Humanity Dick & The Donkey

If I had a donkey wot wouldn’t go,
D’ ye think I’d wollop him? No, no, no!
But gentle means I’d try, d’ ye see,
Because I hate all cruelty.
If all had been like me, in fact,
There’d ha’ been no occasion for Martin’s Act.

Music hall song inspired by the prosecution of Bill Burns for cruelty to a donkey.

 

Painting by P. Mathews in or just after August 1838 of the Trial of Bill Burns

In today’s world, Richard Martin would be the ideal candidate for a reality show.

Born on January 15, 1754, at Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway, Richard Martin was destined to become the friend of animals, advocates and royalty.  His bold and eventful life should not have come as a surprise considering that he was the great-grandson of “Nimble Dick” who managed to raise the Martin family name and fortune, by taking ownership of the ancient Clan O’Flaherty territory of Connemara, which is located in the north-west corner of County Galway.  But that is another story…

Richard lived big.  Charismatic, unconventional, with a brilliant sense of humour, drama and controversy followed his every step.  An insatiable traveller during his youth, Richard survived not one, but two shipwrecks and was in New England at the start of the American Revolutionary War. In 1776, at the age of 22, he entered the Irish House of Commons, where his entertaining speeches and numerous disruptions became legendary.  A spirited thespian, he established theatres in Dublin and Galway.  A crack shot and  involved in 20 serious duels, he gained the title of “Hair-trigger Dick.”   He was the friend of William Pitt, Queen Caroline, and King George IV, who famously named him “Humanity Dick.”

Many would consider Richard Martin arrogant, opinionated, even eccentric.  But no one can dispute his love and sympathy for animals, values that were instilled by his mother in his early childhood.  He despised the popular blood sports of bear-baiting and dog-fighting, voicing his strident opposition to all who walked the streets of London.

Ideas do not die.  They may wither for a time, but then they come back with renewed vigour.

In 1822, Richard Martin introduced the Martin’s Act which was given the lengthy title of “An Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle.”   This was an extraordinary event that has been regarded as one of the first Acts of the UK Parliament to focus on animal welfare. A fine of up to five pounds or two months in prison was given out to anyone who dared to beat, abuse or ill-treat a horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle.

The problem of course, was enforcement.  The magistrates did not take this law seriously, but Richard Martin would not be thwarted. He was the first to bring charges against Bill Burns, a street seller of fruit, for beating his donkey.  Humanity Dick marched the donkey into the courtroom and, before a dumbfounded audience, pointed out the donkey’s injuries suffered at the hands of Bill Burns.

Mocked for relying on the “testimony of a donkey,” Richard Martin was the brunt of political cartoons that featured him with donkey’s ears.   Amidst all the laughter and taunts, the idea that animals had rights took hold and was soon embraced beyond the borders of the UK.

Two years later, on June 16, 1824, Richard Martin joined the Group of 22 at the Old Slaughter’s Coffee House.   While many think Richard Martin was the architect of the SPCA, he denied the honour, preferring to channel his energies into prowling the streets of London to ensure the safety of animals.  Richard Martin brought a new awareness of how to treat animals.  For those offenders who sincerely regretted their actions, he was known to pay their fines.

Richard Martin believed in the possibilities of lost causes. Perhaps we should, too.

Next Post:  Sir Fowell Buxton, The Chairman

 

84 thoughts on “Humanity Dick & The Donkey

  1. I enjoyed this post so very much. Such a good addition to the post about the Group of 22 and the one who went to prison for the group’s not paying its debts. The two stories are fascinating, to say the very least. We profit yet today because of their courage. The group would be delighted to see the results of their contribution to the safety of our animal friends.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree, I think that they would be pleased with the ongoing efforts, but I have a feeling that they would think, as we all do, that the work is far from over. There are more stories to come so stay tuned…

      “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” William Wilberforce

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    • Thank you!! I confess that I knew very little about the beginnings of the SPCA. I had no idea that the narratives were so varied, complex and interconnected. I have been reading “Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery” by Eric Metaxas. It is very interesting what happened during the time of the Industrial Revolution in the drive for a fair and just society. This is a passage from the book that I especially liked:

      “Ideas have far-reaching consequences, and one must be ever so careful about what one allows to lodge in one’s brain.” Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace

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  2. I think he would be happy at how far animal protection laws have developed in some countries, but still dismayed at the dreadful amount of cruelty which still exists, even in countries with good legal protection for animals.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree wholeheartedly!! I am certain that they would be amazed that their meeting was the beginning of an world-wide organization, but I think that they would see the work is far from over. The question of how we treat animals is closely related to how we treat each other. In my research, I came across Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher. In 1841, he praised the establishment of London’s SPCA, and stated that the pronoun “it” should not be used in reference to animals. This was a time of great change in how society viewed animals as can be seen in Schopenhauer’s words:

      “The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

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  3. What a great post, and what a wonderfully told episode of Bill Burns passion and humanitarianism. Thank you for that Rebecca. I’ve no doubt that Paulette will also appreciate it. I also agree that perhaps we too should believe in the possibility of lost causes. For doing so leads to the writing of said causes, as you just have, and sooner or later, many such lost causes become successfully found resolved causes.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I believe that lost causes are the stuff of legends, which reminds me: We celebrated St. George Day in Canada this past April. The idea of “slaying a dragon” in some form is found in all of our mythology, not to mention our current movie line-up. Humanity loves lost causes and becoming involved in heroic deeds that lead to “resolving lost causes”. Who doesn’t want to be part of a hero’s journey? Even if we sometimes forget that there is a element of hardship embedded therein. I am so pleased that you believe in the possibility of lost causes, too! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  4. I’ve wondered how the animal welfare movement got started. I’m not surprised that an eccentric was the trailblazer. This is something that I continue to support, especially rabbit rescue societies. It might be silly and obscure, but I sure feel good about it. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    • It is NOT silly. Every action we take for the betterment of this earth and all who dwell therein is noble, and a testament to our ongoing survival. We live is a complex world that requires acts of kindness, of courage, of hope. I’m certain that this small group that met on June 16, 1824 did not envision that their efforts would be the genesis of an organization that spans the globe. We may be on opposites sides of the world, but I believe that we are travelling the same pathway. Thank you for adding depth to this conversation.

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  5. This is the first time that I hear of Richard Martin, dear Rebecca, and I think that if you really want to change certain things in a society you need couregeous people and Richard seems therefore to have been the right person. Maybe we need more such people!!:) Thank you very much for having presented this problem to me. I wish you a very good week. Very best regards Martina

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    • I confess that this was the first time I heard of Richard Martin, too. This mini-research project all started when I was parked by the Vancouver SPCA a couple of months ago. I happened to see a couple of volunteer dog-watchers walk by and noted how kind they were to their four-legged companions. The question “How did the SPCA come into being?” popped into my mind. On my return home that evening, I started to look into the history of the SPCA. What an extraordinary journey. I recognized some of the names involved such as William Wilberforce, but I had always associated him with abolishing slavery. I have really enjoyed getting to know these men (and there are women in this story as well – stay tuned). I think these words by William Wilberforce says it the best:

      “We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible… So we will do them anyway.” William Wilberforce

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    • Thank you for your comments and visit. I find that so many marvelous narratives have been hidden in the folds of history. I am especially fascinated by the diversity of this Group of 22 – how they worked together for a common cause that would change the way in which society valued life. Most were not satisfied with the progress made during their lifetime. The work continues because there was a beginning.

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    • You always make me smile! I can only imagine the thoughts that went through his mind. Your comments sent me on another research project. How many shipwrecks occurred during this time? I checked out the listing of shipwrecks in 1800 and compared it to 2015. Very interesting. It seems that two shipwrecks in one lifetime was not unusual during Richard Martin’s time, especially given his penchant for travel. But even in 2015, there are shipwrecks. The call of the sea is not for the faint of heart. But there are those who would not trade that adventure for a book and a cup of tea (the latter is what I prefer)

      “As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

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  6. What an amazing man to champion defenceless animals. We think animals suffer in this day [which of course many do] but it must have been even worse in his day. It was brave of him to stand up for his beliefs despite the mockery and humiliation he endured. Thank you, Rebecca. Your articles are enlightening. Bless you.

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    • I admire those men and women who stand strong in the midst of adversity. What is most interesting to me in this narrative was the profound influence of Richard Martin’s mother. He must have been a very active and determined youngster but it was, in great part, her guidance that contributed to the course of animal welfare. This is a reminder to me that everyone has a voice – some just more vocal than others. Courage comes in many forms. The work of Richard Martin continues. Thank you for your encouraging comments. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I share your concern for our fellow creatures who share our world. This is a ongoing dialogue that continues to demand our attention because of the need to look for solutions using an interdisciplinary approach. My greatest takeaway from this mini-research project is the need for awareness. I like May Angelou’s thoughts: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” The world needs compassionate voices like yours, my dear friend. Thank you!!!

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    • Ich schätze Ihre Kommentare und besuchen. Vielen Dank für mein Interesse an der Geschichte zu teilen. Ich finde es ermutigend, Männer und Frauen zu sehen, die hart gearbeitet haben unsere Welt zu einem besseren Ort zu machen. Jeder Akt der Güte, ist wichtig. Vielen Dank für die Freude an meinem Tag.

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  7. What a wonderful story and painting, Rebecca! His mother really taught him well, and he passed on this teaching to others. It must have taken some courage in those days to speak out against the norm. He sounds like quite a character. Good for him! 🙂

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    • What came to mind when I read Richard Martin’s biography was that he was not the usual stereotype that we consider would accept this undertaking. In our minds, we think that “do-gooders” have spotless, ‘moral’ records. Richard Martin was a rabble-rouser and gambler. Even William Wilberforce, when he was at university, was a bit of a party-goer. This is a reminder that we don’t have to perfect before we act compassionately. Always a joy to have you visit.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Looking back is a great way to celebrate and reflect upon the good deeds and accomplishments of those who came before. We see the impact of their actions, but most of the group of 22 didn’t think that they made, in the overall, a significant contribution. Which reminds us that what we do today is only a “seed” not the full plant. Then there is the connections: who influenced who? Who followed who? Who influenced who? The ties to other endeavours and other people has been the most fascinating part of my mini-research project. Thank you for your encouraging comments, which are very much appreciated.

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  8. Looking back, I cheer Richard Martin, & love him. Looking at today… I see so much cruelty to animals. it sickens me. His message is drowned out by the ignorant heartless. I am driven to tears by the SPCA ads where they show the dogs and puppies in puppy mills. What is wrong with some of humanity? Are they born with no hearts? Why do some think animals.. & people are available chattel? There is/are no chattel & all humanity who thinks there is flesh chattel are lower than anything known on earth.
    I thought human slavery was a thing of the past. It is not. This, of course is another topic, but falls into the same category of man’s inhumanity to man and animals.
    Rebecca, thank you for your historical and topical posts. Much respect, Resa

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, my dear friend, the struggle continues and the problems have become even more complex in our interconnected world. The voice of compassion begins almost as a whisper, but the power of kindness, hope, courage cannot be diminished. Many years ago, twenty-two people decided to change the way animals were treated. No one believed they could. As individuals, they were far from the ideal. As a group, they had their share of conflict. What they started was a movement that continues to this day. By the way, you will be interested in knowing that slavery is a big part of this narrative. The same people that fought for the rights of animals, were the champions to end slavery. Stay tuned…more to come. Thank you for adding depth and passion to this conversation. Hugs coming your way…

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    • I agree, Humanity Dick’s ability to recognize the problem and believe that his actions could make a difference is extraordinary and certainly a model for us to consider in our reality. I confess that seeing that there is a problem is much easier than believing that what we do, even in a small way, can introduce change for the better. Thank you so much for your visit and comments.

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    • Thank you so much for your visit and encouraging comments. I love looking back to celebrate what has been accomplished. It gives strength to the journey ahead. It is good to meet others who share the love for all living creatures that share our planet.

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  9. Thanks for the education Rebecca, I’ve never looked up who brought those animal abuse rules into law, I never knew it was an Irishman. We take it for granted these days, but I’m sure there are still many countries where there is no law or no enforcement of the law.

    Wow, five pounds was huge amount of money in those days!! Kind of a bit concerning considering the cost of the fine, that the first man to be brought to court over beating his donkey was an ordinary street trader. I suspect that man probably thought it was normal and perfectly okay to beat his donkey. Considering it was a new law I wonder if such a man would have even been aware it was now unlawful to do such a thing? That must have been a shock for him! Also, would a man who sold fruit have had five pounds to pay a fine, and if he didn’t, did he go to prison for long spell due to failure to pay? There must have been some wealthy owners of animals that Richard Martin would have known beat their animals, I wonder why he didn’t pick one of those?! I’m all for laws that protect people and animals from being harmed, but sometimes, I wonder if they’re used against the wrong people.

    But anyway, at least it’s good that those laws are known about and enforced, and no doubt over the years have changed how many people think. 🙂

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    • Thank you for your insightful comment. You are absolutely right, there were areas of animal rights that were not addressed in the early years. It was a long process, that continues to this very day. When we consider the UK, here is a brief overview: After the Martin Act of 1822, came the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 which increased the penalties 5 Pounds to 10 Pounds. This act was amended and expanded by the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1876. In 1900 the Wild Animals in Captivity Protection Act came into force. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 superseded all previous acts. In 2006, The Animal Welfare Act consolidated many different forms of animal welfare legislation. Other countries continued to revise and refine their legislation as it became clear that more needed to be done. In all of this of course, is the issue of enforcement. Unless we embrace our fellow creatures as valuable sentient beings, ill-treatment will continue. I take comfort that many have followed in the steps of this small group of 22. I agree wholeheartedly, “the years have changed how many people think.” Richard Martin was implacable in his fight for animal rights, but what I most appreciated was that he would pay the fines of offenders who were truly sorry for their actions. It goes back to, once you know better, you do better.

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    • We continue to learn and relearn and relearn again. The idea of a compassionate society can only exist when we embrace all that is within our world. Thank you so much for your comments – they are very much appreciated, as is your visit.

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    • Thank you, Karen! I confess, I didn’t know about Humanity Dick until I started looking back at the origin of the SPCA. There are so many forgotten stories and acts of kindness. A reminder that what matters is how we live our life in the present moment. That every act of kindness does indeed make a difference.

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  10. The truth, especially about empathy and kindness, is dangerous. How many people have died or gone to jail because they refused to accept cruelty? Wonderful story about Richard Martin. Never heard of him before this.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sorry for the late response – I’ve been in and out of internet over the Canada Day Celebrations. I agree that truth is powerful, especially when it comes from new insight into what is currently the status quo. To change a way of thinking, to persuade others, with kindness and compassion, that there is a better path takes courage and determination. I did not know anything about Richard Martin until I started looking into the SPCA!

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  11. How I love learning about people and causes I’ve never heard of, people who help me believe in the goodness of the human race (and sometimes, that’s not easy…). NEVER heard of Richard Martin, yet he should be in the history books as an early someone who championed against cruelty to animals. THANK YOU for helping us, your readers, be aware of this extraordinary man and of his acts of kindness. You’ve made my day. I’m sending this along to several of my friends who work with animal rescue shelters throughout the world. They should know this history!

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    • Sorry for the late response – I’ve been in and out of internet over the Canada Day Celebration. Thank you for your comments and visit – very much appreciated. I am glad that we connected and look forward to our ongoing dialogue. Richard Martin was extraordinary – I had never heard of him before I started my mini-research into the formation of the RSPCA. The more I read about him, the more I came to understand that courage and compassion come in many forms. The “Group of 22” was a powerful force. More stories to come….

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  12. Excellent article! I enjoyed this immensely. What a fabulous human being this Humanity Dick was, and quite an interesting, larger-than-life character. I loved it. So grateful he had the will and the tenacity to stand up for animals…just phenomenal. Superb read, thank you so much! Happy weekend to you,

    Autumn Jade

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Autumn Jade!! What I found most interesting was that Richard Martin’s determination to fight for animal rights had its genesis in his childhood. His mother’s love of animals ignited the spark of compassion in a small boy. It is a reminder that one generation transfers ideas, values, dreams to the next. Our actions and conversations DO make a difference now and in the future yet to be formed.

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      • Absolutely!! I think people sometimes forget about the tremendous power we have to influence the lives of the young. I am so grateful that Richard Martin’s mother shared her passion openly with her son, inspiring and influencing him so deeply. Her compassion lived on through him and ultimately changed history. A strong reminder indeed. Conversations DO make a tremendous difference!!

        A friend of mine recently called to let me know that our plans for a day-trip had to be deferred as her nephew was in need of a babysitter. I told her that I would be glad to bring the lad along. She noted that he was loud and a bit troubled. He was indeed wild and exuberant, but then…I am too. We brought him to a spring and I began blather on and on about all the creatures and plants around us, as I am wont to do. I have watched FAR too many Attenborough documentaries over the years… 😉 Another child had suddenly replaced the old one before my eyes! He was fascinated and hung on every word. We pretended to be scientists conducting research and I showed him spiders that were as big as his hand, clinging to the limestone walls of the spring, and where the gators liked to sleep. I found a gar that was blind in one eye because of a tumor and how we could swim right up to him on his blind side. The lad lit up and, on our way back to the car, told me something very sad and troubling indeed…he said, “WOW I have never met anyone who thought science and math were cool before! Not even my teachers like science and math and don’t teach it much…” That struck me as deeply sad…

        I do not know how much a difference I made, I was just being me, but it was an interesting experience. I plan to take him on another trip to see a wild octopus sometime soon.

        All the best, and thanks for the inspirational tribute to Richard Martin!

        Smiling cheers,

        AJ

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      • I felt goosebumps as I read your comments. Thank you! Thank you!!! Thank you!!! I’m so glad that you shared this moment. Your words, your enthusiasm, your joy of our world will be long remembered. I believe that one conversation can change the course of a life. And that life can influence others along their life’s journey. We have a sacred and profound opportunity to encourage each other, especially those who are young. What joy it will be to know that our words, spoken with compassion and hope, will continue to inspire those who follow us…

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      • Aloha Rebecca, just wanted to let you know that I mentioned this post and quoted one of your comments on my blog- hope you do not mind- you inspired me to create a little blog post about my friend’s nephew.

        All the best and happy weekend to you,

        Autumn Jade

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: A Conversation With a Young Scientist in a Spring | A Day in the Brine

  14. Fascinating and inspiring. Most of this I didn’t know. Human beings still have a lot to learn. Nazi Germany had very strong animal protection laws and yet they were heinously cruel to people. Often you can see this dichotomy in people who champion animals but not people. We need to be a much more humane species in our treatment of both people and animals. I know I am preaching to the choir and you know this too. Thank God there are people like you Rebecca. Blogging is a special gift because it allows me to befriend so many people who are living and promoting humane ideals for all creatures great and small.

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    • I agree wholeheartedly, Cindy. Your comments could not have come on a better day for on August 1, 1834 slavery was abolished in the British Empire as the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into force. Even so, we know that slavery is still thriving two centuries later. In our complex world, we must change the conversation and strive for compassion rather than anger, hope instead of despair. I believe it is a choice that every person must make every day. Every act of kindness, every word of encouragement, every creative act gives strength to continue. We have been born into the story of humanity and are a thread in the narrative. May we, by our lives, give courage to those who follow after us.

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