Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the shocking death of a young lad attacked by a mad dog
On the fourth Sunday of May 1875 Matthew Brockbank, aged eight, attended morning service at All Saint’s Church with his mother.
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On leaving the church they went for a ramble through the parks by the side of the River Ribble.
When in the Miller Park area a ferocious looking bull terrier dog in a wild state approached them, knocked the child to the ground, took a bite of his leg and gnawed his ankle.
The animal was in the keeping of Miss Waring, a dressmaker of Winckley Street, and was being taken out for exercise by a boy.
Unfortunately, it had managed to escape from its tether. A gentleman attempted to control the dog with a stick, but was forced to make a hasty retreat over some railings.
The dog had then rushed through the parks and onto the public walks scaring everyone along the route before attacking the boy.
Pursuit of the dog was then taken up by the park keeper Mr. Rowbotham, who had a shotgun, and a constable, but they could not get within range. The dog continued its course along the water side, and when passing Crook’s boathouse, two oars were broken on its back, but they failed to check its progress.
Further on it bit several other dogs, one a valuable animal belonging to the Mayor Charles Fryer.
After making its way to Friargate the wild dog was finally cornered and captured, being taken to the police station.
With the consent of the owner the dog was fed some poison the next morning amid fears it might be rabid.
The poor little victim Matthew Brockbank was conveyed to his home in Back Lane and attended by Dr. Hodgson.
Though confined to bed for some weeks and suffering acutely, the lad appeared to gradually recover and the wounds healed.
At the beginning of July he again went to the doctor, who examined his leg and no apprehensions were entertained.
Sadly, a couple of days later he began to complain of pains in his body, which by the following day were unmistakable systems of hydrophobia.
He wandered in his speech, commenced frothing at the mouth and tossed to and fro in pain.
Miss Waring, who was deeply upset at the situation, sent for the best of medical assistance, but it was to no avail as the boy died on the following Saturday.
The subsequent inquest at the police station after hearing the medical testimony delivered a verdict of ‘death by hydrophobia’ and the outcome prompted the Mayor to speak at the Borough Police Court the following day.
He reported that as a precaution his own dog had been destroyed and that two other local owners had likewise poisoned their dogs.
He urged the Chief Constable Mr. Oglethorpe to issue an instruction that any other dog that had been bitten must also be destroyed.
Three recent cases of death from hydrophobia in Lancashire showed the need to act accordingly.
The Chief Constable responded by issuing a warning to anyone who kept a dog without a licence that they would face prosecution.