On this Day

Bull-baiting at Madron Feast: The End of an Era

Today is the anniversary of the last time the barbarous practice of bull-baiting occurred at Madron Feast. Monday 29th November 1813 is the last definite occurrence at Madron though there are reports of occurrences elsewhere over the next few years.

By this time the 'sport' was beginning to die out with the rise of concerns about cruelty to animals. It was finally outlawed in 1835 with the passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act which forbade the keeping of any house, pit or other place for the baiting of or fighting of bulls, bears, dogs and other animals, this included cock-fighting.

In Madron the location for the bull baiting was a field which in 1838 became the site of the new Penzance Union workhouse. On this last recorded occasion the bull, which was tied to a ships anchor in the middle of the field, was said to have been provided by the Squire of Kemyel, in Paul.

There is an account of a further episode in Penzance the following year, 1814, which furnished more detail of the gory affair:

A 'considerable mob assembled to enjoy the delectable feast'. A bull, on its way to the green between Penzance and Newlyn, decked in ribbons, was led through the streets surrounded 'by a savage crew, eager to glut their eyes in beholding its tortures'. At ten o'clock the following morning the 'miserable bull was led to the field of torture, where, with the docility of a lamb it allowed itself to be fastened to a stake, and the dogs being loosed, it was worried for four or five hours, until it sunk exhausted to the earth. Notwithstanding the mangled state of the animal, its brutal tormentors proposed to put it to grass for a week' so that they could have another day of sport. Fortunately for the bull a scarcity of grass meant this was not to be. Although 'its nose and ears were sufficiently mangled' the reason for wishing to further bait the bull was the sport was not complete until the tongue 'was nearly torn off'.

In 1815 there was a further minor incident of bull baiting when a gang of 'ruffians' known for their bull-baiting exploits, set a bulldog on a cow being driven by a boy 'near the cliffs at the bottom of the town'. In an attempt to avoid the dog, the cow fell over the cliff and broke its back. Not exactly bull-baiting but a similarly vicious 'entertainment'.

Bull-baiting, it wasn't always the bull who was hurt!Bull-baiting was a popular and widespread activity and it wasn't always just the bull who suffered. The bull was expected to toss the dogs, it was all part of the fun, but on occasion the fun could become less enjoyable. At Rumwell, near Taunton, in June 1821 a bull escaped his tether on three occasions and each time managed to make his mark upon the persons of by-standers in so serious a way, that we have heard they will have reason to recollect the bull bait for the rest of their lives.

By 1825 the barbarities of bull-baiting were attracting attention beyond the provincial papers. The Morning Advertiser of 24 November homed in one one of the more gross aspects of the 'entertainment':

The attention of the University of Oxford has been drawn to the subject of bull-bating, in consequence of the late baiting which took place within a few miles of that city, when a monster in human shape tore from the root the tongue of his pitiable victim, and handed it about the ring. In consequence of this barbarity, we are told that a petition to Parliament is now in preparation, praying that bear-baiting, badger-baiting, dog-fighting, hunting, and similar cruel sports may be prohibited, under suitable penalties.

Another ten years were to pass before the Cruelty to Animals Act and another 179 years before the Hunting with Dogs Act of 2004. And yet, after all this time and apparent progress, there are still those who would turn back the clock.


West Briton 2/12/1814, 16/12/1814 & 7/4/1815

Dorchester and Taunton Journal 21/6/1821

Morning Chronicle 24/11/1825

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