The Dog and the Omniscient Narrator… Brisbane 1888.

As I mentioned in my previous posts this week, I’ve been reading through dog stories in old newspapers online and reworking them into posts on my blog.


Brisbane 1888.

Our latest story comes from Brisbane, Queensland and we’re turning our clocks back to 1888, one hundred years after European settlement when Brisbane was but a fledgling town of 366,940 persons[1]. We’re also returning to the era of the horse and cart.

Introducing…The Dog’s Revenge

“Two Brisbane gentlemen residing together each owned a dog—one a collie, the other a

Newfoundland. The latter dog was always kept on the chain, while his more fortunate mate had the run of the place, a circumstance which did not tend to increase the little love they bore each other.

The collie, presumably being a victim to ennui, and being one of those to whom the proverb “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do” would well apply, used to delight in teasing the restrained Newfoundland; he would always bring bones to the latter’s kennel and coolly proceed to gnaw them just beyond the larger dog’s tether. The collie would at times steal into the Newfoundland’s dominions when the latter was asleep and annex his food, which he would play with in a tantalising manner and finally devour just out of reach, but under the very nose, of the rightful owner.

This course of proceeding naturally caused the victim unutterable annoyance, and he thirsted for his persecutor’s gore. The fates were all in favour of the collie though, for the only exercise the Newfoundland received was under the eye of his master, who was always ready to stop any fighting.However, one day an opportunity occurred for the carrying out of a well-laid plan of revenge. The two dogs were taken to the river for a swim, and immediately the collie had got a dozen yards or so from the bank the long-suffering Newfoundland seized him by the neck and ducked him. Every time the astonished collie rose to the surface a well-aimed blow on the head from the enemy’s immense paw immersed him again and again, until the owner, seeing that unless a speedy rescue was effected his dog would drown, was obliged to swim out to the pair, and after much difficulty succeeded in bringing the collie to shore more dead than alive.


It was not for some days that the half-drowned animal was restored to his usual health, and it was noticeable that from that day the collie treated his erstwhile victim with the profoundest respect, and entirely discontinued annoying him.

The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939) Saturday 7 January 1888 p 26 Article


Reading through this story, particularly after researching Newfoundlands for my last post, I can just imagine those huge, webbed paws rising through the water and pushing that nasty collie under the water, knowing exactly what it was doing. Not killing it but repeatedly tormenting the Collie in the same way it had treated him…an eye for an eye…justice. It almost makes sense and yet weren’t there alternatives?

Probably not if you were that Newfoundland and no one’s come to your rescue.

This brings me to the person who wrote this story, otherwise known as the “Omniscient Narrator”… the story behind the story.

As you might be aware, the omniscient narrator “knows all the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in the story, while maintaining an omniscient – or godlike – distance.[2]

So in this scenario, our narrator is fully aware that the Newfoundland, a huge dog renowned for its swimming abilities and athletic strength, is kept chained up at least for very extended periods AND that the Newfoundland is being repeatedly tormented by the Collie and that the owners of both dogs, aren’t doing anything about it.

Yet, the narrator’s seemingly done nothing about it.

Well, they did write about it but I can’t help feeling that they thought the story was funny or entertaining in some way, rather than trying to speak up for the dog. After all, the dog was still being chained up even if the collie has changed its ways.

This raises important issues for writers. Is it okay for us to take the role of the detached observer? Be that omniscient narrator? Or, should we intervene? How do you feel about writers, journalists and the like writing about suffering without stepping in and trying to help the victim? After all, while this might be a story about a dog who lived and died well over 100 years ago, it’s also about today. Our role in the here and now.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

xx Rowena


[1] As of 31st December, 1887 Source:


18 thoughts on “The Dog and the Omniscient Narrator… Brisbane 1888.

  1. Tails Around the Ranch

    Your question poses an ethical dilemma I’ve pondered in the past. My suspicions lead me to believe attitudes about dogs and their so-called place in life was not as elevated by today’s standards. Hopefully we uprights will continue to evolve into caring better for our 4 legged fur-iends. ღ

  2. Rowena Post author

    I was thinking much the same thing. I don’t think anyone would gloss over a dog being kept on a chain like that, except under extraordinary short term circumstances, especially a big active dog like a Newfoundland.
    I couldn’t quite find a spot to mention this but it gets very hot and humid in Queensland and there’s an obvious question about what a Newfoundland was doing in Queensland. We tend to get Bilbo clipped in Summer here and we’re further South and I don’t think his coat is quite as thick.
    I am also aware children didn’t have the same standing back then that they have now…or women for that matter. There must have been a few well-to-do men cracking the whip on the rest of society. xx Ro

  3. Rowena Post author

    Monika, I thought through this a bit further over the last couple of days and remembered how badly people used to treat animals and how circus and zoo animals were caged etc and this made more sense xx Ro

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  5. Minuscule Moments

    I think a pets quality of life back then was not as good as now Rowena (now we often see ridiculous over-pampering and some are living better than humans, lucky pets), yet we still see cruelty to animals that turns the stomach, and so have we really come very far? Love the theme you are running with.

  6. Rowena Post author

    Thanks very much, Kath. I still have a story of a thief dog in Paris to run with.
    After writing that story and reading a few of the comments, I remembered how zoo animals were treated back then and your zoo and circus elephants swaying from size to side because they’d got bored and weren’t well.
    Somethings have improved and yet there’s still so much that needs to be done. Prince William s campaigning for the survival of the African elephant and the recent drop in its numbers are alarming.
    Hope the holidays go well for you. Our son is doing a three day sailing course this week and next week they’re both doing a three day surf safari. That will keep our son away from the electronics for awhile.
    BTW we got on a good book series your kids might like. Pixel Raiders by Bajo and Hex from ABC GGSP. There are two books out and Mr loves them.
    Take care xx Ro

  7. Lizzi

    I think the world has come a LONG way in terms of how pet animals are treated. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for agricultural animals, and animals bred for the food industry (in particular) which seem to garner worse and worse conditions as time goes by. BUT there is a pleasing rise in veganism, so there’s hope yet.

  8. Rowena Post author

    Thanks for bringing up the treatment of farm animals, Lizzie. I hadn’t made the connection and that’s a very important thing to remember. It’s all to easy to distance ourselves from our love of animals and the food on our plate. xx Ro

  9. Lizzi

    Too easy. I’ve learned a LOT I can’t unlearn, since going vegan, and a lot I don’t WANT to unlearn, if I’m honest, because I don’t want to contribute to any of the systems which do what they do to the animals used for food.

  10. Rowena Post author

    I was a vegan years ago but not for long. I haven’t felt a strong pull that direction but I admire people like yourself that do.

  11. Lizzi

    I think I’ve been ‘lucky’ that I had a nasty resurgence of a dairy allergy, and know how bad it is for my body to eat dairy. Were that not the case I think my principles would slip 😦

  12. Rowena Post author

    That’s interesting that you’ve had a resurgence of a dairy allergy. After my health troubles, I am quite intrigued about the what seems to be an ebb and flow in our bodies and was reminded recently about the impact of stress as well as being described as an over-thinker. Do you think that something like that has retriggered your allergy? I am trying to get better as heeding the warning signs these days.

  13. Rowena Post author

    Sorry you’ve had such a rough trot, Lizzi. It really does impact on our bodies, usually we only wake up to it when the damage is done. Hopefully, your body will start to heal in a multitude of ways to take you forward. xx Ro

  14. Lizzi

    I do hope so! Mentally I think I’m getting there, which is SO very needed and a huge relief. Physically I need more work 🙂

  15. Rowena Post author

    I also know what it’s like when you’re trying to be upbeat, thankful, motivating, help others but you’ve hit a black rain cloud and crash landed in a puddle. Drives me nuts. Why can’t I be that person?!!
    I don’t know what your expectations of physical fitness are but I try and go walking and am pretty pleased with that but I did an adult ballet class for 5 weeks recently and almost kept up and I woke up the next morning and felt sensational. I’d signed up expecting to be sitting down for much of the class and thought if I could hold my hands like a ballerina at the end, I’d be stoked. I was quite amazed how those 45 minute lessons lifted my mood.
    You’re love this. We were out the other day and admired this bloke’s dog and he replied: “anti-depressants on four legs”. I burst into hysterics. It’s true though!
    Sending you big hugs as always!
    xx Ro

  16. Lizzi

    Yeah – I’m sure when people get on well with animals, they’re a great source of comfort and contentment. I’m not a pets person though! My go-to is the gym, but I’ve been slacking lately, which has SUCKED! That said, for good reasons, like healing from dental surgery and getting jabs. And being too sore from workouts at the weekend. I need to make it a habit again.

    Well done you for the ballet class! Glad you enjoyed it. I’m super mega NOT graceful at all, and I’m impressed with anyone who can dance 🙂

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