The Mad Death of 1895

On 28 October 1894, three-year old Charley Hornung from Bradford was bitten on the hand by his neighbour’s terrier. The wound was dressed and bandaged by a pharmacist and soon healed. Meanwhile, the dog had become increasingly irritable and, a few days later, ran so vigorously round the table to which it was tethered that it strangled itself with its own leash.

About 10 weeks later, in early January 1895, Charley became sick. His mother at first assumed he had a chill but, the following day, he was feverish and delirious but refused to drink as he had apparently become terrified of water. The doctor was summoned and diagnosed Charley with rabies before notifying the Police surgeon and the local public health officer.

There was nothing that could be done for poor Charley. Over the next few hours, he deteriorated rapidly – he began to froth at the mouth, suffered terrible torments and could communicate only with pitiful yelps like the dog that bit him. At 3am on 15 January 1895, his suffering finally ended but that of the local community had only just begun.

In Horsforth, a pony belonging to Labron Riley had become highly agitated, after a few days of unusual docility, and began tearing and leaping around its stable as if in terrible pain. Riley sought help from his former stable boy, John Hutchinson, but neither man could calm the stricken pony which lunged at and bit Hutchinson. Riley called for the vet who, fearing that the pony was rabid, killed it with a hammer-blow to the head and sent a sample of its brain tissue for tests.

The local doctor recommended that Hutchinson should be immediately sent to the famous Pasteur Institute in Paris which had developed a pioneering treatment for rabies ten years previously. Elsewhere in Horsforth, a rabid cat was caught and killed in Town Street.

Across the river at Rodley, a cat belonging to a Mrs Glover had attacked several people and a dog before flying at Mrs Glover and her two-year old son. The cat was eventually destroyed having been cornered in a yard and struck with an iron bar. The dog which it had bitten was also put down. Mrs Glover and her son were advised to go to the Pasteur Institute and a gentleman of Calverley generously funded the trip.

Meanwhile, in Headingley, another rabid dog had attacked several people and two cats. The whole of the city was now on high alert and a plea went out to dog owners to keep their pets muzzled at all times, whilst more than 1,000 stray cats and dogs were rounded up and destroyed.

Despite these strictures, 81 people were prosecuted for flouting the muzzling order in January alone but, eventually, the outbreak was contained.

Partly as a result of this epidemic, public health and quarantine measures were tightened to such a degree that, by 1903, rabies had been all but eradicated throughout Britain. Thankfully, there have only been a handful of confirmed rabies cases in the UK since then.

Click here for more local history stories.

Rabid dog in town by T L Busby, 1826

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