REMARKABLE INSTANCE OF CANINE ATTACHMENT
A circumstance occurred last week at Portree, Isle of Skye, which may be added to the many chapters recording the fidelity and attachment of dogs to their masters. A rumour spread through the town one morning that on the previous night the dogs had torn open the grave of a young man who had died of fever, and was interred some weeks previous. So painful and shocking an occurrence caused great excitement in Portree; but in the course of the day Sheriff Fraser and others, having inquired into the facts of the case, found the facts to be not only of a less revolting nature, but fraught with the deepest interest.
When the young man was buried, his dog followed the funeral to the churchyard, and was with difficulty removed. It returned again and again to the spot, and, unobserved, had dug into the grave until it reached the coffin. At Portree, as in many other parts of the Highlands, the people bury their dead in a very superficial manner, making only shallow graves. The dog had gnawn through the coffin when the fact was discovered, but the body of its dead master was untouched; and there the faithful animal was found looking into the grave.
“I doubt,” says our correspondent, “if there be on record a more striking instance of canine attachment; for you must bear in mind that four or five weeks had elapsed since the interment, and the churchyard is six miles from the house where poor Norman’s father lives.”—Inverness Courier.
The Christian Recorder [Philadelphia, PA] 17 August 1861
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although there is some controversy over the tale, it was only three years before this story that John Gray, the master of Greyfriars Bobby, died and was buried in Edinburgh’s Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. His little Skye Terrier is said to have spent 14 years sitting on his late master’s grave, dying in 1872.
Dogs faithful unto death were a staple of 19th-century lore and legend. Here is another, less grewsome example, from 1817:
In the parish of Saint Olave, Tooley Street, Borough, the churchyard is detached from the church, and surrounded with high buildings, so as to be wholly inaccessible but by one large close gate. A poor tailor, of this parish, dying, left a small cur dog inconsolable for his loss. The little animal would not leave his dead master, not even for food; and whatever he ate was forced to be placed in the same room with the corpse. When the body was removed for burial, this faithful attendant followed the coffin. After the funeral, he was hunted out of the churchyard by the sexton, who, the next day, again found the animal, who had made his way by some unaccountable means into the enclosure, and had dug himself a bed on the grave of his master. Once more he was hunted out, and again he was found in the same situation the following day. The minister of the parish hearing of the circumstance, had him caught, taken home, and fed, and endeavoured by every means to win the animal’s affections: but they were wedded to his late master; and, in consequence, he took the first opportunity to escape, and regain his lonely situation. With true benevolence, the worthy clergyman permitted him to follow the bent of his inclinations; but, to soften the rigour of his fate, he built him, upon the grave, a small kennel, which was replenished once a day with food and water. Two years did this example of fidelity pass in this manner, when death put an end to his griefs; and the extended philanthropy of the good clergyman allowed his remains an asylum with his beloved master.
Canine Pathology, Delabere Pritchett Blaine, 1817
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You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
For more stories in a funereal vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, a look at the popular and material culture of Victorian mourning.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.