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  • Three Sheep Killers: 1904-1905 February 27, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    sheep killers

    When we experience unusual phenomenon then, of course, our filters are almost as important as the phenomenon itself. Take a series of sheep killing cases that recently made quite an impression on Beach. The narrative breaks down into three sections: Mystery, Mystery Solved, Perception. Each of these in three parts: a, b and c.

    The Mystery

    a) December 1904 many sheep were killed by a mysterious wild animal in Northumberland (this is the famous Hexham Wolf).

    b) February 1905 many sheep were killed by a mysterious wild animal in Kent.

    c) September 1905 many sheep were killed by a mysterious wild animal on the borders between Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

    There is obviously no connection between these three events: these were three, all too factual different animals in widely dispersed parts of England. We know, fortunately, in each case, what the animal was because it was reliably identified after death.

    The Mystery Solved

    a) 24 December 1904 a wolf body was found and credibly blamed for the sheep killings in Northumberland: the wolf seems to have been cut in half by a train.

    b) c. 1 March 1905 a hyena was killed by a group of local farmers at Tonbridge in Kent and credibly identified as the sheep killer.

    c) c. 20 December 1905 a wild Newfoundland Dog (about 30 kilos) was killed by a group of farmers (though it took them three shots) in Pucklechurch. Again this animal was credibly identified as the sheep killer.

    In all three cases the body was carefully examined and, in case (a) and (b), parts of the body were put on display so there need not be much controversy about the identity of the animal: there have been some claims that the wolf was actually a ‘malamoot’ or wild Alaskan dog (18 Feb 1905 Aberdeen Press), but these do not matter for our purposes. For any non-British readers, none of these animals are native to Britain or, rather, in the case of wolves, they had not been for hundreds of years. What Beach finds most interesting  is the question of perception.


    a) The Northumberland wolf was believed, before being found, to be a wolf.

    b) The Kent Jackal was believed, before being killed, to be a wolf.

    c) The Pucklechurch Dog was believed, before being killed, to be a jackal.

    The Northumberland wolf was believed to be a wolf because a wolf had recently gone missing in the area. But why was the Kent Jackal believed to be a wolf and why was the Pucklechurch Dog believed to be a jackal? The obvious answer was because that was the last big sheep-killing story in the press. The jackal and dog had been seen, of course, and their handiwork (dead sheep) had been examined. But simple expectations fed by a story some weeks or months previous had decided the local population: in other words, filters mattered more than facts. This is not rocket science, but how often do such simple cognitive mechanisms explain apparent patterns in Forteana; and how often do these pattern remain obscure because there is no animal/evidence to examine when the press run a story? Drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Bob wrote early in March 2017: thanks for your recent posting regarding sheep-killing, and the references to earlier claimed wolf reports in the UK (and your previous posting on the Allendale Wolf). I write to point out to you a fairly recent study of UK wolf reports, which appear in  “The Red Paper: Canids. Vol 1 Foxes, Jackals and wolves of the United Kingtom & Ireland” by Terry Hooper (Terry Hooper-Scharf, Black Tower Books, Bristol  blacktowercg@hotmail.com) pp. 119-140.
    In summary, Terry examines reports of wolf escapes and sightings in this section, in the context of more than 25 previous 19th century reports in UK newspapers of wolves in France 1830-1859. He comments on wolves kept in the UK in menageries, the breeding and sale of wolves, escapes and suspected dumping/ releases from the menageries and private zoos.
    He covers and gives newspaper references to the following news reports:
    A sheep killing by “something of the dog of wolf species” in Coulsdon, Surrey (1833);
    A wolf escape and recapture from the Tower Menagerie (1834);
    “A foreign wolf” in Hertfordshire (1839);a wolf hunt in Aston area (1843);
    The “Camden Town wolf” killed (1846), Peckam wolf killing (1847),
    Depradation of a creature, possibly a wolf in Jedburgh, Melrose and Galasheils (1857);
    A menagerie crash and wolf escape near Lyme regis (Wombwell’s menagerie,1867 with illustration from the Illustrated Police News);
    The wolf excapes from Sangers Theatre (1888);
    Escape of wolf from menagerie at Luton and some 30 lambs “worried to death” (1892),
    Another wolf escape from a menagerie in Sussex, the wolf subsequently shot (also 1892);
    An escape and recapture (by lasso) -Willesden road (with illustration from the Illustrated Police News 1892);
    Three wolves escaping from Oxford Zoo- two shot (1934);
    A mention in Parliament of a wolf escape from a private zoo at Dudley (1937);
    An Irish report (Nov.1847, possible different from Fort’s cases reportedly April 1847);
    He reports in more detail the 1904 Allendale wolf, providing 2 different postcard illustrations (differing presentations of the same photo of the photo of the wolf’s corpse,illustrated on your posting).
    Terry cites accounts he has had directly from unamed witnesses in “several locations in the UK”  where ” forestry wardens and naturalists know there are wolves and further that they are protected by local farmers”… He adds “How the wolves got to the areas involved is unclear, however, in two instances the current land owners fathers had told them about the wolves when they were children.”-  referencing articles or notes in his own Exotic Animal Register Bulletin Nos 6 & 7 (1998).

    Floodmouse with an account, early March 2017: Have you read this?  It is a little gem of short fiction, and it must have been inspired by your sheep-eating hyena.  I couldn’t find a publication date, but it would have to be before 1916 when the author passed away.  If you need a smile, this will be ten minutes well spent: