Lord Harrowby – the man who inspired Henry Bergh

Henry Bergh is known as the person who perhaps did more than any other in America to improve animal welfare as he founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in April 1866. It was three days after the first effective legislation against animal cruelty in the USA which had been passed into law by the New York State Legislature. But going back a click in time we need to take note that Bergh was inspired to create the ASPCA by Lord Harrowby.

In the buildup to creating the ASPCA, Bergh addressed a meeting in New York’s Clinton Hall, an old opera house that he had converted into a library. He addressed a large gathering of the city’s movers and shakers with these words:

“This is a matter purely of conscience. It has no perplexing side issues. It is a moral question in all its aspects.”

Lord Harrowby and Henry Bergh
Lord Harrowby and Henry Bergh. Montage: MikeB based in images in the public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Remarkably, Bergh also instigated the formation in 1874 of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. An indication, as I see it, that both animals and children are the same in one major respect: they are vulnerable to the misdeeds of adult humans.

Bergh was a great man. His name should be remembered forever. He was a diplomat and born into quite a wealthy family as his father was a very successful shipbuilding businessman. He was sent to Russia by the US government as a diplomat but it was too cold for him and he eventually came home. A good thing because he was a passionate animal advocate and animal lover and he dedicated his life thereafter to animal welfare.

His legacy in founding the ASPCA was undermined after he died when the then administrators “traded in its mission of protecting animals from harm for the role of killing them by agreeing to run the dog pound-something that Bergh rejected during his lifetime”. Those are the words of Nathan Winograd, a modern-day version of Bergh who, himself, has done perhaps more than any other in the USA in current times to improve the welfare of animal shelter animals.

For a hundred years according to Winograd the animal shelter movement lost its way in killing millions of animals until the no-kill movement took hold. It seems that the grassroots staffers and workers changed the minds of the organisers and administrators to be more enlightened. The ASPCA according to Winograd had become a “ruthless fundraising machine enriching itself and its leadership at the expense of its founding mission”. It’s founding mission was to protect animals not to be a moneymaking charity. This is pretty typical of many charities. They lose their way and become big businesses.

But this short post is about Lord Harrowby. The Lord Harrowby who I am referring to is the person who spent several weeks consulting with Henry Bergh when Bergh was in London (source: The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA). Bergh spent several years in Europe which allowed him to meet up with Lord Harrowby. At the time Harrowby was the president of the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). The RSPCA was founded in London coffee shop in 1824 and obtained Royal patronage in 1837 which accounts for the “R” at the beginning of the acronym.

So, Lord Harrowby influenced Henry Bergh to dedicate his life to animal welfare through the ASPCA. Perhaps if he had not met Lord Harrowby, Bergh might not have been what he became, one of America’s greatest animal advocates. Clearly Harrowby inspired Bergh to found the ASPCA, the American version of the RSPCA.

The Wikipedia page on Henry Bergh has one sentence on his meeting with Lord Harrowby and it states that Harrowby impressed on Bergh the importance of his mission “leading Bergh to dedicate the rest of his life to the cause of ending animal cruelty”. That statement is sourced from the National Cyclopedia of American Biography Volume 3 New York.

The next question for me was which Lord Harrowby was the man who influenced Henry Bergh? My research indicates that it was probably Dudley Ryder, second Earl of Harrowby (1798-1882). We should celebrate his life too. The picture on this page is of him with Henry Bergh, two titans of world animal welfare.

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