Famous Victorian Pets

From the castle to the canvas, these pets lightened hearts of the Victorian era.

bobbyBobby The Handcuff King

Bess Houdini brought the fox terrier home with her after an errand to the butcher shop. She’d only tried to gift him with a bone. But at the owner’s protest, Bess had bought him outright.

That’s when the real fun began.

Harry Houdini commissioned paw handcuffs to be made. From there, he trained Bobby in a number of escape tricks. Houdini even positioned him as the headlining act for the 14th Annual Society of American Magicians dinner. Although, it wasn’t terribly difficult to obtain since he was president of the society at the time.

To keep Bobby with him during his European tours, the magician smuggled him across the borders in hidden compartments of his props.


Whereas Mrs. Houdini only wanted to fill her dog’s plate, French poet Gérard de Nerval saved his lobster from ending up on someone’s plate. He described the heist to friend Laura LeBeau in a letter, writing: “and so, dear Laura, upon my regaining the town square I was accosted by the mayor who demanded that I should make a full and frank apology for stealing from the lobster nets. I will not bore you with the rest of the story, but suffice to say that reparations were made, and little Thibault is now here with me in the city…”

Flamboyant rumors document Nerval walking his pet on a blue ribbon leash. However, one thing is for certain: he held quite an affection for his crustacean.

His poem Pythagoras pays homage to the animal rights ideals he held. “Eh quoi, tout est sensible.” meaning “All things feel.”

Seven pets who were the pride & joy of the Victorian Era – Click to Tweet



Originally, Louis Wain thought to make his art career in drawing portraits of dogs. That direction was given pause when his wife fell ill to breast cancer.

A stray kitten by the name of Peter brought solace to her and inspiration to him. The black and white fluff soon became a primary muse. Wain began by simply sketching him. At Emily’s prompting, he began to pursue publication.

What first began as drawings authentic to the Victorian time-period transformed into masterpieces of moon-eyed felines in a kaleidoscope of colours better matched with future eras.

“To him,” Wain credits Peter, “properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.”


A rather nonsensical choice, science enthusiast John Lubbock kept a Spanish wasp! After its capture in the Pyrenees, the insect was trained to eat from its master’s hand.

He accumulated a grand total of one sting during his pet’s lifetime, a testament to his care. Once, Lubbock hurried to conceal the creature when a ticket collector neared his seat. He promptly secured a sting from manhandling it into a jar.


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Said to be Queen Victoria’s “closest childhood companion” by biographer Elizabeth Longford, the spaniel was much improved company to that of her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and  Sir John Conroy.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901), when Princess

Dash proved to be notably loyal. Once after being left ashore while Victoria sailed, he swam after the yacht. Their fondness was a mutual affair. She doted on “dear Dashy,” even taking it upon herself to bathe him the day of her coronation.

Benjamin Bouncer

Naturalist Beatrix Potter welcomed a plethora of fauna into her humble home. Pet mice scampered about freely. Long-eared bats hung about for a brief stay. However, the most inspiring to her was none other than a rabbit by the name Benjamin Bouncer.

He is more popularly known in children’s circles as Peter Rabbit.

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Snow White

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Ernest Hemingway’s white kitty,Snow White, didn’t have seven dwarves. What she did have was six toes.

Thought to be better mousers and more balanced from the addition, polydactyl felines were valued by sailors. Being so, it is no surprise that Hemingway received her from one, a captain by the name of Stanley Dexter.

Now Snow White’s polydactyl descendants prowl Hemingway’s estate-turned-museum in Key West. Their caretakers continue the author’s tradition of naming them after famous persons such as Billie Holiday, Tennessee Williams, and Isadora Duncan.

Photos of the present-day residence can be viewed via Buzzfeed’s photoshoot.





9 thoughts on “Famous Victorian Pets

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  1. I must say, my favorites are the lobster (as I’ve often wished to rescue every lobster in every supermarket) and the wasp (never heard of having one for a pet before, but that would actually be delightful!)

      1. Indeed!
        I do think, though, that earning the trust and friendship of a potentially dangerous, “exotic” animal could result in an even more meaningful attachment. (For instance, I’ve always dreamt of having a stingray or moray eel for a pet/friend, who would sting or bite only my enemies…hahah…;)

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