CATS - FRIEND OR FOOD (5) 18th & 19th CENTURY CAT EATERS
Sarah Hartwell, 2014

These accounts are taken from newspaper archives and illustrate several attitudes towards eating animals normally considered to be pets. They range from cases of desperate poverty to wagers and to “gluttons” who may well have had mental and/or physical disorders.

FOOD FOR THE URBAN POOR

Shrewsbury Chronicle - Saturday, March 1st, 1800

LONDON. - The following very extraordinary circumstance transpired on Saturday evening last, in Castle-lane, Castle-street, Borough - A lamplighter, in the execution of his duty, was alarmed by the cries and lamentations of children in a house, the owner of which had long been suspected of being a dog-stealer; and on giving information, the door was broke open, and a scene of the most uncommon wretchedness presented itself. - Three of four poor emaciated and naked children were huddled together in a corner, on a heap of rags and straw, and around them were hung the carcases and limbs of dogs and cats, which they declared, on examination, was the only food which they had subsisted on for some time past. Several dog-collars were said to have been found, which justified the above suspicion. The wretched delinquent has in consequence absconded. A hundred pounds have been offered for his apprehension.

News of the World December 21st, 1851

HORRID CRUELTY TO CATS. – A dissipated old dame, named Mary Barry, was charged, at Bow-street, with cruelty to animals under peculiar circumstances.

- William M’Mahon, an intelligent boy, stated that he was passing through Parker-street, Drury-lane, when he saw the prisoner skinning a live cat; and observing that she had laid two other with their throats cut on a window ledge, upon which she was about to perform a similar operation, he went in search of a constable. He had also seen her on Sunday morning last, at an early hour, in Brewer-street, with a bag containing a dozen cats, which she had picked up during the night, each of which was smoking hot, and skinned, except the heads and legs. When he accused her with acting in such a cruel manner to the cats, she threw them into a watering place at hand, having secured the skins, and said he was mistaken, after which she took them up, and told him they were rabbits, and that she could do what she pleased with them.

- Mr Henry: Are you sure that the bag contained nothing but cats when you saw her on Sunday morning?

- Witness: There could be no mistake about it, as I saw the leg of a full-grown tabby sticking out through a hole in the bottom of the bag.

- Mr Henry: Have you heard any of the inhabitants complain of having recently lost their cats?

- Witness: Yes; Mrs Daly told me she had lost a splendid black Tom, and another woman said she feared something wrong had happened to her tortoiseshell tabby, as it had not been at home for several nights.

- Samuel Smith, another boy, said that he had to go through Parker-street every morning to harness his donkey, and sow the prisoner several times engaged in the manner described by the other witness. The street was strewed every morning with the carcases of dead cats, to such an extent that persons passing were made sick at the sight, and they remained there until the street orderly came round and removed them.

- Constable 102 F proved that he conveyed the prisoner back to the place mentioned by the boys, and pointing to the dead bodies lying about, inquired if these were her work; she replied she had only examined them to ascertain if they were rabbits. Having learned that she had lodged at 44 in the same street, he went there and found that the landlady was compelled to turn her out of the house for cooking cats. He understood that hot cat skins brought double the amount she could get for rabbit skins, which were only worth about a penny each.

- The prisoner, being called on for her defence, said that Mrs Daly was too ignorant to know the difference between a rabbit and a cat, if it was properly skinned; and if the latter was given to her to cook, she would find it excellent food. If any person said that she got her living by skinning cats alive, it was not true, as she worked with her needle, and had succeeded in educating her son, who was now officiating as a Roman Catholic priest, on which account she was constantly presented by the women, to such an extent that she was occasionally compelled to walk about the streets at late hours. Had the boys behaved in a proper manner towards her, she would have given some of the animals fresh to them, after the skin had been removed, and they would find it excellent food, as she often did.

- Mr Henry: I can hardly conceive a more barbarous act, which is made worse, if possible, by being told that such animals are excellent food.

- Prisoner: barbarous, your honour? Why sir, I can assure you one o’ them, if properly managed, would serve you with an excellent dinner.

- Mr Henry: As the law has happily made provision for the punishment of such barbarous crimes, I shall consider it my duty to inflict the full penalty by sending you to hard labour in the House of Correction for three calendar months.

A PICTORIAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE WORLD - S.G. Goodrich, 1840

Excerpt from "China": “The principal article of food is rice, which is eaten with almost every sort of victuals, but in the north corn is more used. The Manchoos eat horse-flesh, and the lower classes, who are miserably poor, and often suffer from famine, do not refuse the most loathsome vermin…. Edible bird’s nests, which consist of some sort of gelatinous matter, tripang or sea slug, shark fins, and fish maws are among the luxuries of the Chinese table; opium, although forbidden by law, is much used. Dogs, cats, and rats are eagerly sought after by the poorer classes, and puppies are constantly hawked about the streets, to be eaten"

CAT-COON.— Brenham Weekly Banner, August 19th, 1880

The other day one of our well known saloon keepers had a fine fat coon cooked in the highest style of the art cuisine, and invited some three or four gentlemen in to partake of a coon lunch — which by the way is considered quite a delicacy. The coon was served in style and partaken of with evident relish by the gentlemen; after they had eaten heartily and praised the dish, the saloon keeper remarked that the coon which they had been eating was a fine large healthy Tom cat which he had had up fattening for several weeks. This was all that three of the coon-cat eaters wanted to know; they at once began feeling unwell and in a few seconds remembered that they wanted to see a man around the corner. One of the gentlemen, however, knew the flavor of coon and finished his lunch. The others make wry faces at mention of either coon or cat meat.

THE "SCOTCH HARE" CASE. PRISONER BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES. - Yorkshire Gazette, 18th February 1885

At the Gateshead County Police Court yesterday, before Mr R. Forster and Mr U. A. Ritson, Ann Little (54), married woman, Felling, was placed in the dock, charged on remand with having stolen a game cock, value 10s, the property of James McKie. There were also two charges against her of stealing cats. Mr said he had been instructed on behalf of the defendant. He had a lot of evidence going to show that she could hardly—at times at all events —be stated to be responsible for her actions. [She was an alcoholic]

The second case was then proceeded with, in which she was charged with having stolen a cat, value 20s, the property of Richard Dobson, provision merchant, High Felling. Prosecutor deposed that on the 5th inst. he saw his cat in the shop. It was then alive, and he did not see it again until the 12th inst., when he saw it dead at the Felling Police-station. The cat now produced was his property, and was worth 20s. when alive. Robert Wheatley, errand boy with the last witness, also identified the cat. Sergeant Tillar deposed that from information received he arrested the prisoner on Monday, the 9th inst., and charged her with stealing a game cock. On searching the premises he found in the cellar kitchen a table with blood and cat fur upon it, and also a leg and other portions of cats on the floor. In the water-closet he found several cats' paws, and the bladders of two cats. He searched the hen house, and found the yellow cat now produced. It was covered over with sand, and partially disembowelled. He found the skins of nineteen cats in a garden near the prisoner's house.

Saturday, the 14th inst., he charged the prisoner with stealing a cat, the property of Mr Dobson, on the 5th of February. She replied, "Yes, I did kill the yellow cat you found in the hen-cree. I was going to skin and sell him the same way I did with the others. I have sold several, and we have eaten some ourselves. They are very like a rabbit when cooked. I used to put down some bait in the cellar kitchen at night, and catch them there by locking the door. I killed them by putting a wet towel over their head, and then pressing them between my knees. They died in a minute or so. The skins you found in the garden I put there and others I put in the midden."—Cross-examined : The family lived upstairs and they told witness that they were seldom in the cellar kitchen. Dix said that one thing stranger than another could have been proved to show the prisoner's extraordinary state of mind it was the freak for which she was prosecuted. Her diseased state mind showed itself this extraordinary manner, and he hoped the Bench would deal with her summarily, as in the last case, He believed the family were very anxious to do something in a private way for her future custody. The Bench sentenced her to three months' imprisonment with hard labour.

DOGS AND CATS AS FOOD. - The New York Times, April 7, 1887

Not a great while ago a west side family were discovered in a destitute condition, whose chief subsistence had been the cats and dogs the man of the house could succeed in capturing for slaughter. The family finally went to the almshouse. Probably cats and dogs are oftener eaten by the poor in this country than the public are aware.

DOGS, CATS, RATS, ALL GOOD TO EAT. - The New York Times, May 2, 1886 (From Blackwood's Magazine)

During the last days of the siege of Paris I tried the dainties which were then in vogue; but they were so far disguised by the exercise of culinary skill that they all tasted very good. It requires a little practice to recognise the difference between dog, cat and rat, if they are all prepared with equal care and delicacy.

CATS EATEN IN KANSAS CITY.
Italian Produce Dealer Held for Selling Felines for Rabbits.
The New York Times, December 15, 1898

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Dec. 14. – Dominick Shamber, an Italian produce dealer, was arrested to-day for selling cats for rabbits. A woman patron informed Health Officer Shirk that she had reason to believe the Italian had duped her when he sold her what purported to be a cotton-tail. She produced the animal, which she had purchased as a rabbit, and it proved to be an old-fashioned Tom cat. The head, tail, and feet had been removed, but Shirk killed a cat and by comparison with Mrs. Johnson’s purchase, decided that the latter belonged to the feline tribe.

Shamber was promptly arrested and will be tried to-morrow. As Shamber has been engaged in selling supposed rabbits for several months, there is no telling how many tabbies and Tommies have been devoured by the Italian customers under the supposition that they were eating cotton-tails.

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY WAGERS

The World, March 13th, 1788

Amongst the curious Betts of the day, may be reckoned the following: The Duke of Bedford has betted 1000 guineas with Lord Barrymore, that he does not – eat a live Cat! It is said his Lordship grounds his chances upon having already made the experiment upon a Kitten. The Cat is to be fed as Lord Barrymore may chose.

Several letters and articles on “Cat Eating” appeared in The World following this announcement. under the headline ‘Cat Eating’. One correspondent had, in 1777, seen a Yorkshire shepherd eat a live black tom cat to win a bet of 2 Guineas. Richard Barry, 7th Earl of Barrymore, wrote to the editor of The World to say their report was mistaken and he had only bet that he could find “a man who would eat a Cat.”

Sporting Magazine, January 1790: The Cat-Eater of Windsor

A wager “that a live cat was to be eaten at a public house in Windsor” was made in January 1790. A correspondents of the Sporting Magazine was a witness to the event. A nine-pound cat had been procured and “the Man-monster… made a formidable attack on the head of his antagonist and, with repeated bites, soon deprived it of existence.” The man then devoured his prey without even stripping off the skin, leaving only the bones “as memorials of [..] the degradation of human nature.”

Berrow’s Worcester Journal: Tuesday, Feb 2nd 1790

LONDON. - The fellow who lately ate a Cat at Windsor, has given another proof of the brutality of his disposition - an instance too ferocious and sanguinary, almost to admit of public representation. He was at a public-house, at Old Windsor, one day in the course of last week, and, without apparent cause, walked out of the house, and with a bill-hook severed his hand from his arm. - His brutal courage was strongly marked in this transaction; for the inhuman monster made three strokes with the instrument before he could effect his purpose, and at last actually made a complete amputation. He assigns no other reason for this terrible self-attack, than his total disinclination to work, and that this step will compel the overseers of his parish to provide for him during the remainder of his life.

The Windsor case was also reported by the Public Advertiser of 3 February 1790 and no doubt by several other newspapers up and down the country. For some years afterwards there were lurid newspaper stories, some more dubious than others, about men eating live cats.

DUBIOUS ENTERTAINMENT

Some street entertainers devoured live animals or unusual items as a way of earning money. Some of these worked in carnival sideshows where they were considered the lowest of the low. They were unskilled performers who acts were shocking or repulsive (and therefore morbidly fascinating). Known as geeks and often adopting a “wild man” appearance, their acts might involve eating animals or just wallowing with animals. One type of geek was the glomming geek (or glom) whose performance entailed swallowing animals whole, biting their heads off or eating disgusting things. Geeks, especially the glomming geeks, tended to be mentally handicapped individuals or addicts desperate for a quick buck.

Eclin, 1740s/1750s

In the 1740s and 1750s, Thomas Eclin, described as an Irish imbecile (mentally retarded and a heavy drinker) was described by newspapers as “remarkable for his Vivacity and Drollery in the low Way.” Eclin’s street entertainment included eating living dogs.

Henry Crowe, 1820

In his book “Zoophilos,” animal-loving philanthropist Henry Crowe argued that anyone who could eat a live cat for the amusement of others would feel “no qualms or compunction at adding even cannibalism to murder.”

GLUTTONS AND POLYPHAGIA

Polyphagia is the medical term for excessive hunger and abnormally large intake of solids by mouth. It can be a symptom of diabetes or Kleine-Levin Syndrome (a sleep disorder), and with the genetic disorders Bardet Biedl Syndrome and Prader-Willi Syndrome, which cause compulsive hunger. The autoimmune syndrome Graves Disease also causes excessive food intake in combination with an inability to gain weight.

Tarrare, 1780s

A Frenchman, known only as Tarrare (whose name survives in the expression “Ta-ra-ra boom-dee-ay!” referring to his flatulence) had a seemingly insatiable appetite. After being turned out by his parents because of it, he became an itinerant who entertained people by swallowing, among other things, live animals. In 1788, he performed on the streets of Paris, and later joined the army where his constant desperate hunger caught the attention of the military surgeons. When offered a live cat, he tore open its abdomen with his teeth, drank its blood and then devoured the rest of it. He later vomited the fur and the skin. Puppies and other animals were similarly consumed. Tarrare was pale, thin, of medium height and apathetic. He had uncommonly soft, fair hair, an enormously wide mouth and bad teeth. He also sweated profusely and stank, moreso after an act of gluttony. It was said that “dogs and cats fled in terror at his aspect.” His gluttony proved to be incurable and apparently extended to acts of cannibalism. He died a few years later of TB and enteritis and was found to have purulent intestines, an enlarge liver and an enormous stomach that filled much of the abdominal cavity. His gullet was abnormally wide, probably from his habit of swallowing things whole.

Several of his reported symptoms correspond to Graves Disease, a disorder that includes hyperthyroidism. Thin, fine hair; moist skin; increased sweating; muscle weakness (apathy?); liver disease and inability to gain weight despite excessive eating are all associated with the disease.

Charles Domery, 1799

Charles Domery, a French soldier, was captured by the Royal Navy in February 1799 on the French ship Hoche, which was off the coast of Ireland. Domery’s guards were amazed by his apparently insatiable appetite. While at an army camp outside Paris, Domery consumed 174 cats, as well as dogs and rats, in the course of a year and preferred his meat raw. Despite his gluttony, Domery was apparently of normal build and stature and although completely illiterate, the prison doctors judged him to be at least of average intelligence.

The fact that Domery would eat several pounds of grass a day if meat and bread were scarce, and that he would eat tallow candles and relish even the most disgusting pieces of meat indicates some sort of metabolic disorder.

1. What the West Sees, What the West Ignores
2. Racial Slurs and Stereotypes
3. Where and Why Cats are Eaten
4. Recent Cases

MESSYBEAST : GENERAL INTEREST