Dispute over a parrot – Polly asked to give evidence


This report from the Birmingham police court appeared in the Daily Post on May 27th, 1871. Other cases before the magistrates that day included a charge of embezzlement, the theft of coal and a robbery of a gentleman as he lay asleep in a ‘house of ill repute’. The case of Polly stands out as it does not appear as a criminal issue, but rather the JPs were being requested to decide who should have custody of a pet parrot. I’m afraid I cannot find what happened to Polly! As always, local newspapers can be viewed free of charge at the Library of Birmingham, on the 4th floor, Local Studies department. They are also available by subscription through the British Newspaper Archives.

Frederic Schweiss, foreign bird dealer, Market Hall, was summoned by Mrs. Whitehouse, Graham Street, for detaining a parrot which, she alleged, belonged to her. Mrs. Whitehouse lost a bird some time ago and, passing the defendant’s stalls, she saw a bird which she believed to be her ‘pretty Polly’. The defendant denied that the parrot belonged to the complainant and called the person from whom he obtained it for £3. 10s.  The bird was brought into court and, as Mrs. Whitehouse had stated that Polly could imitate the barking of a dog, the mewing of a cat, and do many other wonderful little tricks, she was requested to put the parrot through these various performances with a view to strengthen her claim. The complainant appealed very coaxingly to Polly, but the bird made no response. Mrs. Whitehouse explained this circumstance by saying that Polly, being in a strange place, and surrounded by a number of persons, was shy. The defendant said the parrot could only say ‘Holyoak’ in English. It could speak in Spanish (Laughter). – Mr. Gem (a magistrate) to Mrs. Whitehouse ‘perhaps you can get it to talk a bit of Spanish, or say Holyoak’!  Mrs. Whitehouse replied that the bird never spoke a word of Spanish. The defendant: ‘It can whistle the Blue Bells of Scotland’ (Laughter). Mr. Kynnersley (Magistrate) ‘the better plan will be to leave the parrot here until Monday, and in the meantime if it barks like a dog and does all you, Mrs. Whitehouse, credits it with, that will be strong proof in your favour. If it speaks Spanish, the presumption that it belongs to the defendant will be equally conclusive. – Adjourned.


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