Scottish Women's Football

My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football

The Horrors of Sport

In telling the history of women’s football in Britain, there is no doubt that one of the most important figures is Lady Florence Dixie – the President of the British Ladies’ Football Club. Born in 1857, as Lady Florence Douglas, she lived an active life until her death in 1905. She was a woman with numerous talents, ranging from feminism to philanthropy, from poetry to travelling. But who exactly was she?

Luckily because of her background (she was the daughter of the 8th Marquess of Queensberry ), there is a lot written about her. In this series of blogs, I’m going to try and discover more about her – from looking at her writing to how she was reported in the press.

This blog looks at a book she wrote on hunting.

The Horrors of Sport

1905 Edition, Published by the Humanitarian League

In this case, the word ‘sport’ refers to hunting. This 32 paged article was split into two chapters that were written at different times: “The Horrors of Sport” – originally published in 1891 – and “The Mercilessness of Sport” which was published in 1901. This 1905 edition combined the two and were published by A.C. Fifield for the Humanitarian League, and is a riposte against the practice of hunting animals for sport. Examples of other works published by the Humanitarian League are:

Animals’ Rights in Reaction to Social Progress – by H.S.Salt
“A most sane and necessary statement of humanitarian beliefs” – New Age

Facts About Flogging – by Joseph Collinson
“A vigorous plea against the efficacy of flogging” – Scotsman

Florence uses very emotive language and does tend to repeat similar hunting experiences that led to her epiphany, but this is used for dramatic effect. Due to the nature of the publisher, I doubt how effective this work would have been in persuading hunters to stop.

Chapter One – The Horrors of Sport

She begins by providing a justification for her authority to state her beliefs on hunting. As well as saying she had been called a “female Nimrod” (Nimrod was a biblical figure that was a great hunter) she states:

…and few women, and not many men, have had experience of a tithe of the shooting and hunting in which I have been engaged both at home and during travels and expeditiions in far-away lands.

She boasts that being too good a shot has meant she has experienced killing animals on numerous occasions. But she is also aware that there is an irony in a prolific hunter preaching that hunting is bad. She justifies this with:

Many will wonder why I so acted, feeling as I did. I can only reply that on many occasions. I did it to please, and in the companionship of others, while incidents in travel and in research of facts forced me to take part in many scenes from which my spirit recoiled. The former I deeply regret. The last was a painful duty, performed to ascertain the truth of things.

It is important that you believe she is telling the truth here if the rest of the work is going to have the impact on you that she requires. Obviously, typing this in the 21st Century does negate that need somewhat, but I do have sympathies towards her. In her lifestyle, hunting would have been as much part of the fabric of life as her clothes. It would have taken a large degree of bravery to stand against the conventions such as hunting. You only have to look at the reporting of the British Ladies’ Football Club to understand this. She herself refers to this when she says:

Youth, especially of the male sex, is taught to regard shooting and hunting as many accomplishments, without which a man is regarded rather as a “poop” than otherwise.

Here, she also calls for schools to teach their students kindness towards animals, and for the scientific community to find humane ways to kill animals.

She describes a deer stalk in great detail, one that she claims made her decide never again to hunt.

And while crouching there I was able to take in the beauty of the scene, and to realise the havoc, terror and death which we two-legged creatures had come to create in that peaceful, happy herd.

Her hunting party had a two hour trek around a quarry to allow the wind direction to be favourable (from the deer to the hunter). She describes that several hinds had positioned themselves to protect the Royal Stag – implying that hunting was so numerate that they had developed ways to defend themselves against humans.

And then she described the aftermath of the shooting of the Royal Stag, shot by one of her male companions.

I ran down to where the wounded royal lay. He was groaning terribly, his red tongue lolled from his mouth, and he rolled about, apparently in great agony. Large tears dimmied his dark eyes as they fixed themselves upon me in their terror. I was horrified. I had nothing about me wherewith to end his pain – no knife, no rifle and I was powerless. It was a scene which filled me with loathing and disgust. How different to the peaceful one we had come to disturb, and on which I had gazed but a few minutes since!

Oh, how the groans of that poor creature maddened me! I fetched some water in my cap from a little cascade near, and knelt beside him and poured it over his hot, dried tongue. I stroked his poor head gently. Alas! my every movement only added to his terror.

This description and reaction from Florence, I think is very important. Her anger is clearly directed towards the terror that these animals suffer just for human fun. Her emotive language is designed to emphasise the stag’s suffering and her helplessness in helping it. She says that her companion did not understand her distress saying:

He laughed at my eagerness; he knew me as a sports-woman, he could not understand my sudden horror – ay, and remorse.

She is very aware that hunting as a sport is unrivalled, as she says:

What can be more glorious or exhilarating than to get well away with hounds and enjoying a rattling twenty-five minutes without a check on a good horse, across the cream of Leicestershire, say?

This is used so she can once again emphasise that it is the act of hunting the defenceless animals she hates and claims that huntsmen are blood-thirsty and mercilessness.

She then describes killing her “last pheasant” after four others had tried to kill it:

…I had admired his splending plumage and the brightness of his keen, glittering eyes…That gun was mine.

He fell admist some dense brushwood, and I went with my retriever to pick him up. I found him at last. He lay on his breast, his head drooping forward and resting on his beak. The blood was oozing from it, his wings were spread out, and his body was quivering. As I leant forward to pick him up he threw his head back, the blood gushed in large bubbles from his beak, he gave a kind of sharp cry, opening the eyes which but a short time before I had seen glittering with brilliant brightness of life, made one effort to flutter forward and died.

As I picked him up the thought would come: “Is this sport? What earthly pleasure have I derived in this bird’s death? A good shot – what of that? And look at this bird, but a minute ago life filled it with happiness. My shot has destroyed that, and a bundle of feathers is all that remains.

Like the killing of the stag, Florence once again uses very emotive language to describe the suffering of the pheasant. She also ends by questioning the pleasure she derives from the act, and provides a motive to why she stopped hunting.

She offers a thought in why this practice continues:

Both men and women will not and cannot understand the cruelty and cowardice of sport, unless in youth their hearts are stirred to kindly pity, love and forethought for animals. But if they are not so taught they will grow up to be indifferent to suffering – ay, even find pleasure in it…

She ends the chapter saying she will devote herself to righting her wrongs.

Chapter Two – The Mercilesness of Sport

She begins the second chapter interestingly, saying it is not right to refer to men as “beasts” or “brutes”, because that is demeaning towards animals who in her opinion are not cruel in their ways. Instead, she says you should call men “you barbarian” or “your ruffian” who commit “acts either loathsome, cruel or disgusting.”

Her argument for this is that whilst animals enjoy nature, humans tend to deprive the animals of this enjoyment by killing them. Florence also says she is disgusted by the actions of the wealthy, pampered hunters who do not care about broken-winged pheasants, or hurt rabbits and hares who had to suffer the freezing nights in tortured agony. She even recalls that once her retriever found a hen pheasant that had both wings broken, waiting for death which she assures the reader she killed.

She does provide an alternative to hunting as clay pigeon shooting – which was popular in America – and whippet racing.

Air and exercies, riding and shooting, need not be given up. Only slight alternatives are needed in the “objects” hunted and shot at.

Florence tells the reader her horror, that as she wrote these words, the Waterloo Cup was by run where hundreds of men and women watched the “sport” of hares being hunted.

She points out that there is a societal irony that whilst:

We write volumes of denunciation against the practice of bull-fighting…

society still supports the actions of hunting hares, pheasant, deers and other animals, pointing only that all bloodsports are cruel in their nature. She enforces this by saying that killing animals should be only for mercy and not fun.

To anyone who would respond that these animals provide humans with a food source, she gives this reply:

My reply is if you must have such, then kill to eat, but do not make the act of killing a pleasure. I, for one, developing hunger, prefer to appease it by eating pure, not bleeding, food. It may be excecrable taste on my part, but I have grown to like fruit and vegetables, bread and butter, cheese, milk and eggs, and I find the eating of such food preferable and more pleasant than the consumption of corpses.

I think this addition is vital to understanding Florence’s argument that it was the killing of defenceless animals she had the issue with. She makes the point in saying that this is not an article in promoting vegetarianism. Although she does end with the observation that on her travels, that communities with a varied diet had better health.

Generally, I found the overall article a well written and thought out piece, with clever use of language. However, because of where it was published, I think it would have provoked the same reaction as I did reading it. Yes, I agree that hunting for fun is wrong.

But it provides an interesting insight into the mind of a Victorian aristocratic woman who managed to come to vastly different conclusion to the rest of her social peers.

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This entry was posted on April 3, 2015 by in British Ladies' Football Club, Lady Florence Dixie and tagged , .
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