Cock Fighting in Scotland by Unknown

It is highly probable that the Romans introduced cock-fighting into this country. It is generally believed that the sport was made popular by Themistocles. On one occasion he saw two cocks fighting, and their courage greatly impressed him, and he felt such exhibitions might teach a useful lesson of bravery to those who witnessed them. Periodical contests were exhibited, and were popular amongst the Greeks and Romans and with other nations, and were much appreciated by a large section of the inhabitants of this land. In “Bygone England,” by William Andrews, F.R.H.S. (London 1892), will be found a long account of “Fighting-Cocks in Schools.” One of the earliest accounts of the pastime in England, says Mr. Andrews, occurs in a “Description of the City of London,” by William Fitzstephen, who wrote in the reign of Henry II., and died in the year 1191. He records that it was the annual custom on Shrove Tuesday for the boys to bring their game cocks to the schools, to turn the schoolrooms into cockpits, the masters and pupils spending the morning witnessing the birds fighting.

Old town accounts contain many references to this custom, for example at Congleton, Cheshire, is the following item:—

“1601. Payd John Wagge for dressynge
the schoolhouse at the great
[Congleton] cockfyghte.”
£0 0s. 4d.

Hugh Miller, the famous geologist, who was born in the year 1802, in his popular volume “My Schools and Schoolmasters,” gives a graphic account of that amusement in the Cromarty grammar school where he received his education. “The school,” says Miller, “like almost all other grammar schools of the period in Scotland, had its yearly cock-fight, preceded by two holidays and a half, during which the boys occupied themselves in collecting and bringing up the cocks. And such was the array of fighting birds mustered on the occasion, that the day of the festival from morning till night used to be spent in fighting out the battle. For weeks after it had passed, the school floor continued to retain its deeply stained blotches of blood, and the boys would be full of exciting narratives regarding the glories of gallant birds who had continued to fight until their eyes had been pecked out; or who in the moment of victory, had dropped dead in the middle of the cock-pit.” Miller at some length denounces the cruel sport.

In England cock-fighting is prohibited by statute 12 and 13 Vict. 3, 92, under which every person who shall in any manner encourage, aid, or assist at the fighting or baiting of any bull, bear, badger, dog, cock, or other animal, shall forfeit and pay a penalty not exceeding £5 for every such offence. In Scotland it was not illegal until quite recently. An act was passed in 1850 known as the “Cruelty to Animals (Scotland) Act,” but the wording of the statute was found not to include the game or fighting-cock. The sport became popular and the law could not touch those that took part in the cruel amusement. It was felt to be a national scandal, and to prevent it, a short statute was passed on 30th May, 1895, whereby the definition of the word animal in the 11th section was amended by adding at the end thereof the words “or any game or fighting-cock, or other domestic fowl or bird.”

Mr. Robert Bird, the genial and gifted author of “Law Lyrics,” a volume which has been warmly welcomed by the public and the press, has made cock-fighting the subject of a clever poem.