The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian England.
Author: Coral Lansbury 1985
“In 1907, an extraordinary series of antivivisection riots took place in Battersea over the structure of a brown dog in the Latchmere Recreational Ground. Medical students came across the river from London University and tried to destroy it, and a crowd of trade unions and feminists, momentarily united by their opposition to vivisection, battled to defend the brown dog.”
So begins a detailed and often confronting account which draws parallels between the fight against vivisection, trade union rights and women’s suffrage in Edwardian England as the author, Coral Lansbury, contends that workers and feminists identified themselves with the trembling animal strapped to the operating table. Her rendition is supported through analysis of novels and events of the time. The book is not specifically about antivivisection, but does present a fascinating history of the movement exploring the hurdles faced by antivivisection pioneers such as Frances Power Cobbe (founder of NAVS and BUAV), Anna Kingsford and Louise Lind-af-Hageby.
While tremendous progress has been made over the years in the areas of both workers and women’s rights, the same cannot, unfortunately, be said about vivisection. We are today still subjecting hundreds of millions of animals worldwide to often painful and invasive procedures for what we know now are dubious degrees of relevance. Their treatment is much the same as that described by Lansbury when she details the invasive nature of genital examination of women by trainee doctors (p.85-86) or the callous treatment and sexual exploitation of female servants by their landlords (Ch.7).
Lansbury writes strongly about vivisection demonstrations: “When observers like Frances Cobbe and Louise Lind-af-Hageby witnessed these demonstrations, they felt as though they were in the presence of a new pornography, and all the animals stretched out writhing on boards were like women on the gynaecologist’s table or bound to some chair…” (p.111)
Over 100 years later one can compare this with extracts from recent scientific publications about primate research in Australia:
“… a circular aluminium frame that enclosed the entire scalp was fixed to the skull using 6-8 stainless steel pegs. Access to brain areas for recordings was through small conical tubes that were placed in 2.5mm diameter holes drilled in the skull.”
“Animals were infected with a 104 TCID50 dose of SIVMAC251 either intrarectally or intravaginally… SIV infection was confirmed in all animals”
Lansbury also tells us (p123) “catalogues for physicians and surgeons were replete with descriptions for the new gynaecological operating chairs and tables illustrated with line drawings or photographs showing a woman strapped into ...position” and that Johnson’s operating chair of 1860 ... is described as “a frame supported on four legs, a shallow stuffed seat and a stuffed back with was maneuverable to various angles by means of a frame and ratchet. It had two attached bars ending in stirrups or footrests, which could slide in and out of a groove, or be removed entirely”.
Today’s researchers use similar contraptions called stereotaxic frames for immobilising animals in a similar manner. A typical (and disturbing) protocol is documented in “Preparation for the in vivo recording of neuronal responses in the visual cortex of anaesthetised marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)”.
| A new statue, by Nicola Hicks, |
was erected in Battersea Park in 1985.
Of particular interest was the violent reaction of medical students who vehemently opposed the statue and sought aggressively to destroy it with sledgehammers. Then during a heavily guarded antivivisection meeting held by Louise Lind-af-Hageby as described by Lansbury:, “over a hundred students managed to smuggle their way in, and soon the meeting was pandemonium, with broken chairs, fistfights, and smoke bombs” with medical students demanding to have the statue’s inscription removed(p.18).
It is often argued by those who conduct animal experiments that they must remain secretive about their work due to the perceived threats of “animal liberationists”. However, like the previous passage, it is not the animal activists who react aggressively, but rather the researchers themselves who object to the questioning of their right to treat animals as their tools.
Lansbury, who died in 1991, was estranged from her son Malcolm Turnbull since he was aged ten, however it is understood she remained an influential force in his life. It is disappointing then, that her recognition of injustice – including that of animals – seems not to have swayed the government’s support of animal-based research under Turnbull’s leadership.
 Information processing bottlenecks in macaque posterior parietal cortex: an attentional blink? Ryan T. Maloney, Jaikishan Jayakumar, Ekaterina V. Levichkina, Ivan N. Pigarev, Trichur R. Vidyasagar, Exp Brain Res (2013) 228:365-376 DOI 10.1007/s00221-013-3569-2
 Comparison of Influenza and SIV Specific CD8 T Cell Responses in Macaques (2012) Sinthujan Jegaskanda, Jeanette C. Reece, Robert De Rose, John Stambas, Lucy Sullivan, Andrew G. Brooks, Stephen J. Kent, Amy Sexton
 “Preparation for the in vivo recording of neuronal responses in the visual cortex of anaesthetised marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)” James Bourne, Marcello Rosa, (2003)