Rev. Joseph Stratton

Rev. Joseph Stratton

The death of the Rev. J. Stratton removes one of the most prominent figures of the early years of the Humanitarian League. It was in 1891, the year of the League’s establishment, and at a time when the newly formed Committee was in some doubt as to how to make an effective start, that there appeared in a London paper a letter signed “J. Stratton,” on the subject of stag-hunting. This led to a personal meeting between Mr. Stratton and the honorary secretary of the League, which had for its first result the publication of the pamphlet on “Royal Sport, Some Facts Concerning the Queen’s Buckhounds.”

Mr. Stratton, as we then learnt, was Master of Lucas’ Hospital, Wokingham, a charitable institute, founded by one Henry Lucas, in 1663, where a number of aged labourers live as pensioners. Wokingham being in the very centre of the Hunt district, Mr. Stratton was in an excellent position for observing what went on, and for obtaining exact information. He had a first-hand knowledge of “sport,” and his detestation of it was based on his own earlier experiences, as well as on an enlightened sense of fair play and humanity.

Thus began a fighting alliance which lasted for nearly a quarter of a century, and was of immense value to the Humanitarian League, because Mr. Stratton brought to it just the quality in which the League’s Committee was at first somewhat deficient—the practical element which converts thought into action. The first ten years of the campaign were devoted mainly to the fight against the Royal Hunt, a struggle which is recorded in past numbers of this journal, and has been well described by Mr. Stratton himself in the pamphlet on “The Decline and Fall of the Royal Buckhounds.” It must suffice here to say that of all the active workers with whom it has been our privilege to be associated, Mr. Stratton was the finest. We have known nothing more heroic than the way in which, almost single-handed at first, and with the whole country-side against him, he gradually “pulled down” (to use a suggestive sporting term) the cruel and stupid institution which was carried on in the Sovereign’s name, and at the expense of the public. The minute, scrupulous, and unfailing care with which he pressed home his charges when once made; and it may be said that in the Sports Committee of the Humanitarian League, which included Mr. Ernest Bell, Colonel Coulson, and other well-known humanitarians, he found a body of colleagues and advisers whose abilities, in association with his own, formed an unusually effective combination.

The Hunt was discontinued in 1901; and a testimonial was presented to Mr. Stratton in the same year “in recognition of the courage, fidelity, and perseverance by which he effected the abolition of the Royal Buckhounds.”

The campaign against Spurious Sports has since been pursued upon somewhat similar lines, but in a wider field. It differs from that against the Royal Buckhounds, because in the case fresh legislation is necessary, and it is much more difficult to get the House of Commons to espouse the cause of humanity, where the lower animals (who have no votes) are concerned, than it was to secure the discontinuance of a disgusting practice which existed only by the sufferance of royalty. But in all the long struggle against various forms of blood-sports, Mr. Stratton never failed to show the same qualities of “courage, fidelity, and perseverance.” To him largely is due the greatly improved state of public opinion in regard to the torture of animals for “sport.”

In character, as in appearance, he was a Roman; his stern and unswerving rectitude made him respected even among his most active opponents. His temper was quick, but he was readily appeased, as he was wholly incapable of enmity or malice. His outspokenness, where matters of real import were concerned, was quite undaunted, to an extent which sometimes caused consternation among the weaker brethren. The present writer was once asked, by a highly placed sympathiser, whether he thought it would be possible “to keep Mr. Stratton quiet.”

If Mr. Stratton has a weakness, it was for a Bishop. We do not mean that he viewed Bishops with undue reverence—somewhat the reserve. The truth is, he loved to take a Bishop to task; and some of his letters to Bishops, for their support of vivisection, or of other inhumanities, were of a nature to cause a mild surprise in episcopal circles. We once suggested to him that he should collect and publish these “Arrows of the Chace”; and he entered into the joke very heartily.

Mr. Stratton was the author of various pamphlets and leaflets, and of innumerable press-letters, and an active promoter of petitions. All of these, as he himself said, had for their object “the securing of better treatment for both man and beasts.” We have spoken specially of his work for the animals, because that was the side of him of which we saw most; but none who knew him could possibly doubt the essential goodness and nobility of his nature in other aspects of life. So well did the birds in his garden at Wokingham understand him that they would let him talk to them, and stroke them, as they sat upon their nests. Could there be a more convincing proof of a man’s goodness?

Henry S. Salt

The Humanitarian, March 1917