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Sporting, Gambling, Billy the Rat Killing Dog, Antique Print, British, 19th C. (Sold)

Billy, the Celebrated Rat Killing Dog Performing His Wonderful Feat
N.p., n.d., but London, 19th century
Hand-colored engraving
13.5 x 17.75 inches, image
16.5 x 19.5 inches, plate mark
19.5 x 24 inches, overall

This item is sold. It has been placed here in our online archives as a service for researchers and collectors.

Engraving of a well-known terrier named Billy, shown in a rat baiting pit “[k]illing 100 Rats in Five Minutes and a Half on the 22nd April 1823 Being His 9th Match.” Rat baiting was a wagering sport in which spectators bet on which dog could kill the most rats in the least amount of time. Typically, 100 rats would be released into in a small pit lined with wooden walls. Billy is shown in such a pit with rats that he caught in his jaws as others scramble around or lie dead on the floor. A referee in a top hat, vest, and boots, stands in the arena and points to the dog, while a timekeeper holds a stopwatch on the right. A rat catcher stands ready on the left with more rats in the hat held in his hands. Onlookers watch intently, mostly white men in top hats, along with a dark-skinned man, a woman, and a boy sitting on a man’s shoulders. The arena is lit from overheard with a chandelier.

Product description continues below.

Description

Below the title in the lower margin the caption provides Billy’s pedigree and a chart of his achievements between 1820 and 1823:

Now the property of Mr. Charles Dew, bred by that well known Fancier James Yardington, he was got by Mr. Poples Billy, son of his old Billy bred by James Tattersall Esq’r. of Weetten under Edge Gloucestershire from the best Strain of Bull Dogs in England; Billy on the Bitches side was bred by Yardingtons Sall, she was bred from the Curley Strain, an extraordinary good half-bred Bitch and well known to the Fancy, and from Turpin a Bull Dog bred by J. Barclay Esq’r. of Jacklin’s Strain, the greatest Bull Dog Fancier in the World, and from Blind Turk, another famous Bull Dog, these Dogs have been traced back for these 40 years by the oldest Judges. Billy killed a number of Rats before he was known to the Sporting World and won with ease the following matches,

1820 1st/ Against Time/ Killed 20 Rats in/ 2 min 30 sec
— 2nd/ Mr Gills Jack/ d’o [ditto]/ 2 min 8 sec
— 3rd/ Mr Germain’s White Terrier/ d’o/ 1 min 45 sec
— 4th/ Mr Bakers Tulip/ d’o/ 1 min 10 sec
— 5th/ The Walworth/ d’o/ 1 min 11 sec

1822/ Sept 3rd/ 6th/ Against Time/ Killed 100 Rats in/ 8 min 45 sec
— Oct 22nd/ 7th/ Killed 100 Rats in/ 8 min 17 sec
— Nov 12th/ 8th/ Killed 100 Rats in/ 6 min 28 sec
1823/ April 22nd/ 9th/ Killed 100 Rats in/ 5 min 30 sec
— August 5th/ 10th/ Killed 100 rats in/ 8 min 20 sec

Some terriers, like Billy, were bred for ratting. One of his matches was reported in The Sporting Magazine, which in 1822 described him as a “famous dog…of rat-killing notoriety.” At the height of his career, Billy held a record of 3.3 seconds per rat, which stood until 1862 when a dog named Jacko surpassed it. As attitudes toward animal cruelty and exploitation of dogs evolved, the sport gradually lost acceptability. In 1835 the Parliament of the United Kingdom banned animal baiting sports with bulls, bears, and other large animal rat baiting remained legal until about 1912.

References:

Cryer, Max. Every Dog Has Its Day: A Thousand Things You Didn’t Know About Man’s Best Friend. Auckland, New Zealand: Exisle Publishing, 2013. pp. 94-95. Online at Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=2rbdMW0l5HIC&pg=PA94 (30 March 2020).

“Rat Baiting.” Wikipedia.org. 19 February 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat-baiting (30 March 2020).

Additional information

Century

19th Century