In a Cruel and Bizarre Twist, the Champion Fighting "Dog" of Victorian London Was An Ape Named Jacco

Fight between Jacko Maccacco a celebrated Monkey and Mr Tho. Cribbs well known bitch Puss by Thomas Landseer, London, c.1820. Wikimedia Commons

Jacco’s Finest Hour

Jacco’s fame culminated in a match against the unusually-named Bull and Terrier bitch “Puss”, another celebrated fighter on the London circuit, in June 1821. This bout was very much the ‘Thriller in Manila’ of its day: the veteran Puss was highly successful, and twice the weight of the undefeated newcomer. The exact outcome, however, is unknown, as we have conflicting accounts. According to Lennox, Puss ‘shared the same fate that fourteen canine predecessors had suffered, and was obliged to knock under to the champion of that animal which so closely resembles the human form’. No more is said of Jacco.

 

Horror Leads to Humane Legislation

The fight attracted wider interest, and was discussed in Parliament by Richard Martin, an MP and passionate advocate of animal rights whose work helped form the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the outlawing of bloodsports altogether. ‘Humanity Dick’, as he was known, had been appalled by this advertisement: ‘Jacco Macacco, the celebrated monkey, will this day fight Tom Crib’s white bitch, Puss. Jacco has fought many battles with some of the first dogs of the day, and has beat them all, and he hereby offers to fight any dog in England of double his own weight’.

According to Martin’s account in Parliament, the fight lasted for half an hour before Jacco severed Puss’s carotid artery, and in return had his mandible severed. Both animals died within two hours. This account was disputed by Aistrop, who claimed that Puss was killed in two-and-a-half-minutes, and that Jacco died of an unrelated illness fifteen months later. Aistrop also claimed that Jacco had been stuffed and sold to a Mr. Shaw of Richmond Common. Nevertheless, Martin’s impassioned 1822 account of the fight between Jacco and Puss helped pass his animal rights bill, and dog-fighting became illegal in 1835.

Tom and Jerry Sporting their Blunt on the Phenomenon Monkey Jacco Macacco at the WestminsterPit by George and Isaac Robert Cruikshank, London, 1821. Daily Telegraph

Fame Beyond the Pit

Such was the fame of Jacco that he was not only mentioned in Parliament, but immortalised in Lewis Strange Wingfield’s novel, Abigail Rowe. Wingfield included an account of a hundred-guinea fight between Jacco and ‘Belcher’s celebrated dog Trusty’. Pierce Egan also included a scene involving Jacco in one of his Tom and Jerry stories, which was illustrated by the eminent George and Isaac Robert Cruikshank. The illustration captures the squalid and intimate nature of a Victorian dog-fight, and the Hogarthian expressions on the faces of the punters is borne out by evidence for the bloodthirsty sport’s wide popularity.

Jacco’s fight with Puss was also the subject of an etching by Thomas Landseer, the brother of Edwin, painter of Monarch of the Glen and sculptor of the lions in Trafalgar Square (see above). A less-accomplished illustration of Jacco was made by Thomas Sutherland (also above), based on an original by Henry Thomas Alken, which shows the creature with a disconcertingly human face. The first two of the afore-mentioned illustrations depict Jacco’s favoured tactic of attacking opponents’ throats by lying on the ground, which meant that Jacco’s bouts usually lasted fewer than ninety seconds, producing theatrical amounts of blood.