On this Day 19th January 2016

Beached whales in landmark legal case

19th January 1912 – Beached whales in landmark legal case

Is West Cornwall a place where the people dwell in harmonious sympathy with dumb creatures? Or are the ways of the place cruel, outlawish? Today, 19th January 1912, a hearing in London is considering this very matter.

A large number of whales were stranded last July, meeting a rather squalid end on Marazion beach, and the local magistrates quickly agreed that, as the creatures were not “captive”, their tormentors had no case to answer. But now a wealthy donor has threatened to cancel her promised £1000 bequest to the RSPCA unless the organisation appeals against this verdict. The donor, a “London lady”, wants the culprits brought to book, and has money at her back.

The lawyers argue the case for the RSPCA appeal: if a man goes out in a boat and takes possession of a whale, shoots it in fact, is the animal not then captive? If whales on the beach are surrounded by opportunist sightseers, and can only “flap their tails and move their fins”, are they not captive?  Are they not like a man overboard, helpless in the sea? Or a “crab in a child’s pail”, perhaps, although of course the RSPCA has no wish to interfere with the innocent pleasures of children. No - this is about grown men, jumping on the creatures’ backs with their heavy boots; carving their initials into the skins with knives.

Before today is out, the appeal will be dismissed. The West Penwith magistrates were right all along. The RSPCA, it seems, has wasted its money (although it has, presumably, safeguarded its generous bequest)

The court hears, incidentally, that – had “proper facilities” only been available to harvest “blubber for oil, the skin for leather” – the gain to the owners of the whale carcasses would have been £500. And who would those owners have been? The Admiralty, who would normally have rights to anything washed ashore, but perhaps not on Duchy land? Or the Ponsandane Bolithos, who have purchased the foreshore from the Duchy of Cornwall? At any rate, should such an event reoccur, all effort will be made to harvest the bounty in a more systematic manner, perhaps using cranes and dynamite, as in Scotland where stranded whales are commonplace and such practice is legal.

Cornish Evening Tidings January 20th 1912

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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Sally Corbet

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