Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why Does the Bluebell Railway Station have a stuffed dog on Display? And Why Does it Bother Me?

London Jack at the Bluebell Railway
In the 19th century, British railway workers left a lot of orphans. During the 1830's & 1840's, while the railroad was being built, a railway worker's job was said to be more dangerous than that of a soldier fighting the Battle of Waterloo.

Between 1875 and 1900, thirteen thousand railway workers died in boiler explosions and other accidents, leaving their wives and children without a wage-earner.
Aftermath of a Boiler Explosion
The workers' families had no safety net. Compensation for the risk of injury or death was presumed to be included in the men's wages.

Support for orphaned children fell to the church, and the newly established railway worker's unions, with the help of dogs who walked around the stations and boarded the trains, soliciting donations.
A different
A  Dog Named Railway Jack in 1934
There was a whole line of dogs named London Jack, but there were also Carlo, Laddie, Station Jim, Handsome Boy Prince, Nellie, Nigger, Sandy, Kim, and numerous others whose names are less well known.

One of the early collection dogs was Brighton Bob, a railway dog of the 1860's. In Bob's day, the dogs took donations in their mouths, which they would then give to their handlers.

Except for Bob.

He, being an enterprising soul, preferred to spend his take buying biscuits from the local bakery. At least until a journalist caught him at it.
'Handsome Boy Prince'; a charity dog which once worked at East Croydon station (image: Old Southeronians Association).
"Handsome Boy Prince" who collected at East Croyden Station
In the late 19th century, the dogs started carrying collection boxes on their backs--thus providing the opportunity for a (literal) shakedown. In 1896, thieves grabbed an Irish Terrier named Tim, who was working in Paddington Station. They held him upside-down by his feet and shook him until the contents of his collection box fell into a suitcase they had brought for the purpose. Tim at least had the satisfaction of biting one of the malefactors when they released him.

Successful dogs got medals: silver for collecting £100, gold for £500. The dog on display at the Bluebell Railway Station in Sussex, London Jack V, collected over £4000 between 1923 and 1930, a remarkable sum in those days. He is covered with medals, both silver and gold.
Five Southampton West Jack medals
Silver Medals Awarded to Southhampton West Jack
Each represents £100 collected
Jack, like many other collection dogs, wasn't allowed to retire just because he died. Instead he was stuffed and put on display in the expectation that his earthly remains would continue to support the orphanage, which they did--at least until 1998, when Jack's takings were used to pay for his restoration.
London Jack - before restoration
This is what Jack looked like when the Bluebell Railway got him in 1979.
When the taxidermist began work, he discovered that Jack had not been a a golden retriever, as everyone thought. His fur had apparently bleached during his years on display. He has now been dyed black--his original color, and the money he collects once again goes to the orphans.

Here are some of the other dogs whose stuffed remains still collect for the railway orphans:
Laddie, who died in 1956, at the London Railway Museum
London Jack, who worked at Paddington Station 1894-1900
Station Jim, who collected at Slough Station from 1894-1896
The stuffed dogs bother me a bit. If human philanthropists were stuffed and put on display after their deaths, I think most people would see it as a violation of their humanity.

I feel the same visceral reaction to a stuffed dog (or bear or moose, or lion) that I would to a stuffed human being.

There is an appalling (to me) museum in a small Sussex town that features cute animals such as bunnies and kittens all dressed up as schoolchildren, guests at a tea party, or getting married.
British taxidermist Walter Potter has a new book that includes a carefully curated selection of photos of his finest works, like rabbits at school, pictured here
One of the displays at the museum in Bramber
The museum was a huge hit in the Victorian era, and maybe still is--but I couldn't bear to look at the displays, especially since I couldn't help suspecting that many of those cute little animals died for no better purpose than to showcase the taxidermist's artistic talent.

The railway dogs died of natural causes, and since they were dead, they probably didn't mind being stuffed, but I do mind just a little bit.

conditions of workers who built the railroads