Friday, November 9, 2012

"Wanton Abuse of the Whip by Coachmen"

1841 illustration El Coche Simon 
The coachman--a ubiquitous figure in life, literature and history. His deeds were legend, and his reports of his personality ranged from the kindly, reliable family retainer to the rough, drunken driver of stagecoaches.

The majority of coachmen likely fell between the two extremes. The coachman was a man with a difficult job to do. It took strength, stamina, and resilience. The control of two, four, or even six, horses was no mean feat. Sitting out of doors in all weather for hours at a time required a constitution of iron, and a will to match. To keep a schedule, manage passengers, know one's horses, cope with accidents, highwaymen and weather needed a cool head and no little intelligence.

cover-pianoforte music Boston Public Library
But there were those who fell short of the requirements of the job. Some of those fell into drink, and the harsh conditions of the labour caused some, no doubt, to be hard and even cruel men.

The behaviour of one such coachman was detailed in the September 1819 issue of The Monthly Magazine or British Register. A correspondent designated only as H. from Kentish-town wrote: 

Riding yesterday a few miles on the outside of a stage-coach, I had an opportunity of observing how wantonly the coachman made use of his whip, not alone on the backs of his unfortunate horses, but on every other animal that had the misfortune to come within its reach. Not an ass, not a horse, not a pig, not a dog, approached him, without feeling the effects of his inhumanity. Yet he did not appear to be an ill-natured man: mischief, not malice, seemed to prompt him.
from The English Spy by Bernard Blackmantle
H. found the coachman to be something of a jokester: "There was indeed, a degree of merriment and liveliness about him...". He was, it seemed, playing to his captive audience of outside passengers, poking fun at the drivers and riders--"a lady", "an elderly man on a sorry horse", "a poor sweep", and "a fat, clumsy-looking citizen of the old school"-- whose animals he touched up with his whip.

H. goes on:

Amongst other subjects of conversation, (for his tongue was not less in perpetual motion than his whip,) benefit-societies [like guilds, or later, trade unions] became the object of his praise;...

...[a] passenger mentioned the name of his society; and the coachman replied, "And mine is the Benevolent Whip,"--at the same instant laying it about the back of a poor dog that happened to be passing.
In conclusion, H. was definite about the need for reform:
This gratuitous exercise of a whip, appears to me to be a species of cruelty sufficiently definable to become the subject of a prohibitory law.

I therefore think, that all acts of cruelty towards animals by persons not using them at the time, and especially towards animals over whom they are not entitled, either by ownership or otherwise, to exercise any control, might, and ought to be, made a punishable offence.
Five years after H. wrote to the Monthly Magazine, in 1824, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed. H. must have been pleased.

The coachman continued to go his own way for another ninety years, and then was immortalized in history and fiction. How interesting it is to hear from a gentleman of the Regency era about a real coachman, and his behaviour.

'Til next time,


N.B. The Monthly Magazine or British Register 1819 is available from Google Books free for download.

1 comment:

Anne Gallagher said...

Yay for H. I like the side note about the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals.

Another great post. I had never thought about a coachman needing to be so "sturdy" in both mind and constitution. Good to know.