Monday, February 6, 2017

The Reverend Dog-Torturer

St. Mary's, Turweston (
It was a summer Sunday evening in the small, straggling Bucks village of Turweston. The Rev. William Harley, rector of St. Mary the Virgin, returned from the evening service to find a dog digging in the garden. Now this dog had been a persistent annoyance. With the assistance of his gardener, Mr. Harley put a sack over the dog's head and poured a pint of turpentine over the animal's "hind quarters." The animal began running in circles, yelping his way home to his master at nearby Turweston House. Mr. Stratton, JP, with the assistance of the RSPCA, brought Mr. Harley before the magistrates, charging him with “having ill-treated, abused and tortured a dog." 

The case of "The Rev. Dog-Torturer" became a cause celebre across England. Harley freely admitted doing it; he was at his wit's end, the dog had been chased off so many times. A veterinarian stated that the pain lasted no longer than hour. The RSPCA official called it a "gross act of cruelty" and beyond a landowner's rights. Denounced in many papers and among animal-lovers, Harley wrote to The Times, expressing some sorrow but claiming he was the victim of great exaggeration, "I was particularly careful not to allow it to touch any tender parts." At the Petty Sessions, the rector was cleared and, moreover, "he leaves this court without a stain upon his reputation as a Christian minister, a gentleman and a humane man.” 

Critics feared that if a clergyman could get away with this, what would others do? The Spectator reminded readers: "There is nothing more striking in our Lord's whole teaching than the reality with which he binds together the whole living universe in the bond of His Father's care and love." 

Looking for more stories of clerical controversy? Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is now available for E-readers via either or

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