The Brown Dog Riots: A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective


“Brown Dog – Battersea Park” by Tagishsimon  and licensed under GFDL.


As distasteful as the thought may be, Victorian and Edwardian scientists were often vivisectionists, which meant they were dissecting live animals – often without any pain relief. (Excuse me while I shudder.) There were some great strides in our medical knowledge was made in this period, but at the same time the cruelty was horrendous. There was a movement to reduce the cruelty subjected to each individual animal.

The little brown dog at the centre of this event was a terrier vivisected in the University of London medical lectures, and witness by two feminists who were also supporters of animal rights. These two Swedish women, Lizzy Lind of Hageby and Leisa Schartau, are often painted as the villains of the piece, with the use of the words ‘infiltrated’ and other words that infer the women were the one in the wrong. The women attended over 100 lectures and saw 50 vivisections. The procedure in question was condemned as unlawful by the National Anti-Vivisection Society, because the dog was subjected to more than one experiment – so the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act had been breached. It was also alleged that the dog had not been correctly anaesthetised.

The scientist, William Bayliss. Just to be clear, not evil but focussed on his medical research; his research did greatly benefit humankind.

There was a huge hoo-ha over this. But it wasn’t this little brown dog that caused the Brown Dog Riots. It was the statue in remembrance of the little born dog put up in Battersea. William Bayliss, one of the scientists and one of the discoverers of hormones and peptides thanks to his research, sued  Stephen Coleridge for libel, and won the case. It was a popular decision. (As an aside, Stephen Coleridge went on to co-founder of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He sounds like a rather nice gentleman.)

Stephen Coleridge: the Original Nice Guy.

Frances Power Cobbe fell into a depression because of the lack support by the public had for the animals vivisected. She kept on agitating against vivisection. Frances Power Cobbe was a powerful thinker and a woman confident of her own opinion, and a writer, social reformer, anti-vivisection activist, and leading women’s suffrage campaigner. She hated inequality and cruelty, and fought against it in all its forms. She founded a number of animal advocacy groups and was a member of the executive council of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage.


Philanthropist and  writer Frances Power Cobbe, circa 1860. Credit: Hulton|Archive

Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog as a memorial, unveiled in Battersea in 1906. Medical students and student veterinarians frequently vandalised the memorial, and so created the need for a 24-hour police guard against the so-called ‘anti-doggers’.

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.

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?

— Inscription on the Brown Dog memorial[

The students didn’t limit their attacks to the memorial. They invaded suffragette meetings, even though they knew not every suffragette was an anti-vivisectionist, and the local suffragettes had not aligned themselves with the issue. These actions by the students may have been inspired by the high profile of Francis Power Cobbe, who was an ardent anti-vivisectionist and a leading women’s suffrage campaigner, during the libel case.

The rioting reached its height on Tuesday, the 10th of December, 1910, when 100 medical students tried to pull the memorial down. The previous protests had been spontaneous, but this one was organized to coincide with the annual Oxford-Cambridge rugby match at Queen’s Club, West Kensington. One group of protesters headed for Battersea to uproot the statue and throw it in the Thames, and were prevented entrance via the Latchmere Estate by workers. Then the students proceeded down Battersea Park Road instead, intending to attack Battersea General Hospital, but were again forced back by workers and suffragettes. A second group of 1000 students rioted around Nelson’s Column in Central London.

As the riots continued, the statue became a public liability and the government had it removed and destroyed. (Seventy years later, it was replaced by Animal Rights Activists.) However, the little dog had done its work and had united all the disenfranchised against the ‘man’, as represented by the medical students and the scientists.

The riots saw socialists, trade unionists, Marxists, liberals, and suffragettes descend on Battersea to fight the medical students, even though the suffragettes, identified with the bourgeoisie, were not a group toward whom organized male workers felt any warmth; working-class men did not want to encourage the cheaper labour of women. But the “Brown Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College” by the male scientific establishment united them all.

What I find interesting about the affair is how the suffragettes weren’t actually involved in the original issue, and were dragged into it by the rebellious students. I love how this united the working men with the suffragettes, who had been antagonists in the past. The Brown Dog Riots had turned out to be a power for long-term good, by creating these new relationships.



Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, writing

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