Welsh Mules In The News, Vol. 1

On Monday, Ben and I finally picked up the keys to our new house in Carmarthenshire, South Wales … six month after we put our offer in! It’s been a long wait but we’re super excited to get settled in (once we’ve solved the problem of travelling four equines 200 miles, where the last mile or so is down an extremely narrow, winding lane).

Anyway, on the back of my last blog post about canal mules, I was excited to realise that Kymer’s Canal used to run to the south of our new home – and yes, it had horses and mules working the boats! This led me to discover a collection of 19th century / early 20th century newspapers digitalised by the National Library of Wales. There were over 17,000 mentions of mules so this will be a blog post of several parts; here are just a few news stories to be getting on with.

Mules Versis Man

The Cambrian, Friday December 5th, 1804.

This week a match was run between Lieut. Moore of the Royal Navy, riding his celebrated mule, “Muley Bey,” carrying sixteen stone, against Capt. Stokes, of the Hert’s Militia, on foot, over the turnpike-road between Milford [Haven] and Haverfordwest; which, after a severe contest, was won by the latter, notwithstanding that the day was very wet. Five to three in favour of Mr. Moore at starting, at the end of the first mile even betting. and at the end six to four in favour our of Capt. Stokes.

Commentary: obviously I had to go in search of this famed Muley Bey! According to Volume 24 of Sporting Magazine, 1804, this mule was by Lord Milford’s Spanish donkey out of a blood mare (a horse of mostly Thoroughbred breeding). Sadly no photos. The “versis” in the title is spelt as found.

Mule Breeding In Glamorganshire

The Pembrokeshire Herald, 22nd September, 1876.

There is to be seen just now upon the hill forming part of the estate of Sir George Elliot, at Aberaman, a sight which is quite unique in this country – namely, a number of fine, beautiful, and fleet yearling mules, bred from English mares from an Egyptian donkey. On the occasion of one of the visits of Sir George Elliot to Egypt the Khedive ordered the head of his stud to select for Sir George the best and purest bred Egyptian donkey he could find, and the result is the beautiful creature now in the stables attached to Aberaman House, who is the sire of the very interesting progeny of mules mentioned.

Hassan, the name which tradition gives him – although he is at present known simply as the Egyptian donkey – is about six years old, stands 12 hands high, and is of a pure white colour. He is higher and of finer proportions than the best English donkeys, by the side of whom he looks an aristocrat indeed. At the time he was considered the finest donkey to he found in Egypt, and on the occasion of his visit three years ago to the Crystal Palace he gained the first prize over all classes of English donkeys. Exhibition in public is not much to Hassan’s taste, for, although he is as quiet as any lady’s pony in harness, he has a sensitive temper and it has been found that railway travelling and the excitement of being shown act prejudicially upon his condition; he has, therefore, not been exhibited since his first triumph. It has taken the most sedulous care and attention to diet and warmth to bring him through the severities of two or three English winters, but he seems now thoroughly acclimatised and in perfect health. This is shown by the now clean and glossy state of his coat, which was at first rough and patchy in particular spots, which have only given way to constant grooming.

In the selection of pony mares for breeding purposes care has been taken to obtain the best and most healthy specimens, and the progeny has more than repaid the trouble which has been taken. The mules unite in themselves the best points of sire and dams, and preserve throughout the colour of their dams. There are nine of those pretty creatures, and six of them belong to the third year of breeding. It was anticipated when the first experiment was made that a tolerably rough and useful animal would be produced, such as one might use for tramway purposes, but the descendants of Hassan are much too good for any such work. Their destiny will probably be to be driven by fair ladies in dainty pony carriages, or to be ridden by ladies and light weights. It is a wonderfully pretty sight to see the males and their dams, after they have been duly started, scamper across the fields, the mules exhibiting the swiftness of young racers. Sir George Elliot is to be congratulated upon the great success which has attended his handsome present from the Khedive.

Commentary: I don’t think Khedive is in use these days – it was the title of the viceroy of Egypt under Turkish rule between 1867–1914. I’m interested in the comment about it being a unique sight, even though mules seem much more prevalent in society pre-1900s. Still not that commonplace after all!


Is that a mule on the nearside? Lifesavers, St. Davids, 1885. Photo by John Thomas.

Serious Accident

The Pembrokeshire Herald, 28th June, 1878

On Saturday last, as John Cole, the farm bailiff of Major Leach, of Corston, was driving a mule and cart, the mule took fright and the cart upset, throwing Cole out on his head, fracturing his skull and cutting his upper lip off. He was conveyed to the Infirmary and attended to by Dr. Murray. Little hopes are entertained of his recovery.

Commentary: Big YIKES. 

A Horse Or A Mule

South Wales Echo, 16th March 1887

Edwin Foden, engineer, of Sandbach, Cheshire, was, yesterday, summoned before the justices at Nantwich for contravening the Locomotives Act. As Captain Somerset and Captain Chetwynd were driving out with a mule they met one of the defendant’s traction engines on the highway. The animal became restive, and, on the driver being requested by signal to stop, he did not do so but one of his men led the mule past the engine. It was denied that the driver was signalled, and there was plenty of room, it was said, for the officers to pass. A technical objection was also raised that the act expressly specified a horse, whereas the gentlemen were driving a mule. The bench overruled the objection, and inflicted a fine of 10s and costs, and the defendant gave notice of his intention to appeal to the quarter sessions.

Commentary: I wonder if this was one of the Glamorgan-born mules? I particularly like the justification of the Locomotives Act specifying they had to give way to horses, but not mules.

Savage Attack By A Mule: Exciting Incident At Carmarthen

Evening Express, 14th June, 1893

Mr. David Morgan, of Chequers-alley, owns a mule, which he has just put out to graze in a field near the old Carmarthen Chemical Works. Being of a somewhat predatory disposition, the animal on Sunday sought fields and pastures new. A lad tried to induce it back to its old quarters, but was only kicked and bitten for his trouble. Subsequently, Mr. Morgan arrived with a bridle, and tried to catch the animal. Three times it came near its owner, and on the third occasion attacked him in a most savage manner. Mr. Morgan was thrown down, and the mule, placing its knees upon his back, gnawed and bit him like a wolf. Fortunately Mr. Livermore, the local agent of Messrs. Thompson and Shackell, happened to be passing, and he, with three other men, one of whom was armed with a pitchfork, ran to Morgan’s rescue and beat off the mule, who was now in a ferocious state. Morgan was found to be badly hurt, and was scarcely able to walk home. His arm was in a mangled state, and his face severely bitten, and he was obliged to go to bed. Later in the afternoon a party of seven or eight men set out to capture the mule, and this they did with the assistance of Mr. Livermore, who lassoed the animal in true Buffalo Bill fashion. The mule was secured in a shed, and after two hours and a half’s struggling its legs were safely tied so that it could not move. In this condition it had to remain from four o’clock on Sunday afternoon till Monday evening. If it were not for the timely assistance of Mr. Livermore and the other men Mr. Morgan would have undoubtedly been killed, and as it is he was much shaken.

Commentary: Yikes again. Kneeling and biting is common donkey/mule trait, but not usually with people! I wonder if this mule was entire, or if he had been treated very badly. Possibly both.


Another one that’s hard to make out, but there’s something about the build and head that suggest mule to me. The H. Thomas family, Gwalchmai, 1875. Photo by John Thomas.

Cruelty To A Mule: A Rhondda Miner Sent to Gaol

The Cardiff Times, July 10th 1897

On Thursday a shocking case of cruelty to a mule was heard before Mr Ignatius Williams, stipendiary, Dr. Ivor Lewis, and Alderman Dr H.N. Davies. The defendant was George Hughes, haulier, employed in the National Collieries, Mr J. Miles (agent) prosecuting on behalf of the company. The evidence of Mr David Hughes, veterinary surgeon at the pits, showed that the mule, which was working underground, had been most brutally ill-treated. Upon entering the stable he found the animal with foam on the body and a number of bruises and cuts on the head. It was suffering very much from the wounds and the maltreatment it had received. Since the cruelty perpetrated upon it they had to supply it with food from the adjoining stall owing to it being in an affrighted condition. Previously was very quiet and docile. There were several bruises and weals on its back. He noticed the defendant leaving the place as he (witness) was going towards the stable. Defendant, upon being questioned about the cruelty, denied having been near the animal, but afterwards said that he had only been getting it ready for work. Defendant had been heard to say that he would try a “Welsh Derby in the stable” underground. Robert Evans, the next witness, deposed that he had seen the defendant flogging the mule violently with leather strap having a buckle to it, and subsequently with a tin food box. Witness was of opinion that the cuts and the bruises had inflicted with the leather strap He had never seen the animal attempting to kick. Stipendiary observed that the case was a very bad one, and sentenced the defendant to one year imprisonment with hard labour.

Commentary: there are quite a few accounts of mule cruelty to be found, as I’m sure is the case for the whole of the UK, and I won’t recount them all here except when they shed light on the ways mules were used in Britain, as seen here. I found it interesting how often people were fined or imprisoned for harming their mules or forcing them to work in an unfit state.

Mule’s Longevity

Evening Express, 13th February, 1905.

The death of a mule at the remarkable age of 52 years is reported from Mountbrien, County Tipperary. For 45 years it made two journeys a day with milk to Tippenary, a distance of three miles.

Commentary: an Irish mule mentioned in a Welsh paper, but one I thought was worth including.

The Unrideable Mule

Evening Express, 25th May, 1906.

Early in January a boy of fourteen, named Michael Murphy, accepted, with others, the invitation of the manager of the Astley Circus, Clapham Junction, to attempt to ride the “unrideable mule”, and thus make sport for the rest of the audience. Prizes were offered to any person who could keep his seat on the muIe – which some people said was a donkey – or could stand upon a revolving table borne by a moving pony.

Murphy, in attempting to ride the “mule,” was thrown, and injured his arm, and died resultant blood poisoning at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. At the inquest in the City yesterday the manager of the place of entertainment expressed the opinion that the show was a safe one.

The Coroner, however, condemned the performance, and the jury returned a verdict of “Misadventure,” adding that, in their opinion, the show was dangerous, and ought to be discontinued.

Commentary: Daring to ride an unrideable mule seems to have been a fairly popular form of circus entertainment. In the 5th February 1859 issue of The Illustrated Usk Observer, a story entitled “The Educated Mule” tells how Mr. Richard Moffat from Belfast offered the services of his family and his famed “eccentric mule” to an American equestrian troupe, led by Jim Myers, and performing in a London circus on Boxing Day. The Times described it as “the animal of wisdom – the educated mule, which no person had been able to ride”. The mule threw rider after rider until eventually Myers offered a sovereign to anyone who could stay on board; a butcher accepted, and stayed for three circuits of the ring “by dint of almost strangling the animal by holding him so tightly around the neck”. Myers had to forefit a sovereign after which he didn’t much like his Irish company, and when it came to pay them he deducted the sovereign from their bill. Fortunately, the courts found in favour of Moffat and awarded him £14 damages. 

The Aberdare Leader, on 10th October 1914, tells of another circus wager involving staying on the back of a kicking mule; this one went awry when the successful rider was punched in the face by a circus worker, and knocked off the mule’s back to prevent him from winning the prize. The circus claimed he had simply fallen, and it was the mule who’d given him a black eye and bleeding mouth. The Bench came to the conclusion that the defendant and his witnesses were a trio of blackguards and fined them. The circus owners name? Fred Astley!

The Mule And Cart

The Daily Express, 3rd May, 1907.

Two young fellows named William Walsh (seventeen) and William Richards (twenty) were formally remanded at Swansea Police court today charged with stealing a mule, cart, and harness, the property of Mrs. Hannah Hill, fishmonger. The defendants were arrested at Bridgend. The allegations were that they were sent to sell fish, and went in the direction of Bridgend, and subsequently sold the mule, &c., at Kenfig Hill.

Commentary: The 4th May edition of the Evening Express mentions that the two boys were sent to gaol for a month. The 11th May edition of the Weekly Mail gives further details, explaining that the unwitting buyer of the stolen mule and cart was Ernest Champion, who paid 11s. 5d., although the boys had wanted 15s. for the lot. The boys said they’d stolen the mule because Mrs Hill hadn’t paid them. Champion asked for his expenses, and the Bench told him “the least he said the better. His action had been most discreditable.”

Cruelty To A Mule

Evening Express, 2nd March, 1910

William Thomas Stephens and Patrick O’Connor were charged at Swansea on Tuesday with ill-treating a mule in Port Tennant road, Swansea. The two defendants and another man not in custody were, apparently, all drunk. They were lifting up the mule by placing their fingers in its nostrils and pulling its tail and ears. The Witnesses could not say what they were trying to do. The defendants were each sent to prison for a month.

Commentary: a month in prison for a (relatively) small incident – meanwhile, in the modern day, there are people starving and mistreating animals who barely see a fine, let alone a prison sentence. 


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