Sarah Hartwell, 2014

In the times before antibiotics and before knowledge of microbial infection was well-known, wounds were easily infected and death from blood poisoning wasn't uncommon. Scratches and bites from animals, whose mouths and claws naturally carry bacteria, could lead to death. In the first of these reports, the cat is described as diseased. In the second case, it is a scratch that has become infected. And in the third of the 19th century reports, death is attributed to hydrophobia 9rabies).

News of the World; July 13th, 1851: Death From the Bite of a Cat.

An aged and respectable female, of the name of Allan, residing at the West Port, died in consequence of the bite of a cat, received ten days previous. The animal, which belonged to a neighbour, had been in the habit of going into her house and stealing milk and other article. On Sunday fortnight, she had noticed it in the house, and was putting it out, when it turned round and bit her arm. Inflammation appeared next day, and continued to spread till it reached the shoulder. Various remedies were tried, but without success, and she died on the second Wednesday after she had been bitten. The cat, we understand, was in a very diseased condition, which probably accounts for the fatal consequence that ensued.

News of the World, Sunday, November 30th, 1851. CONSEQUENCES OF CAT WORRYING.

- A correspondent of a Liverpool paper states that a number of brutes are in the habit of stealing cats in that town, and worrying them with dogs. In July last, some of these miscreants turned a cat loose in a room in the neighbourhood of Nursery-street, Kirkdale. The cat after having been dreadfully mutilated, contrived to escape, when, in its agony, it bit a goat and several children. The goat shortly afterwards exhibited signs of hydrophobia, and was destroyed. Last week, one of the children was seized with similar symptoms, and died in excruciating agony.

Manchester Guardian; January 1st, 1856: Death from the Scratch of a Cat.

A case awaits a coroner's inquest at the king's College Hospital, London, where a poor woman has died from teh effects of injuries produced by the scratch of a cat. The name of the deceased is Anne Smith, 30 years of age, the wife of a tailor, residing at 12, White Horse Chambers, Fetter Lane, and from what can be ascertained of the matter, it appears that she was chastising the cat in some way, when the animal turned round and scratched her on the arm. She took little notice of the wound until the arm began to inflame, and it soon assumed such a painful state of swelling, that application for medical assistance became indispensable. She was accordingly admitted an in-patient, under the care of Mr Partridge, but the inflammatory symptoms were of so obstinate a character that they failed to yield to surgical treatment, when erysipelas supervened, and she died on Saturday last in the greatest agony. - Globe.

Weekly Dispatch; Date: January 17, 1886: Death From the Bite of a Cat.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr St Clair Bedford, the Coroner of Westminster, held an enquiry at the St Martin's Vestry hall, concerning the death of John James Ridley Marsano, aged thirteen years, an errand boy, lately residing with his parents at 6 1/2, Hallet's-place, Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, who died in the Charing Cross Hospital from the effects of the bite of a cat, inflicted on September 22 last.

Mrs Marsano deposed that on the evening of September 22, when her son returned from work, he complained of having been bitten by a cat on the thumb. She took him to the Royal Free Hospital in Gray's Inn-road, where the wound was cauterised. Since then no particular notice was taken of the matter, but when the cold weather set in about a week ago he began to complain of his hand hurting him. Witness then bandaged it up, and on the previous Saturday he said the pain had gone up his arm. On Sunday week he complained again, and witness said, "Never mind, old man; it's only the rheumatics," and that seemed to pacify him. On the following Tuesday morning his breath seemed very much affected, and the boy expressed a wish to be taken to the hospital, so witness obtained a letter for his admission. When he had been placed in a cab he asked for some water, but when some was shown him he hissed and scratched like a cat.

By the Coroner: It was a strange cat that bit him, and it had not since been found. Frances Dickinson, a girl living at 10A Hallet's-place, stated that she was with the deceased at the time he was bitten. The cat, which was a black one, was running along making a peculiar noise, when the deceased caught hold of its tail, and the cat turned round and bit him on the thumb. Witness did not know whose cat it was. It also bit witness's brother at the same time. The animal was not making a noise usually made by cats.

Dr Charles Freeman, house physician at Charing Cross Hospital, said the deceased was brought there about quarter-past one on Tuesday week, complaining of a pain in the thumb and spasm of the throat. He was unable to swallow, and when blown or breathed on the spasms reappeared. he was taken up stairs and put to bed. He could not drink any water from a cup, although he was able to lap from a saucer or spoon. The case was seen by the senior physican, but the deceased became more violent, and died at a quarter-to-one on the Thursday afternoon, the cause of death being hydrophobia.

By the Coroner: It was not a very common thing for people to die from hydrophobia through the bite of a cat, because so few cats went mad; but there were cases on record. Cases of hydrophobia had been known to arise through the bite of a rat. The jury returned a verdict of "Death from hydrophobia."

News of the World, Oct 24th, 1886. SUSPECTED DEATH FROM THE BITE OF A CAT.

The evidence of Mr Gustave Goffi, of South Lambeth, and other witnesses, was that about nine months since the deceased was engaged at Brown's Veterinary Institution, Wandsworth-road. His duties were to attend to the horses, dogs, cats, and other animals. On the 4th September he was ordered to clean out a cage where a cat was confined. The animal became enraged, and flew at the deceased, severely lacerating and biting his left hand. Dr Whitmarsh was on the premises, and cauterised the wounds, which were five in number. He subsequently was seen at Charing-cross Hospital. It was ultimately arranged that the deceased should proceed to Paris. The deceased left England in September, and submitted himself to treatment at the hands of Mr Pasteur. On the return of Joseph Goffi from Paris, he called at Brown's Veterinary Institute apparently quite cured. He appeared very cheerful, and in good health. Three days following the wounds had completely healed, when he complained to his brother, saying that he was suffering from serious pains over the abdomen. It was thought that the pains arose from drinking too much beer. The pains, however, increased and symptoms of paralysis set in. He was admitted as an in-patient at St Thomas's Hospital, where he died in the presence of his wife.

Dr Mackenzie sais he admitted the deceased on the 19th inst. The deceased was sensible [conscious], but very ill. He complained of acute pains in his stomach and loss of power of both legs. Deceased said that on his return to this country he got wet through. He also said that he had been under the treatment of M Pasteur, and was inoculated for the prevention of hydrophobia. A post-mortem had been made, but in order to trace any virus in the spinal cord it would take six weeks to complete the analysis. Witness notioned five wounds on the left hand, but the wounds had healed. The deceased was treated for acute positive paralysis, which in witness's opinion had been brought on by cold, wet, and exposure. The post-mortem did not point to hydrophobia. The witness could not positively say that death was not due to the bite of the cat.

The Coroner remarked that he had no power to pay the expenses of the analysis.

The witness remarked that no doubt the general public would like to learn the result of the analysis; it would be for the public good.

The jury returned a verdict "That death was due to acute positive paralysis, accelerated by cold, wer, and exposure."

(Oddly no-one asked for information about the cat's health after it had bitten Mr Goffi, though it is possible the cat had already been destroyed.)

The New York Times, November 19, 1908 - KITTEN'S SCRATCH KILLS A WOMAN.

Blood poisoning setting in from the scratch of a pet kitten resulted in the death of Mrs. Frances Ray Gammon of 2,371 Jerome Avenu, the Bronx, yesterday. The woman was playing with the kitten two weeks ago, when it scratched her on the left knee. The small cut healed, but in a few days her knee began to pain, and Dr. James R. Fabricus, whome she summoned, found that blood poisoning had spread through her system. It could not be checked.

News of the World; Jun 9th, 1918: Cats Set bed on Fire

(This inquest from 1918 shows the poor living conditions of the family involved. The father has either died or gone to war, and the mother works nights at a munitions canteen. Her four children aged between 4 and 14 years old share a bed sardine-fashion (sleeping at both ends). The kitchen window has evidently been broken, and left unrepaired, for a while.)

How two cats set a bed alight and caused the death of George Herbert Parsons (4), at Beaconsfield-buildings, York Road, King's Cross was described at the inquest at St Pancras yesterday. From the evidence it appeared that the mother worked by night at a munitions canteen, leaving her 14-year old boy Horace Richard, in charge of the three younger children. Every night a paraffin lamp was left burning on the table by the side of the bed, which all four occupied. - The lad told the Coroner that he was awakened at 2 a.m. by the lighted lamp falling on his pillow. He saw a strange cat spring off the table, rush into the kitchen, followed by another cat, and jump out of the window through a broken pane of glass. He and two of the other children got out of bed, and, as the clothes were smouldering, he went for some water, thinking that the youngest would be in safety where it was lying at the bottom of the bed. When he returned he found that the child had crawled to the top, and before he could pick it up the bedding burst into flames, burning the boy, who subsequently died. He added that he had previously seen cats jumping through the broken pane and roaming round the room. "Accidental death" was the verdict.

Chelmsford Chronicle; Date: 26th February 1932: Fatal Cat Scratch - Humane Slaughterer The Victim.

The death of an R.S.P.C.A. slaughterer as a result of being scratched by a cat which he was about to destroy, was described at an inquest on Monday, held on Herbert Augustus Norris, aged 47, of 209, Marlborough Road, Dagenham.

The widow said that until Feb. 13 her husband was in good health. On that day be was shivering and complained of feeling cold and having a pain in his shoulder. On Feb. 11 he told her that he had been scratched by a cat, and he showed her the scratch, which was quite an ordinary one on the left index finger. He dressed the wound with iodine and said it was very painful. He thought he had influenza and went to bed as soon as he arrived home on Feb. 13. He had a restless night, and the arm became fixed. Dr. Thompson was sent for and ordered her husband’s removal to hospital.

Walter V. Brook, manager for the Animal Rescue League, said Norris was employed by the R.S.P.C.A. as a humane slaughterer. On Feb. 12 deceased showed him a scratch which he said a cat had given him. It looked inflamed, and next day Norris said his arm was stiff and aching. Witness told him to go home. It was customary for a man slaughtering a cat to have a gauntlet.

Dr. J. W. Carnow, assistant medical officer of Oldchurch Hospital, said Norris was admitted on Feb. 14 suffering from septicaemia. There was a cut on the index finger on the left hand and a swelling on the left arm. Death occurred on Thursday from septicaemia from the wound on the finger.

The jury returned a verdict of Accidental death resulting from a scratch. Mr. B. K. Featherstone (who appeared for the R.S.P.C.A.) expressed sympathy with the relatives of the dead man.



Hydrophobia (rabies). The period between infection initial flu-like symptoms is typically 2 to 12 weeks, but can be longer depending on the location of the wound and amount of virus injected by the bite. Symptoms expand to slight or partial paralysis, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, irritability, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, hallucinations and delirium. Death occurs within 2 to 10 days afer first symptoms. Difficulty and pain when attempting to swallow leads to unquenchable thirst combined with panic when trying to drink, hence the term “hydrophobia.” A vaccine was developed in 1885 by French scientists Louis Pasteur and Emile ‘Roux. Their original vaccine was harvested from dead infected rabbits, from which the virus in the nerve tissue was weakened by allowing it to dry for five to 10 days, however the vaccine carried a risk of neurological complications.

Tetanus. The tetanus bacterium is found in soil and enters the body through open wounds. The incubation period and severity range from 8 days to several months depending on where the wound is. Death can occur within four days. Symptoms begin with mild spasms in the jaw muscles (lockjaw) that can also affect the chest (affecting breathing), neck, back (causing it to arch backwards), abdominal and buttock muscles. The powerful, painful contractions (tetany) are strong enough to tear muscles or cause bone fractures. Other symptoms can include irritability and difficulty swallowing. Before vaccination was available, the mortality rate was as high as 75%.

Staphylococcal infection can cause septicemia while streptococcal infection can cause severe infection and erysipelas. These were potentially deadly in the days prior to antiseptics, anti­bacterials and antibiotics.