Richard Martin (Irish politician)

Colonel Richard Martin (15 January 1754[citation needed] – 6 January 1834), was an Irish politician and campaigner against cruelty to animals. He was known as "Humanity Dick", a nickname bestowed on him by King George IV.[1] He succeeded in getting the pioneering Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, nicknamed 'Martin's Act', passed into British law.[2]

Richard Martin
Richard Martin by Coleman 1924.png
Member of Parliament
for Galway County
In office
Serving with James Daly
Member of Parliament
for Galway County
In office
Serving with
Richard Le Poer Trench 1801–1805
Denis Bowes Daly 1805–1812
Member of Parliament
for Galway County
In office
Member of Parliament
for Lanesborough
In office
Member of Parliament
for Jamestown
In office
Personal details
Born(1754-01-17)17 January 1754
Dangan, County Galway, Ireland
Died6 January 1834(1834-01-06) (aged 79)
Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Political partyIndependent
Other political
Patriot Party (1776–83)
Spouse(s)Hon. Elizabeth Vesey (divorced 1791)
Harriet Evans Martin (m. 1794)
EducationHarrow School
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
OccupationPolitician, animal welfare campaigner
Military service
Allegiance Ireland
Irish Volunteers
UnitBallynahinch Yeomanry
County Galway Volunteers

Early lifeEdit

Martin was born at Dangan in County Galway,[3] the only son of Robert Martin FitzAnthony of Birch Hall, County Galway, and Bridget Barnwall, a daughter of Robert Barnewall, 12th Baron Trimlestown. He was raised at Dangan House, situated on the Corrib River, four miles upriver from the town of Galway. His father's family were Jacobites and one of "The Tribes of Galway," fourteen merchant families who ruled Galway from the 14th to 17th centuries. The Barnwalls were an ennobled family of Norman descent based in the counties of Dublin, Kildare and Meath in Leinster.[4] Bridget Barnwall died when Richard was nine years old. Richard's father later married Mary Lynch, a member of another "Tribal" family, with whom he had sons Robert and Anthony. Though both of his parents were born to Catholics, Richard Martin was raised a Protestant and educated in England and later became a wealthy landlord in Ireland.[5]

He studied at Harrow and then after some tutelage for exams to gain admission at Trinity College, Cambridge, he "was admitted a gentleman-commoner at Trinity on 4 March 1773."[6] Martin did not graduate with a degree but studied for admission to the bar and was admitted to Lincoln's Inn on 1 February 1776.[7] He served as a lawyer in Ireland and became High Sheriff of Galway in 1782.[8]

Adult lifeEdit

Martin entered the Irish House of Commons in 1776, sitting for Jamestown until 1783.[9] After a break of fifteen years, he was returned to Parliament for Lanesborough in 1798, promoting Catholic Emancipation.[10] Just before the Act of Union dissolved the Irish Parliament and obliged Irish MPs to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, he was elected for Galway County. He continued to represent Galway County in Westminster as a political independent until 1812 and again from 1818, supporting the Tory government of Lord Liverpool.[11] In the House of Commons he was known for his interruptions and humorous speeches. He continued his work towards Irish Catholic Emancipation till 1826, when he had to flee to France. Emancipation was finally granted in 1829, much to his delight. He was also "a member of the Society for the amelioration and gradual abolition of Slavery throughout the British Dominions which had been formed in 1823."[12]

Anti-animal cruelty and RSPCAEdit

Caricature of Richard Martin, W. Kitchiner, Samuel Phillips Eady: Martin's Bill in Operation (published 1924).
A painting of the Trial of Bill Burns, showing Richard Martin with the donkey in an astonished courtroom, leading to the world's first known conviction for animal cruelty, a story that delighted London's newspapers and music halls.

Martin is now best known for his work against animal cruelty, especially against bear baiting and dog fighting. Martin's attempt to have an anti-cruelty to animals Bill passed stands in a chronological line with some previous failed efforts in England's Parliament. A sympathetic groundswell of public opinion emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in opposition to cultural amusements such as bull-baiting and cock-fighting and in the visible maltreatment of animals that were herded in for slaughter at London's Smithfield Market.[13] The first unsuccessful legislative attempt was led by William Johnstone Pulteney on 18 April 1800 to ban bull-baiting but it was lost to the opposition vote in the House of Commons.[14] A renewed effort was undertaken in 1809 with an anti-cruelty Bill introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Erskine (1750-1823) which passed in that House but was defeated by a vote in the House of Commons.[15] Martin voted in favour of both Pulteney's and Erskine's bills.[16]

Martin drafted a new Bill in consultation with the then retired Lord Erskine as well as with the agricultural writer and animal rights advocate John Lawrence (1753-1839).[17] His actions resulted eventually in Martin's Act of 1822, entitled "Ill Treatment of Cattle Bill". The Bill passed in the House of Commons by twenty-nine to eighteen votes, then through the House of Lords and was signed by the King on 21 June 1822.[18] He also tried to spread his ideas in the streets of London, becoming the target of jokes and political cartoons that depicted him with the ears of a donkey. He also sometimes paid fines of minor offenders.[19] In May 1824 he attempted to widen the scope of anti-cruelty legislation by introducing the Slaughtering of Horses Bill which would have obliged licensed slaughterhouses to keep proper records of food allocated to each horse and with penalties applied to those using a horse that had a disabled limb to haul carts. This Bill was defeated on 15 June 1824.[20]

In 1821 letters were exchanged by various correspondents in periodicals raising concerns about the maltreatment of animals, which included one written by Rev. Arthur Broome that was published in The Kaleidoscope on 6 March 1821.[21] Broome attempted to bring together the patronage of persons who were of social rank and committed to social reforms and he chaired a meeting that was held in November 1822 to create a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.[22] This initial attempt however faltered and a fresh attempt to launch the Society was organized by Broome at a meeting on 16 June 1824 at Old Slaughter's Coffee House, London. Broome invited various clergy, lawyers and parliamentarians to vote on the resolution to create the Society and among those present were Thomas Fowell Buxton MP (1786-1845), William Wilberforce (1759-1833), Richard Martin, Sir James Mackintosh MP, Basil Montagu, William Mudford, Rev. George Avery Hatch (1757-1837), Rev George Bonner (1784-1840), Sir James Graham, T. G. Meymott, John Ashley Warre and Lewis Gompertz.[23] Broome was elected as the Society's first honorary secretary.

Due to Martin's profile as a politician and as the drafter of the anti-cruelty legislation, a public perception developed that he was the initiator and creator of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.[24] At the Society's first anniversary meeting Martin set the public record straight and gave credit to Rev Broome by stating: "I have nothing at all to do with it," he said "it is quite a child of Mr. Broome's and he has acted the part of a good father to it."[25] During 1826 the Society's debts became greater than its revenue, and Broome as the Society's guarantor was sentenced by the Kings Bench to the debtors' prison, and Martin and Gompertz raised funds to cover the debts and obtain Broome's release.[26] Martin maintained an interest in the Society even after he left England and resettled in France.[27]

Active lifeEdit

Martin also had a very eventful life. He was a colonel of the County Galway Volunteers.[28] He survived two shipwrecks.[29] He fought over a hundred duels with sword and pistol and earned the nickname "Hairtrigger Dick".[30] He travelled extensively in Europe and the Americas during the 1770s and was in New England when the American Revolutionary War began.[31] He initiated Galway's first theatre in 1783.[32]

Martin was on a first-name basis with many of the famous names of his age, including King George IV (who gave him the nickname "Humanity Dick"), Henry Flood, Henry Grattan, William Pitt, Queen Caroline, and Daniel O'Connell.[33] Despite his nickname he was considered a very harsh landlord in Ireland.[34]

On his death in 1834 his son Thomas became his heir.[35] A workhouse was built on his estate during the Irish famine. Although the workhouse was an apparent pledge to help the poor suffering from starvation, it is agreed that Thomas and his family did little to help and approximately 150,000 people died on their land during this period from starvation and fever.[35] Most of Martin's estate (approx. 200,000 acres) was in the west of Ireland and this area had one of the highest death tolls during the Famine.

Unseating and escapeEdit

After the election of 1826, Martin (now a heavy gambler) lost his parliamentary seat because of a petition which accused him of illegal intimidation during the election.[36] He had to flee into hasty exile to Boulogne, France, because he could no longer enjoy a parliamentary immunity to arrest for debt. He died there peacefully in the presence of his second wife and their three daughters on 6 January 1834.[37]


Martin's first wife was the Honourable Elizabeth Vesey, a daughter of Lord Trimblestown.[38] They had nine children, of whom only three survived childhood. His daughter, Mary, was born in 1783. Her brothers were Thomas B. Martin (1786–1847) and St. George (died 1805). Following the revelation of her affair with a Mr. Petrie in Paris, Martin sued Petrie for criminal conversation in 1791 and was awarded £10,000. He had this distributed to the poor by throwing it out the windows of his coach on the long journey back from London to Galway.[2]

In 1793, he married the novelist Harriet Evans Martin in Nenagh, and had by her four surviving children, including Rev. Richard Martin (1797–1878) and the writer Harriet Letitia Martin (1801–1891).[39] The former emigrated to Canada in 1834 and had descendants who included D'Arcy Argue Counsell Martin (c. 1899–1992).[40] During the period of the family's exile in Boulogne they became well acquainted with the poet Sarah Burdett (herself a relative of Baroness Burdett-Coutts 1814–1906) and she wrote a poem on 12 April 1834 expressing admiration and blessings on Mary Jane Martin (Richard's daughter born in 1810).[41] Burdett was an early supporter of the RSPCA and had her views published in 1839 in The Rights of Animals.[42]


  1. ^ Shevawn Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin 'King of Connemara' 1754-1834 (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1989), p 171
  2. ^ a b Phillips (2003) pp.87–93
  3. ^ Tim Robinson (2007). Connemara: Listening to the Wind. Dick Martin Rules: Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141900711.
  4. ^ On his ancestors see Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin pp xi-xviii
  5. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, p 5.
  6. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, p. 7. Also see J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses: a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900 Part II from 1752 to 1900, Volume IV from Kahlenberg to Oyler (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1951), p 343
  7. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, p 9.
  8. ^ Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, p 343.
  9. ^ Burke, Sir Bernhard (1912). Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (ed.). A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland. London: Harrison & Sons.
  10. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 23, 26, 150-151, 164-167, 216-217, 236-239, 241-249
  11. ^ Phillips, Humanity Dick, pp 112, 132, 146-148, 151
  12. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, p 250.
  13. ^ Further discussion see Rob Boddice, A History of Attitudes and Behaviours Toward Animals in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Britain (Lewiston, New York; Queenston, Ontario; Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008). Harriet Ritvo, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987).
  14. ^ See Kathryn Shevelow, For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement (New York: Henry Holt, 2008), 201-222.
  15. ^ Richard D. Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Toward Speciesism Rev Ed (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2000), pp 79-80.
  16. ^ Phillips, Humanity Dick, 139-140
  17. ^ Edward G. Fairholme and Wellesley Pain, A Century of Work for Animals: The History of the RSPCA, 1824-1934 (London: John Murray, 1934), p 25. Peter Phillips, Humanity Dick, p 161.
  18. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, p. 207
  19. ^ Fairholme and Pain, A Century of Work For Animals, pp 30-32
  20. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, 231
  21. ^ "To Correspondents" "The Kaleidoscope," 6 March 1821 p 288. Also see The Monthly Magazine Vol. 51 April 1, 1821 p 3
  22. ^ Shevelow, For The Love of Animals, 268; Arthur W. Moss, Valiant Crusade: The History of the RSPCA (London: Cassell, 1961), 22.
  23. ^ Fairholme and Pain, A Century of Work for Animals, p 54; Lewis Gompertz, "Fragments in Defence of Animals, and Essays on Morals, Souls and Future State" (London: Horsell, 1852), pp 174-175.
  24. ^ Fairholme and Pain, A Century of Work For Animals, p 49
  25. ^ "The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals," London Courier, 1 July 1825, p 4.
  26. ^ See The National Archives, King's Bench Prison commitments, 1826, Ref. No. PRIS 4/38, 54; and King's Bench Prison, Final Discharges 1827, Ref. No. PRIS 7/46, II. Also see Moss, Valiant Crusade, 25-26.
  27. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, p 279.
  28. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 28, 31, 38-39
  29. ^ Phillips, Humanity Dick, 163
  30. ^ Phillips, Humanity Dick, 40.
  31. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 8, 70-75
  32. ^ Phillips, Humanity Dick, pp 59 & 65
  33. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 8, 123, 171, 189-192
  34. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 233-235
  35. ^ a b Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, p 282
  36. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 266-272
  37. ^ Phillips, Humanity Dick, p 196.
  38. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, 13.
  39. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 99, 101, 135.
  40. ^ Lynam, Humanity Dick Martin, pp 149-150.
  41. ^ Sarah Burdett, Poems: with biographical notes (London: John Mortimer, 1841) pp 16-17.
  42. ^ Sarah Burdett, The Rights of Animals; or, The Responsibility and Obligation of Man in the treatment he is bound to observe toward the animal creation (London: John Mortimer, 1839).


  • Rob Boddice, "A History of Attitudes and Behaviours Toward Animals in Eighteenth- And Nineteenth-Century Britain: Anthropocentrism and the Emergence of Animals" (Lewiston, New York; Queenston, Ontario; Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008). ISBN 978-0-7734-4903-9
  • Courtney, William Prideaux (1893). "Martin, Richard (1754-1834)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 36. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  • Edward G. Fairholme and Wellesley Pain, "A Century of Work For Animals: The History of the RSPCA, 1824-1934" (London: John Murray, 1934).
  • Stephen Farrell, "Richard Martin 'Humanity Dick' (1754–1834)," "History Today," Vol 54 no. 6 (June 2004), p 60.
  • Shevawn Lynam, "Humanity Dick Martin: 'King of Connemara,' 1754–1834," (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1989). ISBN 0-946640-36-X
  • Adrian James Martyn, "The Tribes of Galway," (Galway, Ireland: The Author, 2001).
  • Arthur W. Moss, "Valiant Crusade: The History of the RSPCA" (London: Cassell, 1961).
  • Peter Phillips, "The Eccentric Member for Galway: The Story of Richard Martin, Animal Rights Pioneer, 1754-1834," (Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Parapress, 2003). ISBN 1-898594-76-7
  • Harriet Ritvo, "The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age" (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987). ISBN 0-674-03707-3
  • Richard D. Ryder, "Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism" Rev Ed (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2000). ISBN 978-1-85973-330-1
  • Kathryn Shevelow, "For the Love of Animals: the Rise of the Animal Protection Movement" (New York: Henry Holt, 2008). ISBN 978-0-8050-9024-6

External linksEdit

Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Jamestown
With: Viscount Westport 1776–1781
John Hall
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Lanesborough
With: Edmond Stanley
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Galway County
1800 – 1801
With: Joseph Blake
Succeeded by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Parliament of Ireland
Member of Parliament for Galway County
With: Richard Le Poer Trench 1801–1805
Denis Bowes Daly 1805–1812
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for County Galway
With: James Daly
Succeeded by