Richard Martin, founder of the RSPCA
It is often stated that we are a nation of animal lovers, something I must say that I wonder about given how little we seem to care about the provence of our meat. Almost half of us owns a pet and that means there are something like 58,000,000 of them in the UK. A quarter of these are dogs, closely followed by cats (17%) and then it is fish, rabbits, and birds.
Another way in which we might measure our love for animals is in the existence, since 1824, of the RSPCA which answers the phone every 30 seconds to someone with an animal cruelty or health issue to report. The oldest animal welfare organisation in the world, the RSPCA predate the NSPCC (which campaigns to protect children) by 60 years.
The RSPCA covers pets and farm animals and so the term ‘animal welfare’ includes the way animals are kept, transported and slaughtered for human consumption. They have been campaigning for better conditions for livestock from their very inception in 1824, and the very first success in the prevention of cruelty actually came two years before then, in 1822. A law, brought and championed by Richard Martin the founder of the SPCA, was passed to prevent the improper treatment of cattle. This was ‘extended in 1835 to include dogs and other domestic animals’.*
At the end of February 1869 an Essex farmer and his son were summoned to the Marlborough Police Court to face a charge brought by the RSPCA (now Royal thanks to Queen Victoria’s patronage).
James and William Hall were accused of ‘cruelly ill-treating 151 ducks, seven geese, and five fowls’ which had been packed in crates and sent over from Ireland. The 163 animals were squeezed into 5 baskets measuring just 9 inches deep, by 5 tall and 2 and a half feet long.
They were spotted when the they arrived at Regent Circus railway office by officers from the RSPCA who investigated . They discovered that the animals had been travelling for 48 hours with food or water and were so closely packed that ‘some were on the others backs, and a great many were found to be dead’.
The justice didn’t act immediately but told the defendants and the prosecutors from the society that he would consider the evidence before ruling.
Hopefully he did act but I doubt whether the Halls would have received anything other than hefty fine. It may well have deterred them of course, but cutting costs when it comes to animal welfare has a very long history and continues to be a blight on our own society.
[from The Standard, Monday, March 01, 1869]
*https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/whoweare/history (accessed 27/2/17)