English Miscellany in the 1860s

Sometime in the 1860s, a farmer in Scotland hooked a large pike, weighing twenty-one pounds. He left it for dead upon the bank of the river, opposite his house; but his dog happened to brush past it. The fish caught the dog by its tail, and despite the dog plunging into a river and swimming across, the pike did not let go. It took the assistance of the farmer to loosen the fish. However, this was not the only miscellany reported in the 1860s. There were other interesting miscellany such as the following reports:

In 1862, a woman in Norfolk, England, was appointed parish clerk “because in a population of six hundred souls, no man could be found able to read and write.”[1]

An English paper noted that children who punched the eye-holes of needles by hand, acquired such dexterity as to be able to punch a human hair and thread it. They apparently also did it for the amusement of visitors.

The salary of the Lord Mayor of London in 1861 was $40,000 a year.

William Cubitt, Lord Mayor of London in 1860 and 1861. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The commerce of London in the 1860s was said to be more than two hundred and forty-eight vessels — a total of more than 52,000 tons — arrived there in a single day.

In the 1860’s a new fashion in ladies’ stocking came out in England. This new fashion was woolen or cotton stockings, parti-colored, such as red and white, red and black, or mauve and gray. They were said to harmonize in such a way that “the effect [was] … very pretty.”[2]

A machine was invented in the 1860s England that was attached to the stern of a ship and pumped the water out of a ship with a rapidity equal to the ratio of the ship’s speed.

Forty-two cows burnt to death when a fire broke out at a farm in 1869. The fire was sparked in a boiler-house and spread consuming the cattle while everyone slept. The family discovered the destruction in the morning when they awoke. 

In the 1860s, a feeble woman of 67 years, was turned out of a house in Tottenham Court Road for non-payment of rent. She then starved to death in the streets of London.

Supposedly, by the 1860s, “imprisonment for debt [was] … practically abolished in England,”[3] as the extent of punishment for debt was nothing more than fourteen days.

A Mr. Budd of London died in 1862. He left a million dollars to his two sons, but they were subject to forfeit the money if they wore mustaches. Apparently, Mr. Budd didn’t like them.

English mustache. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

An English laborer died after wagering for a half a shilling that he could drink a half-gallon of beer in two minutes. Apparently, he had been previously imbibing before the wager.

A writer in the London Shipping Gazette called the iron screw steamships that were extensively employed in navigating the waters of Northern Europe, as “sea-going coffins.” That was because six or seven of them were lost (five foundered) in a gale on October 3 and 4, 1861. The loss of life amounted to about two hundred persons.

It was reported in 1862 that in London “four or five hundred houses are destroyed by fire annually.”[4]

A poor rag-and-bone collector in England, named Powell, bought an old vest for four cents. To his surprise he found $1500 dollars in the pocket. His unexpected wealth then brought about his first headache as the reporter claimed Powell was puzzled what to do with so much money.

The rag-and-bone man with his greasy bag and mat-basket. Public domain.

In 1869, a Miss Jones of Stormhill returning from an evening at the Presbyterian Church was bidding good night to some friends and suddenly dropped dead on the friend’s doorstep. A doctor was on the spot, “but medical skill was of no avail. … The case is rendered more melancholy by the circumstance that a brother of the deceased died suddenly during last summer of apoplexy.”[5]

Forty-two cows burnt to death when a fire broke out on a farm in 1869. The fire was sparked in the boiler-house and spread. It consumed the cattle while everyone slept, and the family did not discover it until they awoke. 

In the early 1860s it was reported that “the dog tax in England yields a revenue to the government of a million of dollars per annum.”[6] Paris was also benefiting from the dog tax. It reduced the number of dogs from 42,000 to 29000 in four years and earned “a revenue of 300,000 francs.”[7]

Left to Right and Top to Bottom: Retriever, Chinese Dog, Coach Dog, Setter, Shepherd, Bull Dog, Pug, Mastiff, Terrier, and Skye Terrier. Author’s collection.

One of the tokens of progress of the 1860s was said to be the splendid free library that opened in London.

Kleptomania was a new term used in England in the 1860s. It designated petty thefts committed by members of the aristocracy. The old-fashioned words — robbery, theft and larceny — only applied when such offenses were committed by the poor or ignorant.

A young man named John Eccleson was remanded for week in 1866 because he couldn’t adequately explain why he had a women’s shawl in his possession, although he did state he found it on the road.

A horse and a cab were found lying a pool of stagnant water and the driver was nowhere to be found although his whip and pocketbook were found in the water. Supposition was that “the cabman was sitting on the cab, which turned over, and the weight of it buried him in the mud. Three of the horse’s hoofs were off, which showed that it suffered great agony.”[8]

A young boy of fifteen lived with his father and stepmother in London in 1862. The stepmother treated him badly and he was jealous of the affection bestowed upon his eleven-year-old sister. He therefore took his sister into the coal cellar and strangled her with a piece of cord.

An ingenious English inventor proposed to remedy the want of a bigger bust in ladies of a “given thinness.” It was achieved by a jacket that was to be inflated by the wearer to the proper shape and “plumptitude.”

One man was saved by the tail of dog while hunting. Apparently, during the hunt the gentleman was crossing some deep water, fell in, and was being carried away “when he got hold of the tail of a dog, which was near him in the water, and was thus towed to the bank amidst great merriment.”[9]

The 1860s was also a time for growth at Madame Tussaud‘s Wax Museum where historical royals were introduced in an unprecedented manner into the Hall of Kings. The new wax royals introduced included Richard I, Richard II, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth, William I, William II, Henry II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, John, Edward III, Edward IV, and the Black Prince.

Close up of Mary Queen of Scots from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in 2018. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 11cc.jpg © C.L. Weber.


  • [1] Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, Volumes 15-16, 1862, p. 196.
  • [2] Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 13, 1861, 496.
  • [3] Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, 1862, p. 196.
  • [4] Ibid., 96.
  • [5] “Melancholy and Sudden Death,” in Londonderry Standard, 27 March 1869 p. 3.
  • [6] Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, 1862, p. 592.
  • [7] Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, 1861, 297. 
  • [8] “Singular Discovery of a Horse and Cab,” in Bucks Herald, 02 January 1869, p. 6.
  • [9] “Stag-Hunt in Louth – A Dog a Friend in Need,” in Belfast Morning News, 26 March 1869, p. 3.

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