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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Sharpe

Celebrating Etta Lemon

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

This week I have been putting together my newsletter for December and associated free bird of the month ebook. It will be out tomorrow so if you would like to receive it you can sign up for the newsletter here and if you would like to look at back copies of the ebooks you can find them here

There are also links to the catalogues for my ongoing exhibition at the Old Coastguards. The exhibition is going very well and a number of the painting in the “Language of Birds” series have now found new homes which is always wonderful.

This week I celebrated the birthdays and lives of a couple of interesting people I love to read about people who have been particularly influential I’m always researching new people to share it provides me with a focus, inspiration and improved knowledge.

Firstly Margaretta "Etta" Louisa (nee Smith)Lemon. she was born on the 22nd November 1860 she was a bird conservationist and a founding member of what is now the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). She was born in Kent and after her father's death she increasingly campaigned against the use of plumage in hatmaking which had led to billions of birds being killed for their feathers.

With Eliza Phillips she founded the Fur, Fin and Feather Folk in 1889, which two years later merged with Emily Williamson's Manchester-based Society for the Protection of Birds (SPB), also founded in 1889. She became the first honorary secretary of the SPB until 1904, when the society became the RSPB. Interestingly when in 1904, the queen gave her approval for the SPB to be incorporated by Royal Charter and become the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds RSPB, Etta could not continue as honorary secretary because the charter excluded women from leading the organisation.

Etta and her husband led the RSPB for more than 30 years. During this time, the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act 1921 restricted the international trade in feathers. Between 1870 and 1920, 18,400 tonnes (20,300 tons) of wild bird feathers were imported into the UK, 150–300 birds were needed for 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of their breeding feathers, billions of birds were killed just for the British market. Shooting breeding birds led nest failures actual losses were therefore much higher.

I also celebrated the birthday of the poet William Cowper who was born today in 1731 he lived an interesting life and is said to be one of the forerunners of Romantic poetry. He suffered with an attack of insanity and dreamt in 1773 that he was doomed to eternal damnation after a period of institutionalisation he recovered and continued to write mostly religions hymns.

Prior to this time her wrote this poem.

The Jackdaw by William Cowper

There is a bird who by his coat,

And by the hoarseness of his note,

Might be supposed a crow;

A great frequenter of the church,

Where bishop-like he finds a perch,

And dormitory too.

Above the steeple shines a plate,

That turns and turns, to indicate

From what point blows the weather;

Look up your brains begin to swim,

’Tis in the clouds that pleases him,

He chooses it the rather.

Fond of the speculative height,

Thither he wings his airy flight,

And thence securely sees

The bustle and the raree show

That occupy mankind below,

Secure and at his ease.

You think, no doubt, he sits and muses

On future broken bones and bruises,

If he should chance to fall.

No; not a single thought like that

Employs his philosophic pate,

Or troubles it at all.

He sees that this great roundabout,

The world, with all its motley rout,

Church, army, physic, law,

Its customs, and its businesses,

Are no concern at all of his,

And says what says he? ‘Caw.’

Thrice happy bird! I too have seen

Much of the vanities of men;

And sick of having seen ’em,

Would cheerfully these limbs resign

For such a pair of wings as thine,

And such a head between ’em

and finally tonight I visited the RSPB managed Marazion Marsh and was treated to a wonderful spectacle of starlings dancing in the sky, a medium sized murmuration of starlings over the marsh... just wonderful.

I wonder what this week will bring?

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