From the archive:
The Ark No. 88, Autumn 1966.
Letter sent in by The Hon. Juliet Gardner:
Historical Note on the 1876 Act CERTAIN MISUNDERSTANDINGS seem to have arisen
with regard to the basic views held by my Grandfather (Lord Carnarvon) in
connection with the inception of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876. The title of
the Act clearly indicates that the prime intention was to prevent cruelty to
animals. A note on the historical background may be useful in trying to
understand the origin and purposes of the Act.
My Grandfather and his brothers and sisters were convinced that the case
against vivisection played a vital part in social progress, and in the ultimate
emancipation of a great spiritual freedom founded on justice and compassion to
our younger brethren.
One of his brothers – Mr Auberon Herbert, a Radical M.P. – fought powerfully
for the animals inside and outside the House of Commons. When the Report of the
Royal Commission on Vivisection was published on March 20th, 1876, Lord
Shaftesbury headed a deputation to the Home Office, and ‘urged the Government to
bring in a Bill in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission’.
The deputation was very favourably received, and was asked to submit
suggestions. Earlier, in the summer of 1875 at Highclere Castle, the subject was
much discussed, and Mr Auberon Herbert, M.P., approached Mr Delane, then Editor
of The Times and whose sympathies were well known, to know if he would publish a
letter on the subject. Mr. Delane’s reply on March 27th, 1875, was very clear.
He said that if (as Mr. Auberon Herbert had promised) the letter was ‘very
violent, very abusive, very extreme’, he would have much pleasure in publishing
Mr Auberon Herbert’s letter filled nearly two columns in The Times of January
17th, 1876. On its appearance and a later article written by an opponent of Mr.
Herbert’s views, Lord Carnarvon wrote at once from the Colonial Office (he was
Secretary for the Colonies) to his brother, saying: ‘I like your letter very
much – and the article in to-day’s Times shows that it has hit the mark!’
On May 22nd, 1876, when Lord Carnarvon introduced the Bill, he was most
unfortunately called away to the bedside of his mother, who died a few days
On June 3rd, 1876, Queen Victoria, who abominated vivisection, wrote and
condoled with him; her letter continued, ‘in the midst of his sorrow she knows
that his heart will be with his work’, and the Queen then went on to refer to
‘the horrible, disgraceful and un-Christian vivisection’. The Duke of Richmond
and Gordon wrote Her Majesty a letter, and she asked Lord Carnarvon ‘to
communicate to him her very strong views on the subject’. Lord Carnarvon
hastened to reply that his heart did remain with his work.
It should be remembered that, before this Bill was introduced, there had been
great agitation about the evils of vivisection in this country, and the terrible
accounts from abroad of experiments on live animals, with no legislation or
restriction whatsoever, caused all right-thinking people to hope that in this
country vivisection would not assume an uncontrolled momentum. Meanwhile, in the
background some doctors who favoured uncontrolled experimentation, were loud in
their criticism of Lord Carnarvon’s proposals. In answer to their intervention,
Mr Auberon Herbert was prophetic in the view which he expressed as to the deep
underlying aim of his brother’s Bill, namely, to meet what was virtually ‘a
revolt of a part of Science against the authority of morality, and the
pretension on her part to become an independent and sovereign State’.
Here follows a selection of extracts from Mr Auberon Herbert’s letter:
The Times, January 17, 1876
A real improvement in the treatment of animals must depend upon public
feeling, and will legislation stimulate or will it check this feeling? ... For
myself, I would turn to the friends of animals in this country and say,
‘If you wish that the friendship between men and animals should become a
better and truer thing than it is at present, you must make it so by countless
individual and social efforts, by making thousands of centres of personal
influence’. I now wish to point out how grave are the issues which are raised by
the controversy about vivisection ... My friend Sir H. Thompson once asked why
we should select him and his friends for our attack, while we overlook commoner
forms of cruelty.
Our answer is that we pay him this undesired compliment because he counts as
a greater force in the future of society than, for example, the small boy who
fishes with a worm in the serpentine, or even than distinguished persons who
wound and kill such noble beasts as elephants for the sake of a ten minutes’
glorification. We may say that both these cases represent an old bit of human
nature, a survival which the ordinary softening influences of our time may be
trusted to remove gently out of existence. But Sir Henry is... an educated and
intelligent force on the side of cruelty, and can do more than all the small
boys or distinguished persons that London can produce to prevent men from taking
a just view of their relations with animals. ...
Under the new gospel of knowledge, all means and instruments are sanctified.
It is the experimentalist’s duty to discover – duty to whom is not quite clear,
whether to the people who do not ask for these experiments, or to those who
strongly object, or to himself, or to the animals; knowledge must be pushed
further at whatever cost; and should poor morality, with her scruples about the
use of power, and her care for the weaker, happen, like Stephenson’s cow, to be
in the way, so much the worse for morality. Hitherto we have believed that the
more absolute was the power placed in our hands, the greater was the need for
Hitherto we have looked upon suffering as a shadow thrown upon the world, and
the pain in whatever sentient nerve, in whatever body it might be lodged, as one
of those mysteries which confuse life. So keen in the human mind has been the
sense of these things, that from one man after another the denial has been wrung
that that a good Being could be responsible for the world in which we live; but
today, we who stand in the position of gods to these lower races [species] are
invited to look upon pain, not only as a secondary matter, but even as a good
action for the convenience of special studies. ...
Let us clearly understand the issues which are raised. We are suddenly called
upon to face a revolt on a part of science on the authority of morality, and a
pretension on her part to be an independent and Sovereign State ...
The point which concerns us at present is the tendency in modern scientific
culture to refuse consideration to the moral aspects of a question. Some years
have gone by since Mr Darwin, well called ‘the great and kind-hearted master’,
first implied and then taught that man and the animals were of common descent;
but among those who accepted the words as they dropped from his lips has any
vivisectionist every paused in his researches to ask if any moral consequences
flowed from this new conception; if any new rights on the one side, and any new
duties on the other, arose from this acknowledged kinship? ... It is well to
know our friends.
Those who wish to make the world better on the old lines and in the old way,
by softening human nature and rendering it less capable of inflicting suffering,
more scrupulous in the use of power, and more incredulous of advantages to be
gained through the sacrifice of others, must renounce the idea that help can
come from that section of scientific men who apologise for vivisection. The
immoral bargain which they strike on their own account disqualifies them as our
...We are entering on a battle which has to be fought out slowly and
painfully by the nation itself. ... There is no lawful weapon, no lawful means
of attack that must be left unused. There can be no truce as long as we are
asked to inflict suffering for the good of humanity. ...
We can find no evidence that humanity has ever yet found its real good when
it deliberately trod the path of cruelty and selfishness.
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