Throughout his life Hardwicke Rawnsley took a keen interest in the welfare of animals and never ceased to campaign for them to be treated with kindness and consideration. Even as a child he was preternaturally aware of his natural surroundings and demonstrated a love and respect for wildlife unusual in a small boy. At an early age, with the eye of a born naturalist and the mind of a potential scientist, he made himself familiar with the activities and habitats of animals and birds in the countryside. Conservation in later years was to encompass not just the landscape but also all the ‘creatures great and small’ to be found therein.
That Hardwicke deplored ill-treatment of animals is evident in his first published volume, A Book of Bristol Sonnets (1877), in which he draws attention to the sufferings of the caged eagle and the lion at Clifton Zoo. Several other poems in the same volume celebrate the jackdaw, the nightingale, the starling, the blackbird and the tumbler pigeon. All these birds, oblivious as they were of the cares of the human-race, gave him intense pleasure during his walks in town and country. Other sonnets in the same volume hymn the joy to the passer-by to be gained simply by observing the daily pursuits of animals in their natural environment. In his second published volume of poetry, Sonnets at the English Lakes (1881), the writer’s intense delight in the world of nature; the flowers, trees, birds and animals, is made still more manifest.
At the first revival of the traditional Keswick May Queen Festival, organised by Hardwicke in 1885, he made a point of ensuring that the Queen’s Proclamation should adjure all her subjects to abide by Christ’s admonition to be kind to the creatures He has placed on this earth for Man’s enjoyment and edification.
Of all God’s creatures, those which gave Hardwicke the greatest pleasure of all were the wild birds. As early as 1889 he had published, ‘A Plea for the Birds’, in the Gentleman’s Magazine. In this article, employing a similar argument to that which he had used in the early 1880’s in opposition to the expansion of the railway network in the Lake District, he reminded his readers that the poor, and the workers in the industrial towns and cities, visit the seaside and the countryside for rest and recuperation, and to take delight in the wildlife. But the bird life which has flourished there undisturbed for centuries was now under threat. Native species, as well as the migratory visitors, which each year brought so much colour with their plumage, and so much joy with their singing, were fast disappearing.
In the Lake District, he reported that the linnet, skylark and goldfinch were in decline. White owls, buzzards, merlins and peregrine falcons were very rarely observed, and even ravens were becoming scarce. There were many reasons for the decline of certain species – the deplorable trend for feathers in fashion, the shooting of birds for sport, the popularity of stuffed birds as ornament, and the collecting of birds’ eggs being particularly singled out for vilification. The root cause of this general decline was ignorance and a lack of knowledge and understanding of the primary importance of bird life to the maintenance of the fragile balance of nature. In the short term, legislation might help, but the only long-term solution would be informed public opinion, which could not be achieved overnight.
On St. Kentigern’s Day in January 1892, Hardwicke used his annual sermon at Crosthwaite to deliver a graphic denunciation of the cruelty involved in the scientific experiments on living animals which caused them so much unnecessary suffering. The congregation was not spared the gory details. He told them of investigations that caused ‘cats to lose their eyes by the grafting of slow ulcers, slicing up the brains of living animals by degrees, baring and scraping bones of living creatures’. Warming to his theme, he went on to speak about the cruelty of animal sports, especially rabbit coursing. He had read a recent newspaper report of a temperance meeting, at which a Colonel Coulson described the cruelty he had witnessed at a rabbit-coursing event, with rabbits having legs torn off, entrails hanging out, and skin ripped off.
The close observation and understanding of animals would not only bring mankind closer to God, but would also result in the realisation that observation and knowledge of the beautiful surroundings, given by God for man to enjoy, is its own reward, in that it enhances Man’s awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Almighty. Following up this incendiary sermon Hardwicke went on to publish his most polemical poem to date, ‘The Bitter Cry of Brer Rabbit’, the target of the so-called ‘sport’ in which:
A rough hand dangled me in play
Before the dogs. One leapt up high
And from its socket tore mine eye;
Half blind, wet, wounded, hear my cry,
Have mercy on me—let me die!
During the 1890s Hardwicke became increasingly involved in campaigns to preserve threatened animal species; lending his name and influence particularly to the cause of the protection of birds, employing as usual his principal weapon, the power of the pen. In 1891 the Society for the Protection of Birds was formed by the amalgamation of the two pressure-groups founded two years earlier – the Croydon-based Fur, Fin and Feather Folk, and the Society for the Protection of Birds (Didsbury, Manchester). The raison d’être of both Associations being to bring an end to the killing of birds for pleasure and fashion ornamentation, membership was originally restricted to women only. Members were pledged never to wear the feathers of any bird not already killed for food, except for the plumes of the ostrich. The killing of both native and foreign birds for their brightly coloured feathers, to be used for the adornment of hats and other feminine apparel, had by the last years of the nineteenth century become a booming business on an industrial scale. What particularly incensed Hardwicke was the case of the egret, slaughtered for its feathers for the millinery trade. He drew attention to the barbarous practice of shooting the mother birds at the very time when they were caring for their nestlings, leaving the young birds to die untended in the glaring heat of the sun. The trade in all types of plumage should be stamped out, and since most feathers came from abroad, their import should be banned forthwith. Rawnsley was to carry on this crusade until the end of his life.
A year later, Hardwicke returned to the suffering inflicted on animals by man in another fiery sermon given at Crosthwaite at Martinmas. The theme, ‘Mercy to Man and Beast’, was chosen to mark the feast day of St Martin because the Saint’s life was an example of God in action, a life of mercy and goodness. In the sermon he praised the work of the National Society for the Protection of Children in the care of defenceless infants. But, he went on, children were not the only defenceless creatures on earth. Many animals were to, especially birds. Once again Hardwicke returned to the attack against ‘murderous millinery’. He quoted statistics to show that as a result of the lucrative trade in plumage, many species of birds were in danger of extinction. No species was safe. He cited the hummingbird, aquatic birds, the Himalayan pheasant, the African starling and the kingfisher as examples of birds seriously at risk. To kill such birds for decoration is greater sacrilege than smashing a stained-glass window in a church because ‘it destroys something, through which the love of God as revealed by His creation, is shown to man, and which no fiat of a merciful Creator will replace’.
There were doubtless many female members of the congregation who, sporting elegant millinery trimmed with feathers must have wished the ground would open under their feet; precisely the effect which Hardwicke intended. It comes as no surprise to learn that by the firing of such broadsides the Canon made almost as many enemies as he did friends.
The threat of extinction of different species of birds was not the only aspect of man’s cruelty to be denounced in the sermon. Vivisection, deer-stalking, rabbit-coursing and the inefficient killing of farm animals in filthy slaughter-houses also came in for vilification. Surprisingly though, neither fox nor otter-hunting were mentioned, perhaps because these were sports in which Rawnsley himself was known to have taken part.
Turning his attention to common practices in field sports, Rawnsley wrote vehement letters to newspapers deploring the use of the barbarous pole-trap, used to protect game birds from birds of prey. For every falcon caught in these traps, Hardwicke maintained that twenty harmless birds would have already suffered a cruel and unnecessary death. Whether or not the Canon’s letters to the Press were instrumental in achieving the eventual desired result is an open question, but he certainly raised public awareness of the cruelty of the practice, and in 1904 legislation was finally enacted to ban the use of these cruel and inefficient traps.
While lectures, sermons and letters to the Press were Rawnsley’s stock-in-trade in the business of conservation, they were not his only weapons in the campaigns for the protection of animal life. He also worked to promote the implementation of new and improved legislation aimed at enhancing the statutory protection of wild birds. The Wild Birds Protection Act of 1880, repealing earlier legislation and incorporating a schedule of more than eighty species of wild birds specifically protected by the Act, had made the killing of wild birds during the breeding season of March to August a criminal offence. There were, however, loopholes which could be exploited. Some of these loopholes were closed by the Wild Birds Protection Act which reached the Statute Book in 1894.
Much of this new legislation reflected the successful lobbying by the recently formed Society for the Protection of Birds, of which Hardwicke was an active early member. When the Society was granted a Royal Charter in 1904, he was elected a member of its first Council, becoming a Vice-President in 1912, and over the years he gave many addresses in support of the organisation.
In addition to his support for the RSPB, Hardwicke devoted considerable energy to the Church of England Society for the Promotion of Kindness to Animals. Formed in 1893, one of the aims of the Society was to promote the establishment of Bands of Mercy in individual parishes.
Hardwicke did not object to the killing of animals for food, taking a keen interest in the management and cleanliness of slaughterhouses. In his campaign to reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in Cumberland he advocated the introduction of good practice in slaughterhouses to ensure that clean and healthy working conditions were maintained, not only to protect humans from the health hazards of a dirty environment, but also because he recognised the need to minimise the distress caused to the animals who were about to be slaughtered. He was not squeamish and was perfectly willing to learn at first-hand how cattle and pigs were slaughtered for meat, being anxious to assure himself that the killing was carried out as humanely as possible. In 1895 he wrote to the Press drawing attention to ‘Greener’s Humane Cattle-Killer’ which, he was told, had been successfully demonstrated in Newcastle and York. He arranged for a demonstration to be carried out at the Keswick Agricultural Show in September of that year, to which he invited all the local butchers and slaughter-men.
Although the demonstration was well-received, there is no indication as to whether the ‘humane killer’ was brought into widespread use in the Keswick area. But Hardwicke had at least been instrumental in ensuring that potential users had been made aware of its existence and of its efficacy.
Hardwicke continued to write, both in prose and in verse, about instances of cruelty, usually in response to some unfortunate incident of which he had been made aware. His poem, ‘Six hundred homes are darkened’, was in response to reading a newspaper report that a nobleman and his guest had, for sport, despatched 3,000 rabbits in a single day’s shooting. He ended the poem with a heartfelt cry, ‘Shame on your sport! ungentle gentlemen!’ In similar vein, ‘The Dead Seal Children’, was written in response to the news that 20,000 seal pups had been found dead off the coast of Alaska after female breeding seals had been shot to satisfy the needs of the fashion trade in fur.
The cruelty inflicted on horses was a theme to which Hardwicke returned on many occasions. During the Boer War he complained of the disastrous effect that the practice of docking their tails had on the many horses shipped out to South Africa to support the army. Army horses did not have their tails docked and did not, therefore, suffer as did these auxiliaries. The docking of tails had no useful purpose and was carried out solely for show. Horses with docked tails had no natural protection in the hot sun of Africa and were prey to annoyance by the swarms of flies. Many thousands of horses suffered agonising deaths as a result.
A keen horseman himself, Hardwicke drew attention to the unnecessary practice of transporting old horses to Belgium to be killed for commercial purposes such as meat and glue making. The conditions of their transport were horrific and their treatment in Belgium was a disgrace. For Hardwicke there was a simple solution – humanely kill the horses before they were transported.
With all his lambasting of those who inflicted cruel treatment on animals of all descriptions, the mistreatment of birds was the subject closest to Hardwicke’s heart and claimed his attention time and time again, especially their killing for purely ornamental purposes. Despite the energetic lobbying of Government by the Society for the Protection of Birds, legislation was still not enacted to bring an end to the import of plumage. Some small victories were, however, obtained. The Government agreed to cease using certain plumes in regimental colours if a substitute could be found. In 1906 Queen Alexandra made it publicly known that she did not wear osprey feathers and would do all she could to discourage the cruel practice of killing birds for the purposes of fashion.
One of the last letters Hardwicke wrote to The Times, only two months before his death, was a plea that the Government should pass a Bill prohibiting the import of birds’ plumage. His arguments were still those which he had been putting forward for the previous thirty years, but which continued to fall on deaf ears. How sad that he did not live long enough to see at last the Importation of Plumage (Inhibition) Act reach the Statute Book in 1921.
Plant life should be accorded the same respect and reverence as was due to animals. At a time in the field of education when the teaching about the natural world in elementary schools was still largely confined to ‘Object Lessons’, Hardwicke, influenced by his own schooling at Uppingham, was, as in so many other areas, a man ahead of his time. He gave many talks to children, urging them carefully to observe the natural world; never to desecrate nature by picking flowers, uprooting ferns or moss; but rather to preserve what God had provided for them to enjoy, to contemplate it and to leave it intact for others. He argued against the deforestation of the land round Thirlmere by Manchester Corporation, and deplored its action in destroying Shoulthwaite Moss. He publicised examples of wanton destruction and vandalism in the Crosthwaite Parish Magazine.
It is difficult at this distance in time to gauge how much influence Rawnsley really exercised in changing public attitudes to the treatment of animals, and in the lobbying of government to pass legislation. Doubtless he influenced many children at an impressionable age who would have carried his precepts into adulthood, and he certainly convinced quite a few women, both among his own congregation and beyond, not to wear birds’ plumage, regardless of the dictates of fashion. Apart from his books, most of Hardwicke’s writings, the poems in particular, were published in journals and magazines with a limited circulation. Given the likely readership of these publications, it is probable that he would have been preaching to the converted. His sincerity, however, is beyond doubt, and he never tired of spreading the word. In this respect, unlike his land conservation campaigns, Rawnsley, while not a leader in the field, was one who was always willing to lend his support to movements already initiated by others.
Hardwicke’s concern for animal welfare should not be viewed in isolation. His care for animals was just one aspect of his conviction that God, at the centre of the universe, has created a world for Man to enjoy, if he will only take the trouble to study and understand it. Such a world reflects God’s greatness and His love of Man and it is, therefore, the duty of every living and sentient being to love, preserve and respect that world, in the process sharing in God’s glory. Adopting such an approach brings forth qualities such as kindness, empathy and concern for one’s fellow men. It generates a greater love for the homeland and strengthens the patriotic fervour which Hardwicke, in the spirit of the time, was so anxious to encourage.
Fundamental to the achievement of these goals is Education. All people, young and old, have a duty to learn how to appreciate the world around them and to care for God’s gifts of which they are the stewards. But people need to be educated in how to look at the world.
Educating individuals in how to appreciate the natural world; and bringing them to understand that the mistreatment of God’s creatures is wrong, were but two facets of Rawnsley’s lifelong conviction that education was the key to a better way of life. He felt it his mission to re-shape the education system in such a way that it would become more relevant to the God-fearing, patriotic, caring and conservation-minded society for which Britain should be striving.
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