Blood Sports

What appeal can be made to people whose first instinct, on seeing a beautiful animal, full of joyousness and vitality, is to hunt or eat it? – Henry Salt

In Henry Salt’s autobiography Seventy Years Among Savages there is an interesting account of how the Humanitarian League brought the very word ‘blood-sports’ into common parlance. He describes how a Mr John Macdonald first used the word in an article in the Echo, and the League borrowing the word from him, and finding that it “went home,” made a point of using it on every possible occasion.

Other tricks of the League included carrying the war into the enemies’ camp – to hoist them with their own petard by means of the reductio ad adsurdum, a pretended defence of the very practices they were attacking. In this they published The Brutalitarian, “A Journal for the Sane and Strong”, and The Beagler Boy (the latter eulogising the Eton Beagles). Salt knew the absurdity of the articles would be apparent to the general reader but “would escape the limited intelligence of schoolboys and the sporting press” and indeed, the Horse and Hound and The Sportsman welcomed and praised the articles!

The Eton Beagles and the Royal Buckhounds were the League’s two most cherished ‘pegs’, upon which they did much to hang the exposure of the cruelty of hare and stag-hunting. With the Buckhounds they petitioned Queen Victoria and after her death exposed correspondence from her expressing her “strong opposition to stag hunting for many years past,” and this finally sealed its fate. They also drafted a “Spurious Sports Bill” with the purpose of “prohibiting the hunting of carted stags, the coursing of bagged rabbits, and the shooting of birds released from traps”. However, with a reminder of the present day, the Bill was consistently “talked out”.

In 1914 the League published a volume of essays on Killing for Sport with a preface by Mr Bernard Shaw: the book forming a summary of the League’s arraignment of blood-sports.