The People, Places, Events, Customs and More from the Victorian Era. Please Scroll Down to Explore Links to Other Sites of Historical Interest:

Friday, 10 June 2011

“…An Abuse of our Powers over the Animals…”, Or: Victorian Animal Rights & the Societies that Promoted them:

Despite not being a Victorianist herself, ‘Miss Amateur Casual’ occasionally likes to click upon this blog and see what I have been writing about. Occasionally she will read a few lines, but the subjects are not of great interest. (She is interested in a different period in history – the 1960’s. A time about which I know nothing, other than it gave the world the Beatles, the mini-skirt and someone called Mary Quant.)

This week I thought I would surprise her by combining my favourite topic (The Victorian period) with a couple of her favourite topics, and see if I could write a post about vegetarianism and animal welfare in the Victorian period.

I had high hopes for writing something about animal welfare, as I knew this had been a concern for our ancestors prior to Victoria becoming Queen, but I was less confident about finding any information with regards to vegetarianism, as I have always believed the Victorians were staunch eaters of meat, but, I was surprised with what I found…

I shall begin with the world’s foremost animal charity, and what they were up to in the nineteenth century:

The RSPCA
Richard Martin
The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) was founded by a group of twenty two reformers led by the M.P Richard Martin (who would, due to his kindly ways, go on to earn the nickname ‘Humanity Dick’), champion of morality and philanthropist William Wilberforce, (better known for his work in abolishing the slave trade) inventor and author Lewis Gompertz, and clergyman Reverend Arthur Broome. 

These men got together in a coffee shop in London in 1824 and created the world’s first animal welfare charity, which they named ‘The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ or the SPCA. The Society had great success in its first year, bringing sixty three offenders of cruelty to animals – mostly from Smithfield Market – before the courts, where they were all convicted. Despite this initial success, the Society – which was a charity, let us not forget – began to see the money they had managed to raise running out, and by January 1826, they were nearly £300 in debt. Reverend Arthur Broome had become the Honorary Secretary of the Society upon its establishment, and as such was responsible for the Society, and therefore its debts too. For failure to pay these debts, he was, in January 1826, thrown into prison. The SPCA rallied, and they managed to collect enough money to pay off their debts and Reverend Broome was released.

William Wilberforce
During Reverend Broome’s incarceration, Lewis Gompertz had temporarily taken over as the Honorary Secretary of the Society, a role which he remained in after Reverend Broome was released.
Lewis Gompertz was somewhat of an eccentric man. He was an inventor (aren’t the eccentrics’ always?) and always maintained that he would do nothing in his life to cause suffering to animals. This belief was such that not only was he a vegetarian, but also refused to ride in coaches because he believed that pulling coaches and carts caused suffering to horses and donkeys. To alleviate the need for such quadruped power for transport, in 1821 he came up with his most notable design; a hand-crank to be applied to a small cart which the driver used to propel his vehicle, thus removing the requirement for a horse or donkey to pull it. He applied the hand-crank design to Baron von Drais’ bicycle design, and came up with the vehicle below. 

Bicycle showing Gompertz's Crank
When the SPCA was first set up its primary focus was to investigate animal welfare at markets, knackers yards (where horses that were unfit for work were killed and their meat and bones used) and the welfare of the pit ponies that were used in coal mines. Animals in entertainment were also in need of charity, and Gompertz and the SPCA did all they could to make dog pits – in which dogs fought each other to the death whilst onlookers made bets and watched – illegal, as well as other blood sports such as bear-baiting and bull-baiting. To achieve all this, Richard ‘Humanity Dick’ Martin had managed to pass an act of Parliament in 1822 to prevent cruelty to animals. The act, known as the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, or more simply as Martin’s Act, was discussed in meetings with magistrates set up by Gompertz, in which he tried to make them understand the importance of it, and to realize that cruelty was occurring to animals everywhere and needed to be stopped.

At the time, Magistrates of the land paid very little heed to Martin’s Act, and despite the pleas of Gompertz, they did not enforce it. This ignorance toward his act of Parliament lead Richard Martin to take matters into his own hands, and prosecuted Bill Burns, a costermonger, for cruel treatment of his donkey. But this was not all; Richard Martin knew that the magistrates would not convict Bill Burns, and so sent for the donkey to be brought to court. Incredibly, his request was allowed and Bill Burns’ donkey was brought in to the astonishment of the magistrates who observed the wounds and injuries on the animal. Richard Martin’s ‘stunt’ was a success – not only was Bill Burns fined, but the case garnered a lot of publicity in the press. Artist P. Matthews painted the incident.
'The Trial of Bill Burns' by P. Matthews
With the help of the SPCA, bear-baiting and bull-baiting were abolished in 1835.



After Victoria was crowned Queen in 1837, she soon became patron of the SPCA, and in 1840 gave the charity permission to add the Royal ‘R’ to their name, making them the more familiar sounding charity we know today, the RSPCA.

In 1876, parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act, which we shall investigate further shortly…

The RSPCA soon set their sights on other areas in which animal mistreatment occurred, one culprit being the fashion industry, the victims of which included birds, foxes and even cats. In 1898 one million egrets were killed in Venezuela alone in the name of fashion, and so in 1919, with the help of the RSPCA the ‘Plumage Act’ was passed which banned the use of certain birds’ plumage for fashion.

Visit the RSPCA website rspca.org.uk where you can make donations if you wish, and you can also follow them on Twitter under @RSPCA_official 

Victorian Vegetarianism:
As I mentioned in the introduction, this was the part I did not have high hopes for, and so was surprised with my findings. I’ve never really looked into Victorian diets, other than to look at what general kinds of meals each class would be used to, and to my surprise vegetarianism DID exist in the Victorian era. In my ignorance, I guessed that the vegetarian movement first began in England probably in the twenties or thirties, but what with the Victorian fascination with health and the benefits of things such as ‘sea air’, its hardly a surprise that they stumbled upon this lifestyle choice.


The Victorian era was one of many medical and scientific advances, but in terms of health and medicines, what they knew was far from what we are used to. Outbreaks of disease were at every turn, such as the famous outbreak of cholera in London in 1854 (which you can read about here) as well as a host of other hygiene – or rather, lack thereof – related diseases and infections.

SO, where does vegetarianism fit in? Well, it was seen as an alternate lifestyle promoting the belief that not eating meat is far healthier for the body and will help it to avoid diseases. But where did this belief start?

The first vegetarian society was formed in England by MP for Salford and social reformer, Joseph Brotherton and his wife (who was the first person to publish a vegetarian cookbook, as far back as 1812) at a conference at a vegetarian hospital called Northwood Villa in Ramsgate, Kent in 1847. Their society championed a “simple life and ‘pure’ food, humanitarian ideals and strict moral principles.” This evidently caught the imagination of some people, as one hundred and fifty signed up for the society on the day, with their membership six years later being 889 strong. The members of the Vegetarian Society believed in their ‘pure’ diet for not only health reasons, but also moral ones, believing it wrong to kill another animal merely to eat it.
This belief naturally went hand in hand with strong feelings against other acts of animal cruelty such as vivisection, or scientific testing on animals, and some vegetarians allied themselves with the temperance movement (which was against alcohol) to demonstrate their moral views on life.

In 1885 the Vegetarian Society merged with the London Food Reform Society. The LFRS had been formed in 1877, with baker Thomas Allinson (you can still buy his bread in the UK today) one of its founding members. He advocated the vegetarian diet due not only to its health benefits, but also because, as a lifestyle, it was cheaper than eating meat.
When the two societies merged, the LFRS effectively became the London branch of the Vegetarian Society. This lasted for three years, until the Vegetarian Society formed the London Vegetarian Society, (of which Mahatma Ghandi would go on to become a member of) which even published its own magazine, ‘The Vegetarian’ which is still in publication today.

The Vegetarian Society have a website if you’re interested in such things, vegsoc.org  and if you Tweet, they are also on Twitter under the name @vegsoc 

The NAVS (National Anti Vivisection Society)
As we observed with both the beginnings of the RSPCA and the vegetarian movement, animal rights and morality towards animals gathered momentum in Victorian England, and the third main society of the age that demonstrated this was the National Anti Vivisection Society (NAVS)  

In England in the 1870’s, the estimates were that there were around 300 tests per year carried out on animals for scientific research, and with feelings of sympathy toward animals running high in some sections of society, a group was set up to oppose these tests. The founders of this group were the fiery feminist Francis Power Cobbe, and humanitarian Toni Doran. Their cause was anti-vivisection, and so, naturally, they named themselves the National Anti Vivisection Society, and set about garnering support.

Frances Power Cobbe
They were rather successful in recruiting supporters; they published leaflets containing articles opposing animal experimentation, and soon found their cause being championed by politicians, social reformers, clergymen, doctors, and, amongst their crowning glories, Lord Shaftesbury and Queen Victoria herself. The NAVS called for parliamentary action to stop experimentation on animals ‘In Her Majesty’s Empire’ and they almost succeeded, but for a counter-movement by eminent British scientists of the day masterminded by none other than Charles Darwin, which derailed the NAVS campaign and allowed the practice to continue.

However, Public opposition to vivisection led the Government to appoint the First Royal Commission on Vivisection in July 1875. It reported its findings in January 1876, recommending that special legislation be enacted to control vivisection. This led to the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, (as I mentioned earlier).This act not only legalised vivisection but also allowed the scientists doing it total secrecy. They were given licenses behind closed doors to practice animal testing, and the locations of their laboratories were also kept a secret, with anybody not associated with the experimentation – from the common man to the Member of Parliament – denied access to the work. This meant that the numbers of animals used in experiments – as well as the number of licenses given to scientists – rose every year for the next hundred years.

The 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act remained in force for 110 years, until it was replaced by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986.
The NAVS attended a Council meeting on 9th February 1898 where the following resolution was passed:

“The Council affirms that, while the demand for the total abolition of vivisection will ever remain the ultimate object of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the Society is not thereby precluded from making efforts in Parliament for lesser measures, having for its object the saving of animals from scientific torture.”

This resolution was passed, but fiery Francis Cobbe was still not satisfied. She did not want the Society to appear to be happy with anything less than total abolition of animal testing, and as a result, after the Resolution was passed, she left the NAVS and formed the ‘British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’ to demand total and immediate abolition of animal experiments. The resolution of 1898 has remained the policy of the NAVS until this day.

Anna Kingsford, a spiritualist and vegetarian was also an opponent of vivisection. She decided that the best way to attempt to see the practice abolished was to study medicine. She studied in Paris, and in 1880 passed her exams. Upon doing so, she wrote a thesis entitled; ‘L'Alimentation Végétale de l'Homme’ this was later published in England under the title; ‘The Perfect way to Diet’. Her thesis earned her a diploma.
Anna also felt the need to embark upon a spiritual mission to spread the word about vegetarianism and anti-vivisection. In 1882 she gave a lecture at Girton College, Cambridge, in which she used strong words to condemn meat eaters for abusing species’ of a lower order than themselves.

During their campaigning, the NAVS received written backing from many people, below is a typical pamphlet of support, many of which appeared in newspapers or handbills. This is a typical example of a powerful article against vivisection written by a Doctor, Arthur Beale, who bases his opposition on both scientific and moral grounds:

WHY I OPPOSE VIVISECTION, By Dr Arthur Beale:
Dr Arthur Beale

LIKE most members of my profession, I was nurtured in the belief that vivisection is an important, useful, and justifiable adjunct to medical science. But reflection and experience have convinced me to the contrary. I therefore oppose vivisection today from a strong conviction — first, that it is a course entirely at variance with true culture and the progress of society; second, that it is a method of research entirely unscientific; third, that it accumulates facts which, as honourable members of my own profession have said, are not only useless but directly harmful, as they only confuse the mind; fourth, on moral grounds. Besides being an unnatural procedure, it is one that is pernicious alike to the experimenters and to society, and an abuse of our powers over the animals.

I maintain that vivisection is at variance with culture and progress, because for true culture and progress the great essential is healthy sentiments with a strong altruistic motive, i.e. one where all personal gains are subservient to the summum bonum of the community, to humanity at large. It is indeed sentiment that makes man what he is, and the obligations between individuals are greatly heightened by the obligations felt to protect those below and weaker than themselves, especially the animals. Now vivisectors repudiate all sentiment, which they speak of as "sloppy," and to this degree they keep back the highest culture and progress.

Vivisection is unscientific, since, if science means anything at all, it means knowledge. True knowledge not only requires observation of phenomena, or effects, but the interpretation of such in relation to other phenomena. Vivisection has acquired and registered certain facts. But that no real knowledge has resulted from the observation of such phenomena must be patent to any unprejudiced person who has taken the trouble to read both sides of the question. Prof. Lawson Tait's refutations of the vivisectors' assumptions of the utility of vivisection must appeal very strongly to the profession and to the laity, and stand to–day unanswered.

The claims made on behalf of vivisection are, I maintain, misleading and contradictory. It is such a practice as this which makes medicine an art perhaps, a science never. We have lost the key that would permit us to know anything of disease per se. This age of medicine is one of dry empiricisms and guesswork. No one can say for certain what is the cause of disease. We make some shrewd guesses and are satisfied, till a more shrewd guess upsets us. We think, but we do not know! Vivisection does not help us, it only makes the confusion worse by adding contradictory evidence. This is not science. It deals with superficial facts, whilst the real operations are working beyond the ken of the medical five senses.

As an example of the confusion so caused might be mentioned the following: For generations calomel was a trusted drug for specific purposes, but especially for its supposed action on the liver, till Dr. Rutherford, of Edinburgh, declared, that every one in the past had been wrong, on the strength of the results of his painful experiments on dogs, and these experiments proved beyond doubt, to the professor, that this drug had no effect on the liver. But Mr. Jonathan Hutchinson, a surgical authority we cannot ignore, declined to assent to this view, and in The Archives of Surgery (January, 1893) says:—

"In the present unsettled faith in drugs we cannot afford to neglect items of evidence from any witness. It is not so long since we were told, 'as the result of conclusive experiments,’ that it is a mistake to believe that mercury has any action on the functions of the liver. So far am I from putting any faith in such conclusions that I look forward with hope to a return of the time when calomel enjoyed the confidence of the public as well as that of the profession."

Other vivisectors found that the useful ingredient of lemons (citric acid) acted as a most deadly poison on cats and dogs, and yet it had only beneficial effects on man. Such experiments convince me that vivisection proves everything and nothing. Common salt, we are told, on the authority of intelligent men, if given in very attenuated doses, has been known to produce poisonous results, and yet we will carelessly take large quantities regularly. All this points to the fact that we know practically nothing of the laws that control the effect of drugs on the body. What, indeed, shall we say of those dangerous animal poisons that vivisectors are so proud of? We are expected to swallow (metaphorically) all the nonsense that comes with such experimental filth as anti-toxin, Koch's consumption cure, Pasteur's nostrum for hydrophobia, etc., and yet we own we know nothing of the direct effects of these things; not one is a reliable preventive or protection, and most are dangerous.

After all, the question is a moral one. It is Might not Right that gives the animals into the power of the vivisector. If we grant that vivisection is necessary, man is the proper medium — experiments on animals are so confusing — and no man more appropriate than him who is so ardently in favour of the practice. I unhesitatingly say that if he who declares vivisection to be necessary will not yield his own living body to the knife, but instead secures an inoffensive animal for the purpose, and then dares to say this is for the sake of humanity, he is no scientist, but an arrant coward and hypocrite. But I believe the apparent sanction of many disciples of Aesculapius (A God of healing and medicine – ED) to this practice is due to an indifference to the subject, and many hundreds in their hearts feel a keen repugnance to it, whilst not caring to expose their opinions. Have I not heard that bold and devoted champions of this cause have been treated most insultingly and unprofessionally. We must never let the esprit de corps interfere with our duty to the public, to Humanity, and to Truth. We have no ill-feeling to vivisectors, but we regret the blindness that holds them to their task and which makes them dispensers of suffering and injustice to the dumb. We must learn to wander back to the true path of service that knows no harshness; to teach the suffering humanity how to keep well and live well, and then vivisection and its nauseating details will go.
ARTHUR A. BEALE, M.B., C.M. 175, Clapham Road, S.W.


Much like the RSPCA and Vegetarian Society, NAVS have a website where you can learn more and also donate to their various good causes navs.org.uk and once again if you Tweet, you’ll find them under @AnimalDefenders.

I hope that ‘Miss Amateur Casual’ finds this post interesting, and that, of course, those of you kind enough to still be reading also find some interest in it. I have certainly found it interesting to research and learn about these societies and movements. The Victorians are not that far away in the dim and distant past from us, and I think finding out that they had similar sentiments as many people in our time about topics such as these makes them seem more human, and less like the stereotypical parodies that many see them as.


Post Script:
After reading this post, Why-Lydia of The Gothic Heroine was kind enough to leave an excellent
comment about one of the women mentioned above, Anna Kingsford. The comment was so comprehensive that I decided to add it to the bottom of this post, because Anna Kingsford certainly appears to have been a remarkable lady, but one about which I knew nothing prior to researching this subject.

Why-Lydia has summarized Anna's achievements better than I could have done, so I have, with her blessing, added her comment to the bottom of this post as a post script.

Why-Lydia says:

I'm so pleased you featured Anna Kingsford in your review. I have been a great admirer of this remarkable woman for many years, and it was her influence as much as anything that encouraged me to turn vegetarian over 20 years ago.

She really was fascinating in that she managed to do so much in her tragically short life. For many years she was incapacitated by lung diseases and she died in 1888 at the age of 41.
As you state, she studied for her doctorate purely so that she could argue her vegetarian and anti-vivisection views with a firm medical background. Since at that time women weren't admitted to medical school in England she was forced to go and study in Paris.

In addition to her work on animal rights, she had also been a campaigner for votes for women in the 1860s. She also edited a women's magazine, to which she contributed regular items on "advice from a lady doctor" on womens health and social issues.

In her later life she became involved in mysticism, initially through Mme Blavatsky's Theosophical Society, Kingsford was at one time leader of the London Lodge, and later, following a split with Blavatsky she initiated her own Esoteric Christian Union. She published a major work The Perfect Way which described her views on religion.

Much of her inspiration came from dreams and visions, which we may now consider were induced by the drugs she was taking for her illnesses, but which were certainly assumed to be communications from her spirit guides at the time. In common with a number of other mystics at the time these were claimed to be recoveries from lost teachings of the ancients, and are recorded in her book "Clothed With the Sun".

Anna was definitely a controversial and colourful character, and well worth exploring further. A long winded, and somewhat biased biography exists written by her collaborator (some might claim lover, but I don't subscribe to that) Edward Maitland.

She also managed to produced a book of poems, a novel and a book of short stories, all of doubtful quality, although there are a few good tales in her book "Dreams and Dream Stories".

She married early, a civil servant who became a C of E vicar in Atcham just outside Shrewsbury. I've never found out exactly why, but sometime after her death he changed his surname, whether it was to escape from some scandal that involved her I'm not sure. She was buried in the grounds of his church, I visited the grave a few years ago.

11 comments:

  1. I blogged about vegetarianism in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras three years ago. One thing I found fascinating about the topic was its juxtaposition with social reform--in the 1900s, Vegetarian restaurants were seen as the haunts of only suffragettes and Socialists.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very informative blog.
    Re Vegetarianism : An interest in vegetarianism could be said to have developed even earlier; John Evelyn collected recipes in his Acetaria (Salads, or Herbs eaten with vinegar. Apparently his interest in the value of vegetarian eating was triggered by his wife's poor health and early death; he also contributed to social awareness of the benefits of vegetables by devising these recipes. One interesting link is :
    http://www.ivu.org/history/williams/evelyn.html
    (The complete book can be found on Project Gutenberg: http://bit.ly/ifNo60)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm so pleased you featured Anna Kingsford in your review. I have been a great admirer of this remarkable woman for many years, and it was her influence as much as anything that encouraged me to turn vegetarian over 20 years ago.

    She really was fascinating in that she managed to do so much in her tragically short life. For many years she was incapacitated by lung diseases and she died in 1888 at the age of 41.

    As you state, she studied for her doctorate purely so that she could argue her vegetarian and anti-vivisection views with a firm medical background. Since at that time women weren't admitted to medical school in England she was forced to go and study in Paris.

    In addition to her work on animal rights, she had also been a campaigner for votes for women in the 1860s. She also edited a women's magazine, to which she contributed regular items on "advice from a lady doctor" on womens health and social issues.

    In her later life she became involved in mysticism, initially through Mme Blavatsky's Theosophical Society, Kingsford was at one time leader of the London Lodge, and later, following a split with Blavatsky she initiated her own Esoteric Christian Union. She published a major work The Perfect Way which described her views on religion.

    Much of her inspiration came from dreams and visions, which we may now consider were induced by the drugs she was taking for her illnesses, but which were certainly assumed to be communications from her spirit guides at the time. In common with a number of other mystics at the time these were claimed to be recoveries from lost teachings of the ancients, and are recorded in her book "Clothed With the Sun".

    Anna was definitely a controversial and colourful character, and well worth exploring further. A long winded, and somewhat biased biography exists written by her collaborator (some might claim lover, but I don't subscribe to that) Edward Maitland.

    Shge also managed to produced a book of poems, a novel and a book of short stories, all of doubtful quality, although there are a few good tales in her book "Dreams and Dream Stories".

    She married early, a civil servant who became a C of E vicar in Atcham just outside Shrewsbury. I've never found out exactly why, but sometime after her death he changed his surname, whether it was to escape from some scandal that involved her I'm not sure. She was buried in the grounds of his church, I visited the grave a few years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Evangeline, I read about that juxtaposition that somewhere whilst reading for this post. Society tended to lump the vegetarians in with the women's rights, temperance and religious movements.

    Even today I think vegetarians can be seen as being slightly odd by some people, although these days they generally seem to be lumped in with the 'hippy' movement in my experience!

    Vegetarian restaurants were seen as the haunts of only suffragettes and Socialists.

    ReplyDelete
  5. AuthorsAnon,

    Andrew McConnell Stott on Twitter also assures me that PB Shelley and his wife became vegetarians early as 1811, influenced by JF Newton "The Primate of All Vegetables"

    This period is slightly out of range for my blog, but even so, its interesting to know that this movement has roots in this country as far back as that, and has grown and grown as the years have gone by.

    The vegetarians of the 1800's would probably be shocked at the way their 'pure' lifestyle has become a multi-million pound / dollar industry today.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Why-Lydia, thanks so much for that extra information on Anna Kingsford. if it's ok with you I may reproduce what you have written here as a blog post on its own. Alternatively, feel free to expand it to a full article and I will post it here.

    One of the most enjoyable things about doing this blog is bringing people who are long forgotten by many back into people's consciousness, and I think Anna Kingsford is certainly deserving of that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dear Amateur Casual, As a long time vegetarian, I'm thrilled whenever I see more light shed on the topic, and I'll gladly be considered slightly odd. Thank you ever so much for listing my blog, The Victorian Times, on your site. It's generated a huge increase in readership.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You're welcome, Rosa, I enjoy popping along to your blog so thought it only right to put it on the list!

    Thanks for reading, I'm glad people seem to have liked this post, I wasn't sure if it would be popular or not, being a rather un-Victorian sounding topic, but there has been plenty of interest and great comments too.

    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hello,
    I am currently writing a paper for university on Queen Victoria & animal protection. Do you maybe also know something about Queen Victoria and her attitude to animals? I would be very grateful if you wrote me! :)

    Thanks in advance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anna,

      Queen Victoria had quite a few pets during her life, from ponies to parrots, but mostly dogs.
      She even requested that her pet Pomeranian dog lay with her on her bed after she died.

      Make of that what you will, but I think you'd be safe to say she liked animals, at the very least.

      Hope this helps, and good luck with the paper!

      All the best

      Delete
  10. By the way.. your blog is just great! :)

    ReplyDelete