Richard Martin (politician)

Colonel Richard "Humanity Dick" Martin (15 January 17546 January 1834), was an Irish politician and animal rights activist. He was also nicknamed the "Wilberforce of Hacks"

Early life

Martin was born in Ballynahinch, County Galway, the only son of the Honourable Bridget Barnwall, a daughter of Baron Trimlestown, and Robert Martin Fitz Anthony of Birchall, County Galway. Martin 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. Bridget Barnwall died when Richard was nine. 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 parent's were Catholic, Richard Martin was raised a Protestant and educated in England.

Catholic Emancipation

Martin sat in the Irish Parliament for Jamestown in 1776–1783 and for Lanesborough in 1798–1800 and fought for Catholic Emancipation. He was elected for County Galway in 1800 just before the Act of Union dissolved the Irish Parliament and obliged Irish MPs to sit in Westminster, London. He continued to represent County Galway in Westminster as an independent until 1812 and again from 1818, supporting the Tory government of Lord Liverpool. 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.

Animal Rights

Martin is now most famous for his work against the cruelty to animals, especially against bear baiting and dog fighting. His actions eventually led to Martin's Act 1822 in 1822, entitled "Ill Treatment of Cattle Bill". He also tried to spread his ideas in the streets of London, becoming target of jokes and political cartoons that depicted him with ears of an ass. He also sometimes paid fines of minor offenders. On June 16 1824 he was present when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in a London coffee shop "Old Slaughter's", though he denied being the founder of the society.

Active life

Martin also led a very eventful life. He was a colonel of the County Galway Volunteers. He survived two shipwrecks. He fought over a hundred duels with sword and pistol and earned the nickname "Hairtrigger Dick". He travelled extensively in Europe and the Americas in the 1770s and was in New England when the American Revolutionary War broke out. He founded Galway's first theatre. He was in Paris when the French Revolution began in 1789.

Martin divorced his first wife who had had an affair with the Irish rebel Theobald Wolfe Tone and was awarded £10,000 compensation that he donated to the poor.

Martin was on a first-name basis with many of the famous names of his age, Henry Flood, Henry Grattan, William Pitt, King George IV (who gave him the nickname "Humanity Dick"), Queen Caroline and Daniel O'Connell.

Unseating and escape

After the election of 1826, Martin was stripped of his parliamentary seat in a petition when he was accused of illegal intimidation during the election. 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.

Martin's eldest son Thomas B. Martin inherited his Connamara estates while his only other surviving son, Rev. Richard Martin (1797–1878), left with his wife and six children for Canada in 1834, where their descendants still live. In the 1980s his grave in Boulogne was decorated with a plaque honouring his activities.


Martin's descendants include:


  • "Humanity Dick Martin: 'King of Connemara', 1754-1834", Shevawn Lynam, ISBN 0-946640-36-X; Lilliput Press, May 1989.
  • "The Eccentric Member for Galway: The Story of Richard Martin, Animal Rights Pioneer", Peter Phillips, ISBN 1-898594-76-7; Parapress, 2003.
  • "Richard Martin 'Humanity Dick' (1754–1834)", Stephen Farrell, History Today June 2004

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