Martin’s Act agreed July 1822 – who remembers it 200 years on?
An historical event occurred on 22 July 1822 when Royal assent was given to a new act, often called Martin’s Act, under the name of MP Richard Martin. 200 years ago, for the first time in this country, it became an offence for any persons to wantonly and cruelly “beat, abuse or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle.” Interestingly the actual wording from the legal Royal minutes simply states “ An Act to prevent the cruel and improper treatment of Cattle”.
In some ways this sounds good but earlier attempts had failed and still continued for some years after 1822 including bull baiting and cock fighting. It was also then realised that ordinary cats and dogs were not included within the new law. Thomas Fowell Buxton MP -and RSPCA supporter – stated the Act “had put an end to half the cruelty which formerly prevailed in the country”. The word “half” was relevant since, as he knew,“the instances of cruelty to animals were numerous” and was aware of “the sufferings of dogs and cats”.
Throughout the following years many attempts were carried out in courts by local people as witnesses or demonstrators trying to protect animals, such as cats. Although laws to protect domestic animals such as dogs and cats and even monkeys were passed in 1835 local people’s defence of animals was clearly frequently undertaken – as abuse still occurred.
Nearly 200 years on, animal cruelty has still happened. We were reminded in June when West Ham footballer Zouma was violent towards his two cats and only received 180 hours of community service – and his brother Youan 140 hours. Zouma received just a fine of under £9,000 in court . Pointedly, he had had 250K already removed by his West Ham football club which clearly stated that “we condemn in the strongest terms any form of animal abuse or cruelty” and “not in line with the values of the football club”- and gave the £250k to animal charities. At the time a woman had rejected going on a date with Youan ,the instagram snapper of the two Bengali cats, because of the brutality visually seen.Thus the images had been forwarded and legal action taken.
The positions taken by the West Ham employer and a woman supporter of cats were not simply unique views of contemporary times. Rather, people’s own acts defending animals- even when statutory laws had been agreed – have regularly occurred in this country particularly after the Martin’s Act was passed.
As a way of remembering the positive acts taken by ordinary people, particularly Londoners,I have been talking to the UK Centre for Animal Law (A-LAW) about people defending ordinary animals in the nineteenth century. These also relate to their conference this week on Animalaw: Visioncomments of the future, The Martin’s Act Bicentenary Anniversary Conference 2022.The conference is talking about the need for legal changes nowadays to protect animals.
I have been recalling the past history of humans defending animals (as well as those attacking them) which can be heard from the audio podcast over many weeks. https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/talking-animal-law/id1578444621
Such acts to protect animals were not just something new under contemporary and even pandemic times. Rather, cruelty towards animals had continued for centuries – although some humans protected them even many years ago, We still need to be aware of past positive treatment towards animals – as well as continuing acts of cruelty.