Dear Readers of the Turf Times: In honor of the upcoming holiday weekend and related celebrations, here’s a tale from the Spirit of the Times archives about the escapades of Jack Ragg, a 19th century English draught horse. Next week’s issue will continue coverage of the New Orleans Jockey Club’s inaugural 1837 spring meeting. — ATT Ed.
“Jack thought on this occasion the pleasures of eating were as nothing compared to the joys of drinking.” – The musings of Jack Ragg, upon his tumble into an ale cellar
On Saturday afternoon, a dense crowd was collected round the Duke of York public house, which forms the junction of Shepherd-street and Union-street, Oxford-street, and from the eagerness of the spectators it was evident that some unusual incident had occurred.
It seems that a brewer’s horse had fallen into Mrs. Miller’s cellar the evening before, from which, still hale and hearty, his owners were now preparing to hoist him up. This event, which it appears is unprecedented in the annals of licensed victuallers, took place in the following manner. –
On Friday evening, the carter of Messrs. Combe and Delafield brought some liquor to the Duke of York, and then proceeded to draw the empty barrels out of the cellar in the usual way, by fastening a rope to the horse’s traces and putting a holdfast attached to the other end of the rope within the barrel. Several were brought up, but as the horse was tugging at a cask of extraordinary magnitude, which met with some opposition in its ascent, the rope snapped, and the force of the ‘re-action’ carried poor ‘Jack Ragg’ tail foremost into the cellar.
As the descent was several feet, it was feared that the poor fellow was severely injured; but as soon as astonishment at the change of scene began to subside, he made the folks overhead understand that he had the full use of his faculties.
Forthwith he knocked the necks off a dozen of sherry, and then stove in a hogshead of ale with his hoof, to which, as it flowed into a natural basin in the cellar, he began to help himself, and soon gave testimony of the quality of the liquor, by snorting, neighing and dancing about the apartment, emancipating more and more of the precious liquors at every evolution.
The jingling of the bottles and glasses below now gave poor Mrs. Miller more concern for the safety of her stores than her new customer. But it was no easy matter to get Jack out of such good quarters.
The pot-boys were ordered to go into the cellar by the back way, but the horse kept his tail so firmly against the door, that to open it was impossible. They could see him well enough down the front aperture, and he could also see them; and by showing his teeth and shaking his hoof, he plainly gave them to understand what would be their reception if they ventured below. The boys, therefore, dared not disturb him. They said they could very well manage a man in liquor, but that it would be more than their heads were worth to interrupt a horse in the middle of a spree.
To get him out of the cellar by the way he descended was impossible, unless Jack first allowed them to put ropes around his body. In vain they endeavored to entice him forward for this purpose, by holding sieves of oats and pitchforks of hay at the trap-door. Jack thought on this occasion the pleasures of eating were as nothing compared to the joys of drinking.
At length Mrs. Miller bethought her of a plan. “Come, let us send the wittles down to him, and we can surround him with the ropes while he is chewing.”
Forthwith the hay, oats, barley and beans were showered down in greater abundance than ever regaled a horse at a manger. Jack was well pleased with the first part of the compromise, but he would not listen to the second. The wittles seemed only to give him a renewed relish for his half-and-half.
Hour after hour of eating and drinking followed, accompanied by smashing and clattering at the end of every five minutes, until poor Mrs. Miller, seeing herself completely done, gave way to despair, and it was only by main force that she was prevented from running down into the cellar to stick Jack through and through with a pitchfork.
But a horse, just like a man, is able to eat and drink no more than he can hold. Honest Jack, at last, finding that he had not room for another mouthful, sat down on the hay in a state of supreme beatitude, and was in a few minutes dreaming, probably about how good Mrs. Miller had been to him.
Early next morning, ere Jack showed signs of stirring, preparations for hauling him out were commenced. An inclined plane was dug from the opposite side of the street to the flooring of the cellar. A triangle was erected over the passage, from which suspended ropes, that were by the most gentle tickling and pushing from side to side, rolled around poor Jack’s body, while he still lay in the land of forgetfulness.
All being now prepared, which was not until noon, a strong body of porters and policemen were collected, and the street and windows on all sides were filled with waggoners, carters, brewers, and licensed victuallers, anxious to witness the resurrection. Jack was rudely roused from his slumbers. At first he did not know where he was, but as soon as the revolution of his head allowed him to recollect, he once more staggered towards the well, to have a ‘hair of the same hound that bit him.’
But all indulgence was now at an end. The ropes were straightened, the men gave a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether, and the horse was lifted about half way up; but few ropes are equal to the good cheer Jack had then stowed upon his ribs, from his neck down to his tail.
The ropes broke, and amidst the loudest cheers, once more Jack fell back in the cellar, and the folks at the other end fell all in a heap on the pavement. The attempt was repeated two or three times with little success, to the infinite amusement of the spectators, who seemed to prefer Jack should continue in his old quarters.
At length an increased complement of hands was put to the rope, a double allowance of beer was served, and the men, with a tremendous ‘Yo heave ho,’ slowly elevated Jack out of the cellar. His belly was swelled to the size of a balloon, and was evidently too great a load for him. Jack was walked home with the greatest gentleness, and Mrs. Miller was consoled by an assurance that his owners would pay the reckoning.
From the Spirit of the Times 7, no. 2 (25 February 1837): 9, reprinted from the London Mercury.
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