You’re rich in the Regency and your dog is missing. What happens next?

By James Hobson

Twitter @about 1816

Regency newspapers regularly carried advertisements for ‘lost’ items of property- clothes, banknotes, watches, horses and poneys (as they used to spell it), legal documents and dogs. In the case of dogs, ‘lost’ was often a euphemism. They had had been kidnapped, or found in the street and kept by somebody who would not wish to hand it over without a reward. The distinction between a reward for a finder and a ransom for a thief was not always clear.

These were not working dogs- the occasional advertisement for strayed foxhounds was probably genuine. There were the only two types of canine that had a resale value- the working animals of farmers and the landed gentry, and the pets of the metropolitan rich. Both were advertised in the newspaper. Lost dog advertisements- for spaniels, pointers, poodles ,greyhounds, setters and pugs appeared mostly in the London newspapers from people living in Portman Place, Manchester Square, and Parliament Street and less often for the rich families in the provinces.

This example, from the up- market Morning Post of January 1810 was from Old Bond Street.


Some typical characteristics include the use of the word ‘lost’. Most of them used this word only; some opted for ‘lost or strayed’ and a few went for a direct ‘ lost or stolen’, but the latter were different in tone and tended to come from different kind of people. Given the draconian punishment for theft, many advertisers avoided the word if they wanted to get the dog back.

Another common feature was the use of an intermediary to collect the dog. It may be that the Bond Street gentleman did not want to see the person, but it also made it easier to hand it over the beloved pet without too many awkward questions. Less typical here is the vague nature of the reward; most lost dog advertisements offer a half a guinea- which would feed a modest family for a week. Another difference is that Doll has the owner’s name and address on her collar, which would make it easy for the pet to be returned even without an advertisement in the paper. What the advertisement is actually saying is that ‘a wealthy person has lost his dog-whether you stole it or found it, it’s your lucky day’

It was assumed that dogs that ended up by accident in the hands of poor would not be handed over voluntarily. This example is from 1810;


Rattle had ended up ‘in the arms of a man in a smock-frock’. A terrible fate for the dog of the Reverend Cotton, who, though he did not know it at the time, was to become a major establishment figure in the established Church in Ireland. He had clearly had the dog during his time at Christ Church College, Oxford, according to the collar. By offering the chance to pass the dog to him personally, he was absolving the rustic peasant of any blame; but he was still offered the chance to hand it over to a landlord in a pub.

Most of the advertisers knew that they were in negotiation with the people who had their dog. Some common phrases include – ‘Not to be repeated’- meaning that there would be no better offer, and the more strident ‘any person detaining him, after this notice, will be prosecuted as the law directs’. This comment would be largely seen as an empty threat; the owners would have to locate the thief themselves, pay for the prosecution privately .Some ask for intelligence about the location of the dog- invitation to inform on the thief.

The lost spaniel (below)  with no name is an interesting example of a more robust approach. Mr Scott is as interested in justice as he is in the return of the dog, as the reward for information about the thief is five times higher than the reward for the dog.


This type of advertisement was relatively uncommon but appeared occasionally. Mr Scott is probably a member of his local Society for the Apprehension of Felons, groups of farmers or businessman who protected their property by offering rewards for informers as a replacement for a lamentable bad law enforcement system, especially outside of London. It did not normally cover pets.
This one is similar. Mr Hunnings had the weight of the Boston Association for the Prosecution of Felons behind him;


The next advertisement says explicitly what many advertisements merely hinted at- that if a gentleman had his dog, it would be handed back gratis; but a poor person would require payment.


The owner clearly loved his dog, but was still prepared to sack his servant if he was not returned. As did  the owners of Rufus, Ponto, Poodle (who was a poodle), Tippoo, Buzz, Truro (owned by an unimaginative Cornishmen). Captain, Fanny, Rag, Turpin (who was lost when he chased a coach) Rover, Prince, Nero, Jupe, Basto (who went missing/ was stolen from the Castle Inn Warminster) Lion (owned by the Bishop of Winchester) Rough, David, Brush and Sancho.
And then there was Pug the pug, with an excessive reward, the same as the Bishop of Winchester offered for the return of Lion the Newfoundland dog, and echoing down the centuries the cries and lamentations of the dog’s owner.


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A nice cup of tea in the Regency? Not always!

61l1BkkmGRL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Tea drinking was universal in Regency Britain. It had reached the poor and could not be dislodged as part of their diet. William Cobbett hated it because of the waste of the working man’s time, the profits it brought to the East India Company, and the replacement of tea for beer. (‘I am for MALT’!) Most of the ruling class had given up weaning the poor away from tea drinking. The Scotsman made this wry comment in 1818; ‘tea is indispensable. Almost every person, notwithstanding the present high prices, is more or less indebted to this Chinese shrub for his daily meals’

The Scotsman was right about the price. The Tory government had abolished Income Tax in 1816 and relied on taxes on consumption, so tea was taxed heavily. It was all China tea, imported by the East India Company and sold as a monopoly from their warehouses with a 96% ad valorem duty which doubled the price as it arrived into Britain. Proper quality tea, with import duties added, would be about seven or eight shillings a pound in Regency Britain and less than half that in France or Belgium. There was extensive smuggling. Smuggled tea from France and Belgium would be half that price and the smuggling industry was so large and popular that it could not be stopped.

Even the smuggled price would be too high for the poor, so a market developed in adulterated tea, which could be hawked from town to town or sold to unscrupulous tea dealers or grocers. It seems that tea that had paid duty was just as likely as smuggled tea to be adulterated, as both were aiming for a lower price that the poor could afford.

How did you adulterate tea? Adulteration was achieved by replacing tea leaves with something cheaper, from the untaxed hedge rows of Britain rather than China. It was an industry almost as big as the drink itself. Tea was sold as crushed leaves and the skill if the adulterator was to replace tea leaves with cheaper ones that looked and smelt like tea. If the resulting brew tasted like tea, then that was a bonus. The poor were not judges of good tea. Most of their consumption was Bohea tea, the lowest grade made from the last crop of the year. So sometimes, adulteration was achieved by mixing leaves with Bohea, but often there was no tea in the mixture at all.

Common leaves were ash, elder, and senna. Senna leaves smelt like tea when boiling water was put on them. None of these were deleterious in themselves, except the most common of the adulterants, sloe (blackthorn) leaves, and these were poisonous. The Norfolk Chronicle gave its readers this advice in 1818, when Regency Britain was in a poison tea panic.

The practice of adulterating Tea by the admixture of the Sloe Leaf, (which being allied to the Laurel, of poisonous quality; is by means new); but as it is to feared that the late detections and punishments will not altogether prevent a repetition of the crime, it may useful describe two leaves, which fortunately have little resemblance to each other. The sides of the tea-leaf have large jags, teeth, or serrations; the leaf itself is long and narrow, and the end or extremity is pointed. The Sloe-leaf is short’ ..and is broad or rounded.— By wetting and spreading out the leaves, any one will easily distinguish the great difference between them.

Producing imitation and adulterated tea was a skilled and labour intensive job, but it was worth it. The high price of the tea that made the complicated and dangerous process worthwhile, as the artificial high price caused by taxation also increased the price they could charge for the forgery. Adulterators were prosecuted (in a haphazard fashion) by the Customs and Excise. Although the protection of health was mentioned in the relevant Act of Parliament (1777), it was largely a revenue protection exercise. The premise- that forged products robbed the Exchequer of money as their sale diminished the consumption of taxed products- seems a bit shaky. Gaol or transportation was not a punishment for those who were caught- the crime was monetary, so the punishment was pecuniary. Some Regency commentators were calling for the use of public whipping or the pillory, but this was never an option.

The prosecution of Whitechapel men Procter and Malins shows the operation in action. First, the production of ‘black tea’. It was essentially a dying process.


Logwood was a South American plant and was normally used a dye for textiles. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the incident is that Malins ‘did not know’ whether the ingredient was injurious. This was because he did not care.

‘Green tea’ was created in an even more questionable process. Hedge row leaves were boiled and the water removed by pressing. The leaves were them warmed on a copper plate over a fire and often curled by hand to make them look like tea leaves. Then they were mixed with a dye called Dutch Pink, which was cut from a solid block and mixed in. Dutch Pink was an artist’s material used in painting on walls and making wallpaper and was added to the tea mixture with a pallet knife. The next ingredient was the highly toxic verdigris, which in reaction to the copper produced a greenish tinge to the leaves and was a danger to life. The forgers called this ‘adding the bloom’!.The court was shocked when this admission was made; but it was common knowledge. The two men received a fine of £100, the maximum possible.

There was a moral panic in 1818. The East India Company formed a committee to investigate the problem. Long and Company started to sell East India tea direct from the warehouse in sealed metal canisters. The forgers copied the canisters and put their own product in. High class teas dealers swore an affidavit to the Lord Mayor and put the details in the newspapers. The London Genuine Tea company was formed in 1818 and was immediately opposed by some dealers who did not want the size of the problem advertised. The Genuine Tea Company gave this new group the title the ‘ Anti-Genuine Tea Committee’ and had one killer argument. In the last quarter, 300,000 lbs of low grade Bohea tea was bought in London, but nobody seemed to admit to sell it. Where was it? Was it being mixed with other leaves?

The panic spread to Parliament. In 1818, a Parliamentary Committee was reassured by two major London tea dealers that the problem was exaggerated. Good quality tea was very common in London, said one of them, a Mr Twining. However, this was not where the poor bought their ‘tea’.


Please consider my social history books on the Georgians and Victorians

The Dark Days of Georgian Britain– a political and social history of the Regency. More details here

Passengers – a social history of Britain 1780-1840 told through travel, transport, roads and hospitality. More details here

Radical Victorians– A history of the reform movement in Victorian Britain, with pen portraits of both famous and obscure reformers. More details here

Voices of the Georgian Age– details here (Amazon link)

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Attitudes to suicide in the Regency? It depended!


image001Castlereagh…’I have done with  away with myself’

The traditional view of suicide – ‘felo de se’ (“felon of the self”) meant person killing themselves would forfeit their property and lose the right to be buried in consecrated ground. A busy crossroads, where traffic might drown out the activities of restless souls, was preferred. Often a stake would be put through the heart, which was as messy as it sounds.
Georgian inquests were quite ready to give a verdict of felo de se. However, on occasions there would be a judgement of lunacy instead, when derangement, over a long period of time, could be proved with examples. This would avoid the humiliating penalties.

The following cases were adjudged criminal acts in 1810. Esther Chapman of Chatteris took arsenic; she lingered for twenty-four hours. An unnamed servant of Mr G. Uppleby took laudanum and expired after eight hours. She had been distressed by rumours about her reputation. In May, a soldier who had recently deserted went to the White Hart public house near Clare Market and partly cut his head off with a penknife. Jan Fesh, another soldier proved that he was not insane by loading his musket with metal buttons from his tunic and using a string attached to the trigger to allow him to put the weapon into his mouth.

John Thornton, 70, hanged himself using his garters in his room in October. He was declared perfectly sane as he had spent the day concluding some financial affairs and locking up his money securely. However, in the act of being so efficient with his cash, he denied it to his relatives.

The law did not regard all such deaths as a punishable offence. They were able to accept that individuals were not in their right mind. Another woman in 1810, this time from Portsmouth, killed herself with laudanum. However, she was known to have had periods of melancholia and had tried to poison herself on other occasions – she was granted a verdict of lunacy. It seemed to some critics of the law that one successful suicide made you a criminal, but a couple of failures followed by a success made you insane.

Melancholia was an accepted mitigation, as was immaturity .Children were rarely adjudged as suicide. In 1816 a 12-year-old girl from Smithfield tied lead weights to her feet and hanged herself after a disagreement with parents – it was a ‘rash act’ and a ‘melancholy incident’, but not felo de se, despite the planning. William Dumbell, a labourer, had twelve pots of beer and then hanged himself in a privy in Newhaven. He had been ‘melancholy’. On the other end of the social spectrum, Edward Hussey, a Sussex magistrate blew out his brains with a blunderbuss with exactly the same reason given. All were adjudged as being the result of lunacy.

On 12 August 1822, Viscount Castlereagh, committed suicide by cutting his carotid artery with a penknife, having had all of the other sharp objects removed by his wife. He believed that he was being persecuted. A few days before his death, Castlereagh’s behaviour made the king lose sleep. The famously unemotional Foreign Secretary was weeping, kissing the king’s hand, accusing himself of crimes, including being blackmailed for homosexuality. The King commented to Lord Liverpool ‘either I am mad or Lord Castlereagh is mad’. Lord Liverpool agreed: ‘There is greater danger in these cases for strong minds than weak ones’.

It was thought that members of the establishment, by definition deep thinkers with great responsibilities, were more prone to suicide than the lower orders. Castlereagh was declared insane and buried with honour in Westminster Abbey to the sound of boos and hisses from the lower orders, and to the glee of the radical press.
Many saw this act as clearly premeditated – Castlereagh’s last words were: ‘I have done for myself. I have opened my neck’. Cobbet was clear that there was no chance of such an important person being buried in such a humiliating way. Byron, who produced a poem inviting people to urinate on the dead man’s grave, commented sarcastically that poor people ‘slashed their throat’, but you had to be a member of the ruling classes to ‘cut your carotid artery’:

Less than a year after Castlereagh’s suicide, Abel Griffiths, a 22-year-old student, was convicted of murdering his father Thomas, and then ‘hurling himself into eternity’. Thomas’s servant, William Wade (‘a man of colour’) reported that Abel had tried to see his father a number of times, and that he was under orders to keep the son away from him. They only met because Abel arrived first and waited for his father to return. When they met, there was a brief conversation which seemed to be about money. Thomas Griffiths was a plantation owner in Barbados who had financed his son’s law education, but it was surmised by the inquest that this subsidy was being ended.

Those who knew Abel provided evidence of his escalating derangement. He had been taking mercury for an unknown, but probably socially embarrassing, illness and had been unpredictable and irritable. Witnesses attested to his unpredictable behaviour and deep derangement over the last few months of his life. The eventual verdict of felo de se astounded the audience in the court, and Griffiths was then prepared for a humiliating burial.

Crowds gathered outside the father’s house on the Wednesday evening of the internment. Abel’s friends were also there, still indignant, but the rain prevented the movement of the body. It was moved to St George’s workhouse around 10 pm and the crowd followed. At 1.30 am Abel was carried from the front door by four men. He was wearing no more than stocking socks wrapped in a blood soaked sheet. He was then wrapped in matting with a rope to secure it and dropped, rather than placed, into a hole about 5ft deep. No stake was pushed into his heart; the 200 strong crowd would have rioted.

A few days later, persons unknown dug up the corpse at 5 am and hired a hackney carriage to transport it, which they abandoned at the end of the journey. The coach driver went to Bow Street with the body, and after a few days of wrangling about Abel’s next place of burial, he ended up back at St George’s workhouse and was finally laid to rest in their burial ground.

Incidents like these strengthened was feeling that this was inhumane, unnecessarily disruptive to society, and reeked of superstition rather than Christianity. The law to abolish this practice had just started its passage through parliament; but it was the grotesque difference between the treatment of Castlereagh and Griffiths that gave the bill impetus.

In 1823 it was made illegal to issue a warrant for burial of a felo-de-se in a public highway. The suicide was to be interred in consecrated ground. This change was not an acceptance of suicide. It was a practical move to protect the integrity of the law; the former punishment for felo de se was now regarded as so unacceptable that juries were regularly reaching verdicts of insanity instead. Punishment was still harsh. A suicide was still buried without Christian rites between the hours of 9 pm and midnight; but attitudes were changing.

This is a modified, shorter version of a chapter in my book about the realities of late Georgian Britain.
More details here.

Publisher’s page here 


Welcome to Regency London; you are now in great danger. 1819


Dear Visitor to London,

You do not know me, but I am your candid friend. You cannot arrive in London in 1819 without one; and, let’s face it, you don’t have any other friends and you are a long way from home. Whether you have arrived in London by road or by water, you will arrive at a London coaching Inn, and you will witness at first hand the moral turpitude of the vast majority of our London population.

Firstly, your luggage. Where is it? You haven’t seen it since your last hurried meal at that seedy coaching house, horrible because of its guaranteed custom. Did you notice that you were only given time to eat half of it, and the guard wouldn’t let you take it with you? You can be rest assured that the second half has been resold and eaten by something else, with a little tip for the guard. Has your suitcase been thrown out of the basket and an urchin has run after it? You will know in a minute.

Here comes the coaching inn. Mind your head if you are on top. Here comes a swarm of helpful people around your coach. You see your luggage. Good. They offer to take your luggage on to the next stage of your journey, because you are not staying here. It’s the type of place where the owner has to embroider their name and address on his sheets and put secret marks on his silver to identify it.

Don’t give your luggage to these people. You do not know who they are. Anybody can hang around a coaching house, claiming to be waiting for a long lost relative. Don’t rely on the guard’s recommendation-they may be part of the cheat. They may not rob luggage themselves, but they have their own tricks, and each relies on the silence of the other. Notice those two extras passengers picked up on the road outside London? They were picked up by the driver and he ‘shouldered’ the money.

You have left your silk scarf on the coach. Don’t go back for it. It’s gone. Did you see that man going into the coach and taking off his hat as he went in? Your scarf is under his hat. But you will never prove it. Accost him, and he will soon have lots of angry friends around him.

You luggage is safe, but you are tired and need to wait before you can meet your friend. There is a convivial atmosphere here, people playing cards in the tap room, people who chat and will stand you a large rum and water, which they will insist on drinking standing up and quickly. You might get a bit ‘opaque’ as you sit down for your game of cards. This card game only started as your coach arrived in the inn; each coach horn is different and you have been identified as coming from the naïve provinces. The very sight of a countryman sharpens their appetites. If you have brought your wife they will rejoice further- you will want to show what a man of the world you are, won’t you?

Lots of bad things can happen. You will always win the first game; perhaps the second. Your new friends will admit to being not very good. You debts may mount up and they might get nasty. Or you might continue to win, and suddenly your new friends might run away and you will discover that all drinks had been bought on your tab. Or you relax with your new friends and put a £20 banknote on the table. They grab it and run. You would not be able to follow them- it s busy, crowded and chaotic and you do not know where you are going. London is much bigger than your home.

Don’t rely on the constable to help you. They are paid a pound a week but most of their money comes from rewards. These minor thieves bring no reward. They will be ignored until they become profitable-until they weigh forty pound, at that’s a price, not a weight. Don’t even bother.

Time to get a local hackney carriage. Best not to try to walk, even if the distance is short. If you do have to walk, keep up a brisk pace, do not peer at road signs and do not ask for directions from anybody, no matter how well dressed the person is. A real gentleman would not deign the answer you, a poor traveller dishevelled from public transport. They would certainly not know how to get to your modest destination. Under no circumstances take up an offer to take you there. There may only be one person, but you do not know what alley you will be lead there. Dressing up in ‘toggery’ to gain trust via a well known trick- to Londoners.

If you find a diamond ring on the floor at the same time as somebody else; don’t offer them cash so you can keep it. If you find money, it will be fake and within a minute somebody will have seen your banknote and be ready to call the police, unless you pay up. If somebody feints in the street, do not come to their aid.

So, get a cab. If you hear the inn porter call the name ‘Johnny Newcome’ or ‘Johnny Raw’, or if people are excessively referred to as ‘maaaaaam’, then the message to the cab driver is that you are new in town, and the porter will pick up his tip later. Do not be convinced by the cab driver holding his hat at his side or holding the door open. He is hiding the number of his cab so you cannot complain. Later, it’s time to pay for the journey. You established the price before you left, and you feel good your caution. The cab pulls up somewhere dark, and you pay with a pound. The change comes quickly, but there is a false half crown in the change. You are unlikely to notice; if you do notice, then he will claim it was yours after all. If your coachmen leaves you at excessive speed, you have been ‘smashed’

Welcome to London!

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The Dark Days of Georgian Britain is about the period 1815-1819 with an emphasis on the poor

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