Skip to main content

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature ((PSAAL))

Abstract

The nineteenth century gave rise to a surprising proliferation of legal cases involving bees, but the depictions of bees in the law display an ambivalence about our relationship with bees. In some cases, involving ownership or theft of bees, they are described as wholly wild and uncontrollable, reflecting the view expressed by Roman lawyers. In other cases, involving liability for bee stings or nuisance, they are described as equivalent to other domesticated livestock, reflecting, among other things, nineteenth-century advancements in natural science, which led in turn to a greater societal understanding of bee behaviour, and a view that bees could be controlled. It is suggested that the nineteenth-century cases underscore our difficulty in depicting our complex relationship with bees and their produce. Despite the nineteenth-century advancements in natural science, which allowed us to understand and control bees, the ambivalence in the cases highlights our suspicion that bees have a wild aspect, and they would happily continue without us.

Thank you to Alexis Harley and Chris Harrington for their exceptionally helpful comments on drafts, to Craig Anderson for his advice on Scots bee law, and to Scott Thompson and “Lorenzo” M. Warby for picking up infelicities.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD 159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. 1.

    A hollow tree occupied by a colony of honeybees; sometimes natural, sometimes created deliberately by humans. Bee trees have a long history in colonial America: see Tammy Horn, “Bees and New World Colonialism” in Bees in America: How the Honeybee Shaped a Nation (Lexington, KY: Kentucky University Press, 2005), 19, 35.

  2. 2.

    Wallis v. Mease, 3 Binn. 546, 549 (Pa. Sup. Ct., 1811).

  3. 3.

    Idol v. Jones, 2 Dev. 162, 13 N.C. 162 (N.C. Sup. Ct, 1829).

  4. 4.

    Idol v. Jones, 2 Dev. 162, 164, 13 N.C. 162, 164 (N.C. Sup. Ct, 1829).

  5. 5.

    Cock v. Weatherby, 5 Smeades & M. 333, 13 Miss. 333 (Miss. High Ct., 1845).

  6. 6.

    Cock v. Weatherby, 5 Smeades & M. 333, 333–35, 13 Miss. 333, 333–35 (Miss. High Ct., 1845).

  7. 7.

    Earl v. Van Alstine, 8 Barb. 630, 635–36, 1 Am. Negl. Cas. 368 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1850).

  8. 8.

    The possibility of marking or identifying a non-human animal via distinctive markings is noted in Craig Anderson, Possession of Corporeal Moveables (Edinburgh, Edinburgh Legal Education Trust, 2015) [7–58].

  9. 9.

    Actual control may be less important than symbolic expressions of control: see Michael J. R. Crawford, An Expressive Theory of Possession (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2020).

  10. 10.

    It may be possible to distinguish a “domesticated” Apis mellifera (e.g., Apis mellifera buckfast) from a “wild” Apis mellifera.

  11. 11.

    Aristotle, Historia Animalium [History of Animals], trans. A. L. Peek (London: Heinemann, 1965), 366–367, ll. 19–20.

  12. 12.

    The general principles of ownership of wild animals are discussed in Katy Barnett and Jeremy Gans, Guilty Pigs: the weird and wonderful history of animal law (Collingwood: Latrobe University Press, 2022), 27–31.

  13. 13.

    Arianna Pretto-Sakmann, “‘You can Never Tell with Bees’: Good Advice from Pooh for Students of the Lex Aquilia” in, Mapping the Law: Essays in Honour of Peter Birks, ed. Andrew Burrows and Alan Rodger (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2006), 476, 482–84.

  14. 14.

    Brian D Joseph, “Comparative perspectives on bee-law in Indo-European” Chatreššar: International Journal for Indo-European, Semitic and Cuneiform Languages 18, no. 2 (2018): 16.

  15. 15.

    Digest of Justinian 41.1.5.2–41.1.5.4. Pretto-Sakmann has an excellent discussion of the Roman Law.

  16. 16.

    Pliny the Elder, 8.220, 11.12. Earlier Roman jurists had been swayed by Pliny the Elder’s view, but Gaius was not: Bruce W. Frier, “Bees and Lawyers”. The Classical Journal 78, no. 2 (1982): 105, 106–110.

  17. 17.

    In the thirteenth century, see Henry de Bracton, De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae [On the Laws and Customs of England], ed. G. E. Woodbine, trans. S. E. Thorne (London: Publications of the Selden Society, 1968–77), l. 2, c. 1, fol. 9 [De Adquirendo Rerum Dominio, vol 2, 43], and in the eighteenth century, see William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England Book II, ed. Simon Stern (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 392–393.

  18. 18.

    Anderson, above n 13, [7–47]–[7–48], [7–56], [7–85], [7–105]–[7–110].

  19. 19.

    Bechbretha, Early Irish Law Series Volume 1, ed. & trans. Thomas Charles-Edwards and Fergus Kelly (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1983), §§1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

  20. 20.

    Ibid., “Appendix 6”, 189–191.

  21. 21.

    Ibid., §§36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49.

  22. 22.

    Merrils v. Goodwin, 1 Root 209 (Conn. Sup. Ct, 1790).

  23. 23.

    Gillet v. Mason, 7 Johns. 16 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1810); Wallis v. Mease, 3 Binn. 546 (Pa. Sup. Ct., 1811); Ferguson v. Miller, 1 Cow. 243, 13 Am. Dec. 519 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1823); Idol v. Jones, 2 Dev. 162, 13 N.C. 162 (N.C. Sup. Ct, 1829); Goff v. Kilts, 15 Wend. 550 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1836); Cock v. Weatherby, 5 Smeades & M. 333, 13 Miss. 333 (Miss. High Ct., 1845); State v. Murphy, 8 Blackf. 498 (Ind. Sup. Ct., 1847); Earl v. Van Alstine, 8 Barb. 630, 1 Am. Negl. Cas. 368 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1850); Tellier v Pelland (1873) 5 Revue Légale (O.S) 61 (Décisions des Tribunaux Cour Supérieure, District des Trois Rivières, Quebec); Harvey v. Commonwealth, 22 Grant. 941, 64 Va. 941 (Va. Sup. Ct. of App., 1873); Adams v. Burton, 43 Vt. 36 (Vt. Sup. Ct., 1870); Rexroth v. Coon, 15 R.I. 35, 23 A. 37, 2 Am. St. Rep. 863 (R.I. Sup. Ct., 1885); Olmsted v. Rich, 3 Silv. 447, 6 N.Y.S. 826 (N.Y. Sup. Ct, 1889); City of Arkadelphia v. Clark, 52 Ark. 23, 11 S.W. 957, 20 Am. St. Rep. 154 (Ark. Sup. Ct, 1889); Harris v Elder (1893) 57 JP 553; State v. Repp, 104 Iowa 305 (Iowa Sup. Ct., 1893).

  24. 24.

    Mere pursuit does not establish ownership of a hunted fox in American law: Pierson v. Post, 3 Caines 175 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1805). See also Angela Fernandez, Pierson v. Post, The Hunt for the Fox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

  25. 25.

    See e.g., Merrils v. Goodwin, 1 Root. 209 (Conn. Sup. Ct. 1790).

  26. 26.

    The same is true in “hybrid” legal systems such as those of Scotland and South Africa. See Anderson [7–20], [7–32], [7–40].

  27. 27.

    Gillet v. Mason, 7 Johns. 16 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1810).

  28. 28.

    Goff v. Kilts, 15 Wend. 550 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1836).

  29. 29.

    Ferguson v. Miller, 1 Cow. 243, 13 Am. Dec. 519 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1823).

  30. 30.

    Adams v. Burton, 43 Vt. 36 (Vt. Sup. Ct., 1870).

  31. 31.

    Rexroth v. Coon, 15 R.I. 35, 23 A. 37, 2 Am. St. Rep. 863 (R.I. Sup. Ct., 1885).

  32. 32.

    Wallis v. Mease, 3 Binn. 546, 549 (Pa. Sup. Ct., 1811); Idol v. Jones, 2 Dev. 162, 13 N.C. 162 (N.C. Sup. Ct, 1829); Cock v. Weatherby, 5 Smeades & M. 333, 13 Miss. 333 (Miss. High Ct., 1845).

  33. 33.

    State v Murphy, 8 Blackf. 498; Harvey v Commonwealth, 23 Gratt. 941, 61 Va. 941 (Va. Sup. Ct. of App., 1873).

  34. 34.

    R v Gadd [1911] QWN 31.

  35. 35.

    State v Repp, 104 Iowa. 305 (Iowa Sup. Ct., 1808).

  36. 36.

    Harris v Elder (1893) 57 JP 553.

  37. 37.

    I am indebted to Craig Anderson for providing me with this more nuanced interpretation of the case.

  38. 38.

    Kearry v Pattinson [1939] 1 KB 471. See criticism of this (and comparison to the above-mentioned nineteenth-century Civilian Codes) in E. J. Cohn, “Bees and the Law” Law Quarterly Review 218 (1939): 289.

  39. 39.

    Art 10, loi du 4 avril 1889 sur le code rural (and the earlier loi des 28 sept–6 oct 1791, tit. i, sect. iii, art. 5.)

  40. 40.

    General Civil Code of Austria, Allgemeines Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (AGBG) (1811), art 384.

  41. 41.

    Italian Civil Code, Il Codice Civile Italiano (1865), art 713.

  42. 42.

    Spanish Civil Code, Código Civil (1889), art 612.

  43. 43.

    German Civil Code, Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) (1900), arts 961, 962, 963 and 964.

  44. 44.

    Swiss Civil Code, Code Civil Suisse or Schweizerisches Zivilgesetzbuch (ZGB) (1907), art 719.

  45. 45.

    “Legislator of the World”: Writings on Codification, Law, and Education, ed. Philip Scholfield and Jonathan Harris (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998) contains several of Bentham’s writings on this topic.

  46. 46.

    Draft Civil Codes were proposed for several US jurisdictions but were never passed. The British government undertook codification in India and Malaya throughout the nineteenth century, but the laws were half-way between a Code and a statute.

  47. 47.

    J. F. M. Clark, Bugs and the Victorians (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) 57.

  48. 48.

    Ibid., 57–62.

  49. 49.

    Huber himself was mostly blind by this stage, but observations were relayed to him by his wife, his servant François Burnens, and, later, his children.

  50. 50.

    François Huber, Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles, adressés à M. Charles Bonnet [New Observations on the Natural History of Bees] (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1806), 6–7. The English translation was dedicated to Sir Joseph Banks, then President of the Royal Society, and the translator is unattributed.

  51. 51.

    Huber, ibid., 256.

  52. 52.

    Thomas Nutt, Humanity to Honey-Bees: Or Practical Directions for the Management of Honey-Bees (Wisbech: H & J Leach, 1834, 2nd edn).

  53. 53.

    Clark, 67–70.

  54. 54.

    Jeremy Bentham, Panopticon, or The Inspection House (Dublin: Thomas Byrne, 1791).

  55. 55.

    J. F. M. Clark, “‘The Complete Biography of Every Animal’: Ants, Bees, and Humanity in Nineteenth-Century England” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 29, no. 2 (1998): 249, 249.

  56. 56.

    (1873) 5 Revue Légale (O.S) 61 (Décisions des Tribunaux Cour Supérieure, District des Trois Rivières, Quebec), refers to the mid-eighteenth century multi-volume work on bees by René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des insectes, and the mid-nineteenth century medical work, Traité élémentaire et pratique de pathologie interne, by Augustin Grisolle.

  57. 57.

    See, e.g., Lenk v Spezia, 213 P.2d 47 (Cal Dist Ct App, 1949); Bennett v Larsen Co, 348 N.W.2d 540 (Wis. Sup Ct. 1984); Yawn v. Dorchester County, No. 20-1584 (4th Cir. 2021).

  58. 58.

    Exod., 3: 8; Num., 14: 8.

  59. 59.

    Horn, 19–22.

  60. 60.

    Ibid., 24.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., 30–31.

  62. 62.

    Exod., 21: 28–31

  63. 63.

    A more detailed discussion of scienter is in Barnett and Gans, 95–104. The name comes from the first two words of the common law writ used to plead the cause of action: scienter retinuit (“knowingly retained”).

  64. 64.

    Robert C. Palmer, English Law in the Age of the Black Death (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 228.

  65. 65.

    See, e.g., Marlor v Ball (1900) 16 TLR 239 (two zebras in a menagerie savaged a man).

  66. 66.

    See, e.g., Behrens v Bertram Mills Circus Ltd [1957] 2 QB 1 (a circus elephant trampled some performers).

  67. 67.

    See, e.g., May v Burdett (1846) 9 QB 101 (a monkey bit a woman).

  68. 68.

    Earl v. Van Alstine, 8 Barb. 630, 636, 1 Am. Negl. Cas. 368 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1850).

  69. 69.

    Ibid.

  70. 70.

    Stormer v Ingram [1978] 21 SASR 93.

  71. 71.

    (1873) 5 Revue Légale (O.S) 61 (Décisions des Tribunaux Cour Supérieure, District des Trois Rivières, Quebec).

  72. 72.

    (1873) 5 Revue Légale (O.S) 61 (Décisions des Tribunaux Cour Supérieure, District des Trois Rivières, Quebec), 64–65.

  73. 73.

    Civil Code of Lower Canada 1866, Art 1053.

  74. 74.

    Civil Code of Lower Canada 1866, Art 1054.

  75. 75.

    Civil Code of Lower Canada 1866, Art 1055.

  76. 76.

    Donoghue v Stevenson [1936] AC 562, involving the potential presence of a decayed snail in a bottle of ginger beer.

  77. 77.

    See David Frimston and David Smith, Beekeeping and the Law—Swarms and Neighbours (Burrowbridge: Bee Books New & Old, 1993) 7–8.

  78. 78.

    Olmsted v. Rich, 3 Silv. 447, 6 N.Y.S. 826 (N.Y. Sup. Ct, 1889).

  79. 79.

    See e.g., O’Gorman v O’Gorman [1903] 2 IR 573 (very early instance of negligence in Barton J’s judgment in that case); Lucas v Pettit (1906) 12 OLR 448; Stormer v Ingram [1978] 21 SASR 93.

  80. 80.

    Earl v. Van Alstine, 8 Barb. 630, 1 Am. Negl. Cas. 368 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1850); Tellier v Pelland (1873) 5 Revue Légale (O.S) 61 (Décisions des Tribunaux Cour Supérieure, District des Trois Rivières, Quebec); O’Gorman v O’Gorman [1903] 2 IR 573 (Ireland); Parsons v. Mansor, 119 Iowa 88, 93 N.W. 86 (Iowa Sup. Ct., 1903); Petey Manufacturing Co. v. Dryden, 5 Penn. 166, 62 Atl. 1056 (Del. Sup. Ct., 1904); Lucas v Pettit (1906) 12 OLR 448 (Canada); Robins v Kennedy [1931] NZLR 1134.

  81. 81.

    See e.g., Bauskis v Director General, NSW Agriculture [2003] NSWADT 228; Branesac v Director General, NSW Agriculture [2003] NSWADT 237.

  82. 82.

    City of Arkadelphia v Clark, 52 Ark. 23, 11 S.W. 957, 20 Am St. Rep. 154.

  83. 83.

    See Thomas Seeley, ‘Are Honeybees Domesticated’ in Thomas Seeley, The Lives of Bees: the untold story of the honey bee in the wild (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019) 79.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katy Barnett .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2024 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Barnett, K. (2024). Bees in Nineteenth-Century Lore and Law. In: Harley, A., Harrington, C. (eds) Bees, Science, and Sex in the Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century. Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-39570-3_9

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics