A Bear in the Dock, 1875

From the Freeman’s Journal, 2 April 1875:

“A Bear in the Dock

Two Frenchmen were charged with causing an obstruction to the public thoroughfare at Pill-Lane, that morning, by exhibiting a dancing bear.

The prisoners were placed in the dock, with the bear between them. It was a shaggy, uncouth-looking animal, not at all like that which Goldsmith’s bear leader described as never dancing but to the genteelest music, ‘Water Parting,’ or the duet in ‘Ariadne.’

On entering the enclosure, the brute squatted on his haunches, and placed his fore paws upon the bar of the dock, which he commenced to scratch with much vigour.

The constable who had made the arrest said he found the bear climbing up a pole and that a large number of persons were congregated about it.

Mr O’Donel asked the prisoners what they had to say to the charge.

The prisoners intimated by signs their inability to understand the question.

The constable said that when he called upon the prisoners to move on they refused, and in very intelligible English desired him to go to hell.

An interpreter was sent for, and on his arrival he interrogated the prisoners by the magistrate’s direction. They said they were really unable to speak English. As to the charge against him, they stated that they had only recently arrived from Liverpool, where they were allowed to exhibit the bear in the side streets without hindrance. They thought they might do the same thing here.

Mr O’Donel discharged the prisoners with a caution not to obstruct the thoroughfare, and their undertaking to leave the country as soon as possible.”

Performing animals were once very prevalent around the Four Courts – perhaps due to Polito’s Grand Menagerie being situated close by on Ormond Quay! By 1875, they had mostly disappeared, though an elephant did make a appearance in 1906.

Pill Lane was a street running behind the Four Courts complex, approximately where Chancery Street is today. The wonderful history website Beyond22 gives a great account of how the street configuration of this area has changed over the years.

A brown performing bear appeared in the dock in West Ham in 1889, in Dalston and Wandsworth in 1890, in Woolwich in 1894, in the South Western (London) Police Court in 1897 and West Ham again in 1899, on each occasion accompanied by two Frenchmen with language difficulties. The above, rather cruel, image from the Police News of April 5th, 1890, shows a rather chastened-looking bear in Wandsworth Police Court.

Poor thing. Not a nice way for an animal to live.

I wonder was it the same bear as our one?

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