John C. writes: I have a query on the following extract from my family history: Baroness Burdett-Coutts revived the idea of awarding a decoration to those who performed distinguished service in the cause of animal welfare. The Baroness approached Queen Victoria who readily approved. In the drawing submitted to her Majesty, it was suggested that as the cat was the most neglected of animals, the design should include this animal. A further Royal directive was that the first medal to be struck was to be presented to John Colam, the Society’s Secretary (RSPCA), of whom it was said, more than any other man, had laboured to build the organisation into what it had become. The meritorious medal was to be known as the “Victoria Medal”. Do you have any idea what the medal looked like or whether there is a copy in existence ?
Medal giving was rampant in Britain during the 19th century and there are medals for every conceivable occurrence.
Baroness ANGELA-GEORGINA, BARONESS BURDETT-COUTTS was the grand-daughter of Thomas Coutts a well known Scottish banker. She spent most of her adult life in charitable pursuits including involvement in women’s issues and rights. She may have been one the supporters of The Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA), the first humane society in Canada. It was founded in Montreal in 1869 by a group of prominent citizens. The society still exists today.
John Colam, Secretary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1884, helped to form the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children whose treatment in this era was worse than the animals that the RSPCA was formed to protect. This event may be his main claim to fame.
The medal to which you might be referring was produced after the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1909, the RSPCA instituted a medal for “acts of gallantry in saving the lives of animals”. The medal shows a seated female figure surrounded by a cow, sheep, cat, dog, goat and horse. R.S.P.C.A. is in exergue (below the dividing border of the design). The reverse is plain, and an inscription would go there. The name of the recipient usually appears on the rim. The medal is 36 mm in diameter and was struck in bronze and silver. A blue ribbon and hanger is above with three white stripes in the center (silver). The bronze issue also includes red stripes. For reference, this piece is known as the “RSPCA LIFE-SAVING MEDAL.