On my way back from a trip to London, I was able to get a couple of hours in the Newsroom of the British Library to take a look at some colonial-era newspapers. Scanning through the microfilm of the English-language daily The Times of Burma for the year 1905, I stumbled across an odd story.
Two S.P.C.A. [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] peons wearing plain clothes were arrested last night, on a charge of having caused grievous hurt to the driver of a ticca gharry [horse-drawn carriage]. It is alleged they beat him, knocked him of the box and allowed the gharry to run over him, fracturing several ribs. The injured man was taken to the hospital where he lies in a dangerous state. A magistrate has taken the injured man’s diposition [sic].
In official discussions around animal cruelty in British Burma, gharry drivers were much maligned as among the worst perpetrators. However, The Times of Burma was the organ of the European merchant community in the colony and it often took positions at odds with the colonial government. They presented themselves as a bulwark against liberal attempts to reform the bureaucracy. The publication of this story might be read as subtly poking fun at the misplaced priorities of officialdom.
I then spotted, on the same page, another story in which animal protection appeared to pose a risk to humans.
An armoured coat for dogs, to serve as a protection against motor-cars, has been invented by a New Yorker. The coat is studded with sharp steel points, like a steel hedgehog. If the armoured dog is run into by a motor car the sharp points puncture the trye [sic], and the consequent rush of released air blows the dog out of danger.
Even given the comparatively limited power of cars at this time, this sounds like a pretty dangerous coat. However, the notion of the dog being blow out of danger by a gush of air is fanciful. The writer is playing the story for laughs. But what is the significance of the inventor being a New Yorker? Is this just a bit of detail, or are they making a joke about American East Coast sensibilities?
The idea that some people care more for animals than they do humans has often been used to undermine certain groups or political projects. As Joanna Bourke has argued, this idea is premised there being a limited amount of sympathy to go around. This seems to be what The Times of Burma is playing on through these short reports. Through this they were performing a particular iteration of white colonial masculinity. Imagine their mirth if a gharry ever collided with an dog sporting one of these armoured coats.
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