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Newgate Calendar - JOHN BURKITS


Sentenced to Twelve Months Imprisonment, for Dog Stealing, October 13, 1789

            STILL find we novelty in the black art of thieving; still is the reader, far as we are advanced in our work, presented with new instances of wickedness and cruelty.


"The devil behind him, pleas'd and grinning,
"Patting this fell savage on the shoulder,
"Declaring nought was ever bolder,
"Admiring such a novel mode of sinning."

            Most true it is, that as well as horse-stealers and sheep stealers, we have in our London catalogue of rapscallions, a set of cruel men, prowling about, to rob families of their most faithful domestic—their dog; for the base inhuman purpose of killing him, for the price of his skin!

            The dog is the most intelligent of all known quadrupeds, and the acknowledged friend of mankind. It seems beyond the power of ill-usage to subdue the faithful and constant qualities inherent in him. The dog, exclusive of the beauty of his form, his swiftness, and his vivacity, possesses all those internal qualifications that can endear any creature to man. In his domestic state, his sole ambition and desire is to please. With a kind and affectionate humility, he crouches before his master, and is happy to offer his strength, his courage, and all his useful talents, for his service. He waits his orders, and implicitly obeys them. He is friendly without interest, grateful for the slightest favours, and sooner forgets injuries than benefits. His only pleasure is to be serviceable, his only terror to displease. He licks the hand just raised to strike him, and disarms resentment by submission. Ever assiduous in serving his master, he is also a friend to his friends, and indifferent to all the rest. The dog is the only animal whose fidelity is unshaken. When the master is attacked, the dog will defend him to the utmost of his power; and when his master dies, he laments his loss; some have been known to pine away, and others to follow the corpse to the grave. There are, therefore, few species of domestic property which men more delight in than their dog; and no animal in the brute creation repays his kindness with more gratitude, and obedience, than his faithful dog. All the day he toils in the field, in the chase, or guards his master's flocks and herds; and at night he defends him from attack of ruffians, in the shape of man.

            We could recount, at least, a hundred instances of the affection, perseverance, and resignation, of the canine race—of the lives they have saved; the property they have rescued from destruction; and their being at all times ready to risk their lives in defence of their master's. Men followed by their dog, oft have met fatal accidents, by sudden death, and when their bodies were found, the affectionate animal was apparently watching his master's sleep, and guarding him from intrusion

            The late earl of Harcourt was found in a well in his own domains. He had fallen in head-foremost, in the act, it was conjectured, of stooping for a little water for his dog, which had followed him. The water was not deep, but the bottom being muddy, the unfortunate nobleman stuck fast by the head, and his feet alone remained above, upon which, some few hours after life had fled from the man, the dog was found, looking with anxiety to the bottom, for the remainder of his beloved master.


"Stooping to drink, the hermit found a grave:
"All in the running stream his garments spread,
"And dark damp verdure ill concealed his head;
"The faithful servant of that fatal day,
"Watch'd the lov'd corpse, and hourly pined away;
"His head upon his master's cheek was found,
"While the obstructed waters mourn'd around."

            It would require a separate volume to fully describe the excellent qualities of that faithful animal, which such villains as John Burkits, the detested subject of this essay, seek to kill, for the paltry price of his skin. Dogs of high breed bear a valuable proportion to the racer, and often sell for twenty, and even fifty guineas, or more; while the owners of others would not, by gold, be tempted to part with them. Yet, for a paltry half-crown did Burkits, and many other cruel scoundrels, kill such beautiful and faithful animals.

            The method used to get possession of the dog, is of a piece with the finishing blow; they have recourse to treachery, for no open means could prevail upon the betrayed creature to suffer the ruffian's hand to touch them. These dog-stealers have a paste, wherein is a certain drug, the flavour of which, as the oil of rhodium will draw rats, dispels every other object, and they irresistibly follow the person carrying the deceitful composition.

            The case of Burkits will fully apply to this observation. On his trial, in the hopes of escaping with a trifling punishment, he confessed, that the dog which he was charged with stealing, followed him from the Haymarket, and that he hung him in a field leading to Hampstead; that he had hung several dogs, and that he followed the practice for a living; that the skin of a common sized dog would fetch 1s. 6d.—for a degree larger, 2s.—and for a very large one, from 2s.6d. to 3s.6d.; that he always sold them to a tanner in Long-lane, in the Borough, who asked no questions. He was fined, and sentenced twelve months' imprisonment.

            Note: "As to friendship," says Montaigne, "the beasts sometimes have it, without comparison, more lively and constant than men have. King Lysimachus's dog Hyracan, his master being dead, lay upon his bed, obstinately refusing either to eat or drink; and the day that his body was burned (the custom of the time) he took a run, and leaped into the fire, where he was consumed. As also did the dog of one Pyrrhus; for he would not stir from his master's bed from the time that he died; and when they took his master away, suffered himself to be carried with him, and at last leaped into the pile, where they burnt his master's body.

            "There are also certain inclinations of affections which sometimes spring in us, without the consultation of reason, and by a fortuitous temerity, which others call sympathy, of which beasts are as capable as we. We see horses take such an acquaintance with one another, that we have much difficulty to make them stir or travel, when separated: We observe them to fancy a particular colour in those of their own kind, and, where they meet it, run with great joy and demonstration of good will; and have a dislike or hatred to some other colour."


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