100,000 rats, with all their hungry and multiplying progeny, to feed and fatten upon the produce of the land.





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