The controversy was triggered by allegations that, in February 1903, William Bayliss of the Department of Physiology at University College, London, had performed illegal dissection before an audience of medical students on a brown terrier dog — adequately anaesthetized, according to Bayliss and his team, conscious and struggling, according to the Swedish activists. The procedure was condemned as cruel and unlawful by the National Anti-Vivisection Society. Bayliss, whose research on dogs led to the discovery of hormones, was outraged by the assault on his reputation. He sued for libel and won.
Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog as a memorial, unveiled in Battersea in 1906, but medical students were angered by its provocative plaque — "Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?" — leading to frequent vandalism of the memorial and the need for a 24-hour police guard against the so-called "anti-doggers." On 10 December 1907, 1,000 anti-doggers marched through central London, clashing with suffragettes, trade unionists, and 400 police officers in Trafalgar Square, one of a series of battles that became known as the Brown Dog riots.
Tired of the controversy, Battersea Council removed the statue in 1910 under cover of darkness, after which it was allegedly destroyed by the council's blacksmith, despite a 20,000-strong petition in its favour. A new statue of the brown dog was commissioned by anti-vivisection groups over 70 years later, and was erected in Battersea Park in 1985.
Walter Gratzer, professor emeritus of biochemistry at King's College London, writes that a powerful opposition to vivisection arose in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, represented equally in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. At that time, the word "vivisection" was used to describe the dissection of live animals, either with or without anaesthesia, often in front of audiences of medical students. The term is now used more broadly to include other kinds of animal testing, particularly anything invasive.
According to Gratzer, well-known physiologists, such as Claude Bernard and Charles Richet in France, and Michael Foster and Burdon Sanderson in England, were frequently pilloried for the work they did. Bernard was a particular target of violent abuse, even from members of his own family. He appears to have shared their distaste, writing that "the science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen." Gratzer reports that British anti-vivisectionists infiltrated the lectures in Paris of Bernard's teacher, François Magendie, where animals were strapped down on boards to be dissected, with Magendie allegedly shouting to the dogs as they struggled: "Tais-toi, pauvre bête!" (Shut up, you poor beast!)
The British National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) was founded in December 1875 by Frances Power Cobbe, an early feminist and animal rights activist, at a time when there were around 300 experiments on animals each year in the UK. The opposition to vivisection led the government to set up the First Royal Commission on Vivisection in July 1875, which recommended that legislation be enacted to control it; the Second Royal Commission was set up in 1906 because of the Brown Dog affair. The first led to the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876—criticized by NAVS as "infamous but well-named"—which legalized and attempted to set limits on the practice. The law remained in force for 110 years, until it was replaced by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which is the subject of similar criticism from the modern animal rights movement.
The Cruelty to Animals Act stipulated that researchers could not be prosecuted for cruelty, but that animals must be anaesthetized, unless the anaesthesia would interfere with the point of the experiment; may be used only once, though several procedures regarded as part of the same experiment were permitted; and must be killed when the study is over, unless doing so would frustrate the object of the experiment. Prosecutions under the Act could be made only with the approval of the Home Secretary, at the time Aretas Akers-Douglas, 1st Viscount Chilston, who was thought to be unsympathetic to the anti-vivisectionists' cause.
In the early twentieth century, Ernest Starling, Professor of Physiology at University College, London, and his brother-in-law, physiologist William Bayliss, were using vivisection on dogs to determine whether the nervous system controls pancreatic secretions, as postulated by Ivan Pavlov.
They knew that the pancreas produces digestive juices in response to increased acidity in the duodenum and jejunum, due to the arrival of chyme there. By severing the duodenal and jejunal nerves in anaesthetized dogs, while leaving the blood vessels intact, and then introducing acid into the duodenum and jejunum, they discovered that the process is not mediated by a nervous response, but instead by a new type of chemical reflex. They named the chemical messenger secretin, as it is secreted by the intestinal lining into the bloodstream, stimulating the pancreas on circulation.
In 1905, Starling coined the term "hormone", from the Greek hormao (ὁρµάω meaning "I arouse" or "I excite") to describe chemicals such as secretin that are capable, in extremely small quantities, of stimulating organs from a distance.
Bayliss and Starling had also used vivisection on anaesthetized dogs to discover peristalsis in 1899. Over their careers, they went on to discover a variety of other important physiological phenomena and principles, many of which were based on their experimental work involving animal vivisection.
The brown dog was a mongrel of the terrier type, probably a former stray or pet, weighed , and had short, rough hair. He was first used in a dissection in December 1902 by Starling, who had cut open the dog's abdomen and ligated the pancreatic duct. The dog lived in a cage for the next two months, reportedly upsetting people with his howling.
He was brought back to the lecture theatre for another demonstration on 2 February 1903. During this second procedure, he was stretched on his back on an operating board, with his legs tied to the board, his head clamped into position, and his mouth muzzled to keep him quiet.
In front of the audience, Starling cut the dog open again to inspect the results of the previous surgery, after which he clamped the wound, then handed the dog over to Bayliss, who wanted to look at the salivary glands. Bayliss cut a new opening in the dog's neck to expose the glands. The dog was then stimulated with electricity to demonstrate that salivary pressure was independent of blood pressure. Bayliss was unable to show this, and gave up trying after half an hour. The dog was handed over to a student, Henry Dale, a future Nobel laureate, who removed the dog's pancreas, then killed him with a knife.
Walter Gratzer writes that the dog was anaesthetized during the procedure with a morphine injection, then with a mixture of chloroform, alcohol, and ether, which was delivered to a tube in the dog's trachea via a pipe hidden behind the bench the men were working on. He argues that, without anaesthesia, it would have been impossible for the researchers to perform the surgery.
The women attended lectures at King's and University College, keeping a meticulous diary, which they published in 1903 as Eye-Witnesses, changing the title for the second edition to The Shambles of Science: Extracts from the Diary of Two Students of Physiology. The book was reportedly a bombshell, receiving 200 reviews in four months.
Of the brown dog, the women wrote that he appeared conscious, and that there was no smell of anaesthesia:
Other students present during the surgery reported that the dog had not struggled, but had merely twitched.
Coleridge's attention was drawn to the description of the brown dog experiments, because the Cruelty to Animals Act forbade the use of an animal in more than one experiment. Yet it appeared that the brown dog had been used by Ernest Starling to perform surgery on the pancreas, then used again by Starling when he opened the dog to inspect the results of the previous surgery, and for a third time by Bayliss to study the salivary glands. Furthermore, the dog had not been properly anaesthetized, according to the women, and had been killed by Henry Dale, at the time an unlicensed research student. The women also alleged that the students had laughed during the procedure: "there were jokes and laughter everywhere" in the lecture hall while the brown dog was being dissected, according to Lind-af-Hageby, a claim she published in her book under the chapter title "Fun". These were all regarded as prima facie violations of the Act.
Peter Mason writes that Coleridge decided there was no point in relying on a prosecution under the Act, which he regarded as deliberately obstructive. Instead, he gave an angry speech about the allegations to the annual meeting of the National Anti-Vivisection Society at St. James Hall in May 1903, probably with a view to inciting a suit for libel. The speech included a statement from Lind-af-Hageby: "The dog struggled forcibly during the whole experiment and seemed to suffer extremely during the stimulation. No anaesthetic had been administered in my presence, and the lecturer said nothing about any attempts to anaesthetize the animal having previously been made." Coleridge accused the scientists of having tortured the animal. "If this is not torture, let Mr. Bayliss and his friends ... tell us in Heaven's name what torture is."
Mason writes that a verbatim report of the speech was published the next day by the radical Daily News — founded by Charles Dickens — and over the next three days by other national and regional papers. Questions were raised in the House of Commons, particularly by Sir Frederick Banbury, a Conservative MP and sponsor of a vivisection bill aimed at ending demonstrations of the kind conducted by Starling and Bayliss. On 8 May 1903, Coleridge challenged Bayliss in a letter to the Daily News: "As soon as Dr. Bayliss likes to test the bona fides and accuracy of my public declaration ... he shall be confronted from the witness box by eyewitnesses I rely upon."
Bayliss demanded a public apology, and when it failed to materialize, he issued a writ for libel. Starling decided not to sue. Even The Lancet, a medical journal that was no supporter of Coleridge, wrote that "it may be contended that Professor Starling ... committed a technical infringement of the Act."
The trial began on 11 November 1903 at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, and took place over four days, closing on 18 November 1903. The British Medical Journal called it "a test case of the utmost gravity". The public gallery was described as packed and rowdy, with no spare seats or standing room, and queues long forming outside the courthouse.
Bayliss's counsel, Rufus Isaacs, called Starling as his first witness. Starling admitted that he had broken the law by using the dog twice, but said in his defence that he had done so to avoid sacrificing two dogs. The court accepted Bayliss's statement that the brown dog had been anaesthetized with one-and-a-half grains of morphia and six ounces of alcohol, chloroform, and ether. He further stated that the dog had been suffering from chorea, a disease involving involuntary spasm, meaning that any movement the women had witnessed was not purposive. In addition, Bayliss testified that a tracheotomy had been performed, and that it was therefore impossible for the women to have heard the dog crying and whining, as they had claimed.
Coleridge's defence called on the two Swedish women as witnesses. They testified that they were the first students to arrive at the lecture hall, and that they saw the dog being brought in. They were then left alone with the dog for about two minutes, and examined him themselves. They observed scars from the previous operations, and saw an incision in the neck where two tubes had been placed. They did not smell any anaesthetic. The dog was making what they regarded as voluntary movements, which suggested to them that he was conscious.
Coleridge was criticized for having accepted this "unsubstantiated calumny," as the bacteriologist Harold Ernst later called it, without seeking corroboration, though he knew that speaking about it publicly could lead to prosecution. Coleridge responded that he hadn't sought verification because he knew the claims would be denied, and he testified that he continued to regard the women's statement as true.
The jury found that Bayliss had been defamed, and on 18 November 1903 he was awarded £2,000 with £3,000 costs, worth around £250,000 in 2004, according to Gratzer. There are conflicting views as to how popular a decision this was. The Edinburgh Medical Journal wrote in 1904 that the ruling was greeted by applause in the court, and Frances Power Cobbe fell into a depression because of the animus of the public. While The Times declared itself satisfied with the verdict, the Daily News called it a miscarriage of justice, and launched a fund to cover Coleridge's expenses, raising £5,735 within four months. Bayliss donated his damages to UCL for use in research; Gratzer writes that the fund is probably still being used today to buy animals for research.
On 25 November 1903, Ernest Bell of Covent Garden, publisher and printer of The Shambles of Science, apologized to Bayliss "for having printed and published the book in question," and pledged to withdraw it from circulation and hand over all remaining copies to Bayliss's solicitors. The Animal Defense and Anti-vivisection Society, founded by Lind-af-Hageby in 1903, republished the book, printing a fifth edition by 1913. The chapter "Fun", which had caused such offence, was replaced with one called "The Vivisections of the Brown Dog," describing the experiment and the trial.
After the trial, Lind-af-Hageby was approached by Anna Louisa Woodward, founder of the World League Against Vivisection, who suggested the idea of a public memorial. Woodward raised a subscription, and commissioned from sculptor Joseph Whitehead a bronze statue of the dog on top of a granite memorial stone — tall — containing a drinking fountain for human beings, and a lower trough for dogs and horses.
The group turned to the borough of Battersea for a location for the memorial. The area was known as a hotbed of radicalism — proletarian, socialist, belching smoke, and full of slums — and was closely associated with the anti-vivisection movement. Battersea General Hospital refused to perform vivisection, or to employ doctors who engaged in it, and was known locally as the "Antiviv," or the "Old Anti." The Battersea Dogs Home was well-known in London; its chairman, the Duke of Portland, rejected a request in 1907 that its lost dogs be sold to vivisectors as "not only horrible, but absurd."
Battersea council agreed to provide a space for the statue on its newly completed Latchmere Estate, a housing estate for the working class offering terraced homes at seven and sixpence a week. The statue was unveiled on 15 September 1906 in front of a large crowd — speakers included George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Despard — bearing an inscription hailed by The New York Times as the "hysterical language customary of anti-vivisectionists," and "a slander on the whole medical profession":
The first action was on 20 November 1907, when a group of University College students, led by undergraduate William Howard Lister, crossed the Thames from the north over to Battersea with a crowbar and a sledgehammer, and tried to attack the statue. Ten of them were arrested. The next day, others protested in Tottenham Court Road against the fines levied on the ten, and the day after that saw a demonstration of hundreds of students, who marched holding effigies of the brown dog on sticks. The Times reported that they marched down the Strand to burn an effigy of a magistrate, and when it failed to ignite they threw it in the Thames.
The rioting reached its height on Tuesday, 10 December 1907, when 100 medical students again 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, the protesters hoping that some of the thousands of Oxbridge students due to attend would swell their numbers. Peter Mason writes that street vendors were even selling handkerchiefs with the date of the protest printed on them, and the words "Brown dog's inscription is a lie, and the statuette an insult to the London University."
Toward late afternoon, one group of protesters headed for Battersea, intending to uproot the statue and throw it in the Thames. Driven out of the Latchmere Estate by male workers, they proceeded down Battersea Park Road, where they tried unsuccessfully to attack the anti-vivisection hospital. The workers again forced the students back, the Daily Chronicle reporting that, when one student fell from the top of a tram and was injured, the workers shouted: "That's the brown dog's revenge!
A second group headed for central London, waving more effigies of the brown dog, joined by a police escort and, briefly, a busker on the bagpipes. As the marchers reached Trafalgar Square, they were 1,000 strong, facing 400 police officers, some of them mounted. The students gathered around Nelson's Column, the ringleaders climbing on to the base of it to make speeches. As students fought with police on the ground, mounted police charged the crowd, scattering them into smaller groups and arresting the stragglers, including one Cambridge undergraduate, Alexander Bowley, who was arrested for "barking like a dog".
The fighting in central London continued for hours before the police gained control of the crowd. One local doctor told the South Western Star that the students' failure to hold back the police for longer was a sign of the "utter degeneration" of junior doctors and the Anglo-Saxon race.
Over the following days and weeks, more rioting broke out, with medical and veterinary students uniting. Women's suffrage meetings were routinely invaded by medical students barking like dogs, and shouting "Down with the Brown Dog!", though the students knew not all suffragettes were anti-vivisectionists. A women's suffrage meeting at the Paddington baths, organized by Millicent Fawcett, was violently invaded on December 5. Louise Lind-af-Hageby arranged a meeting of anti-vivisectionists at Acton Central Hall on December 16, and though the meeting was protected by a large guard of Battersea workers, over 100 students managed to smuggle themselves in, and the event deteriorated into an exchange of chairs, fists, and smoke bombs.
Questions were asked in the House of Commons about the cost of policing the statue. London's police commissioner wrote to Battersea Council to ask whether they would contribute to the cost, which had reached £700 a year. Councillor John Archer—the first person of African descent to be elected to public office in the UK and later elected mayor of Battersea—told the Daily Mail that he was amazed by the request, considering Battersea was already paying £22,000 a year in police rates. Other councillors, concerned about a hike in the rates, suggested the statue be encased in a steel cage and surrounded by a barbed wire fence. The Canine Defence League wondered whether, if Battersea were to organize raids on laboratories to destroy vivisection instruments, the laboratories would be required to pay the police costs themselves.
Coral Lansbury writes that the causes of feminism and women's suffrage became closely linked with the anti-vivisection movement. Three of the four vice-presidents of the Battersea General Hospital that refused to allow vivisection were women. Lansbury argues that the Brown Dog affair became a matter of opposing symbols, the iconography of vivisection striking a chord with women. The vivisected dog muzzled and strapped to the operating board blurred into images of suffragettes on hunger strike restrained and force-fed in Brixton Prison; women strapped into the gynaecologist's chair by an all-powerful male medical establishment, forced to have their ovaries and uteruses removed as a cure for "mania," or strapped down for childbirth. Richard Ryder writes that the dog represented the vulnerability of women; the medical students the machismo of science.
Both sides saw themselves as heirs to the future. Hilda Kean of Ruskin College writes that the Swedish protagonists were young and female, anti-establishment and progressive, while the accused scientists, older and male, were viewed as remnants of a previous age. It was the Swedish women's hard-won access to higher education that had made the case possible in the first place, creating a new form of political agitation, a "new form of witnessing," according to Susan Hamilton of the University of Alberta. Against this, Lansbury reports that the students saw the women and the trade unionists as representative of superstition and sentimentality, anti-science, anti-progress—"women of both sexes" defending a brutal, insanitary past—while the students and their teachers were the "New Priesthood."
Battersea Council grew tired of the controversy. A new Conservative council was elected in November 1909, amid talk of removing the statue. There were protests in support of it, and the 500-strong Brown Dog memorial defence committee was established. Twenty thousand people signed a petition, and 1,500 attended a rally in February 1910 addressed by Charlotte Despard, the Irish suffragette and Sinn Féin activist; Liberal MP George Greenwood; and Louise Lind-af-Hageby. There were demonstrations in central London, and speeches in Hyde Park, with supporters wearing masks of dogs.
The protests were to no avail. The statue was quietly removed before dawn on 10 March 1910 by four Council workmen accompanied by 120 police officers. It was first hidden in a bicycle shed, then believed to have been destroyed by a council blacksmith, who reportedly smashed it, then melted it down. Ten days later, 3,000 anti-vivisectionists gathered in Trafalgar Square to demand the return of the statue, but it was clear Battersea Council had turned its back on the affair.
Peter Mason writes that all that is left of the old Brown Dog is a small hump on the pavement at the centre of Latchmere Recreation Ground, near the Latchmere Pub. The sign on a nearby fence reads "No Dogs".
The New York Times wrote in March 1910 that "it is not considered at all probable that the effigy will ever again be exhibited in a public place".
Over 75 years later, a new memorial to the brown dog was erected just behind the Pump House in Battersea Park, commissioned by the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, and unveiled by actress Geraldine James on 12 December 1985. The new statue, by sculptor Nicola Hicks, is mounted on top of a five-foot high Portland stone plinth, the dog based on Hicks' own terrier and described by Mason as "a coquettish contrast to its down-to-earth predecessor." It repeats the original inscription, and adds:
Echoing the fate of the previous memorial, the statue was moved into storage in 1992 by Battersea Park's owners, the Conservative Wandsworth Borough Council, as part of a park renovation scheme, according to the Council. Anti-vivisectionists, suspicious of the Council's explanation, campaigned for its return. It was reinstated in the park's Woodland Walk in 1994, near the Old English Garden, a more secluded location than before.
Hilda Kean has criticized the new statue. The old Brown Dog was upright and defiant, she writes, not begging for mercy, which made it a radical political statement. The new Brown Dog is a pet, the creator's own terrier, sited in the Old English Garden as "heritage". Quoting David Lowenthal, professor emeritus at UCL, Kean writes that "what heritage does not highlight, it hides." She writes that the new statue has been separated from its anti-vivisection message and from popular images of animal rights activism—the balaclavas of activists and the painful eyes of rabbits. The new Brown Dog is too safe, she argues. Unlike its controversial ancestor, it makes no one uncomfortable.