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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals


Selections From The Ark Number 212 - Summer 2009

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 it!

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 later.

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’.

Yours faithfully.............

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 self-imposed limits.

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 moral guides.

...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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