Researching animals with historical newspapers

Posted on April 24th, 2014 by The British Newspaper Archive

Hannah Velten recently got in touch to tell us how she uses The British Newspaper Archive to research a rather niche subject – the history of animals within society.

Show us what you’re researching at the moment by emailing press@britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

 

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One day it could be a toad emerging from a rock or a person kicked by a horse – I never know what I’m going to find when I log into The British Newspaper Archive each day. My goal is simply to unearth a nugget of animal history related to the day’s date.

Kicked by a horseThere’s no academic rigour involved: I type ‘animal’ into the search area, specify the date, with a year chosen at random, and wait to see what comes up. Some days the search only reveals one entry and some days I’m overwhelmed with tens of pages, but I will pick a story from page one.

 

Animal History Daily on Twitter

I should explain this rather odd behaviour… I’m tweeting a story every day during 2014, using the hashtag #AHD, and exploring the details behind the 140-characters in a weekly blog post.

Why? Because I’m rather obsessed with our historical interaction with animals and at the end of 2013, while promoting my book Beastly London: A History of Animals in the City, I felt that after seven years of research and writing it would be fun to find further inspiration by serendipitous means.

 

A Tail without a Pig!

My first story got me hooked. It’s not a pleasant one, but it’s surprising, jovial and beautifully provincial, proving animals were once so much a part of everyday life:

 

Article about a tail without a pig

 

Royal Cornwall Gazette - Saturday 01 January 1820
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

To give you an idea of the variety of animal stories I find, here are several of my favourites from the ones I’ve covered so far – they give an amazingly quirky insight into social history.

 

Fall of a ‘Baldwin Pony’

This is an example of an extreme circus animal act that sadly went wrong. It led to a RSPCA-backed court case where the charge of cruelty was eventually dropped.

 

Article about the fall of a Baldwin pony

 

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper - Sunday 03 March 1889
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

A Too Clever Dog

Another court case, but this time involving a dog bite and an oddly proud owner.

 

Article about a 'too clever dog'

 

Sheffield Independent - Saturday 19 February 1853
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

Sheep as Mascot

A buried sheep lives on to become the mascot of the coal tippers at Swansea Docks.

 

Article about a sheep mascot

 

The Daily Herald - Tuesday 19 January 1926
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

View the whole newspaper page

 

Elephants in the River

This article records the rescue of menagerie elephants from a river when their caravan tipped over.

 

Article about an elephant rescue

 

Bury and Norwich Post - Wednesday 16 February 1842
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View the whole newspaper page

 

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Visit Hannah’s blog Animal History Daily: Random Titbits from the Archives to see more of her fascinating finds.