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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Lockhart and the Performing Animals Act 1925

George Claude Lockhart
Image via Wikipedia
I was recently shown a link to an interesting academic paper about racism and animal abuse in an historic context. The paper, "Racial Prejudice and the Performing AnimalsControversy in Early Twentieth-Century Britain" by David A. H. Wilson of the University of Cumbria,  makes an interesting argument for the way racist ideas were common among both critics and defenders of animal trainers. Amid the all-too-familiar arguments on both sides we note that there are also the usual racist arguments heard today. Fear of losing work to immigrants is just below the surface of certain protestations. This, however, is combined with the bigotry common at the time. For example, species of animals are compared to different races of people and being post-World War I Germaphobia is a hot tactic. Interestingly animal rightists, who these days tend to cite the odd notion of speciesism as an extension of racism, also make a distinction between foreign trainers, who they consider to be cruel, from British trainers.

Due to public pressure in the 1920s a animal welfare bill was brought in relation to performing animals. This resulted in the creation of the Performing Animal Act 1925. To this day, anyone who wishes to perform professionally with an animal in the UK in front of a live audience has to be in possession of a licence. In my book "The Legend of Salt and Sauce" I briefly mentioned the act as it occurred during the time-line of the lives of the two circus elephants, Salt and Sauce. What I didn't realize at the time was how many characters in my story were featured in the consultation prior to the act.

First up, George Lockhart Jnr, who is referred to as an elephant trainer. We have no evidence for this claim. He grew up around his father's first trio of elephants and later helped a little over the brief period that his father owned his second period. He was also present when his father was killed by either Salt or Sauce in 1904:

George Lockhart, elephant trainer and equestrian director of the Tower
Circus, Blackpool, said to the Select Committee: “It seems to me that the
very fact that the great majority of the convictions [for cruelty to performing
animals] are against foreigners must of itself be some sort of defence of the
English trainer”

I find it interesting that many British circus directors, performers and animal trainers used the racist or xenophobic tactic to shift the blame. Since Victorian times, traditional circus has been inherently non-prejudicial. It has been remarked how travelling circuses were probably one of the first institutions to actively employ ex-slaves after the Abolition Act. Circus also has a history of finding often good paying work for people who would otherwise be considered disabled or slighted for their deformities. Furthermore, women worked in the same jobs as men and even headed family shows as the director long before they were granted equal voting rights in Britain. Nevertheless, circus people do not completely exist in a bubble and it is not surprising that they were also influenced by the rest of society and saw advantage in a scapegoat.

Here's Lockhart again, discussing the policy to boycott or ban foreign animal acts:

George Lockhart thought that only since the war had very few trained animals
come from abroad, and that any resumption would depend on VAF policy.
There was no restriction before the war because “we lived together in amity,”
and he admitted that the profession had not barred German-trained animals
on grounds of suspected cruelty (1435-1440).

If you have read my book, you will notice that as great a showman as George Lockhart Jnr was, he wasn't adverse to making up stories. I have said that this a by-product of his larger-than-life image. However, this statement adds a whole new dimension to his yarning:

George Lockhart said that the best animal trainers came from Germany, and they were the
best because they probably used methods that would give British trainers a
very bad name indeed. He admitted he had never seen them at work, but they
had trained horses to perform in ways not attempted or achieved by English
trainers, so cruelty was suspected

Lockhart's second group of elephants came from the famous animal trainer and keeper, Carl Hagenbeck and it is highly likely, that a Hagenbeck trainer part trained them before they arrived in the UK. George Lockhart Jnr always maintained that the elephants were wild, but photographic evidence and the time-line seems to contradict this assertion. Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake is also quoted. Twrwhitt-Drake appears early on in my book with the ill-fated first Ringlands Circus he ran with John Swallow and David Tayleur in 1920. Twrwhitt-Drake went on to create Maidstone Zoo and also mentions Salt and Sauce in an elephant book he wrote. Here is the passage on him:

As to the question of the close confi nement of wild animals, the witness Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake, owner of Garrard’s Circus and secretary of Ringlands Zoo Company, later wrote:

"Take the case of a primitive native. I venture to think that if he was off ered freedom
with its attendant hunt for food and family worries against confi nement in an enclosure
with warm sleeping quarters, one or two wives and plenty of good food and
drink, and no worries, he would choose comparative confi nement rather than freedom"

Interestingly Hagenbeck, the original owners of the elephants, Salt and Sauce, is the exception given for German trainers. Of course, his zoo and circus business encompassed many other foreign trainers, so it somewhat contradicts the point being made by those opposing and defending the animal training business.

I recommend the article for anyone interested in the history of British animal training and the society that surrounds it.

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