Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

The Two Maries – ABC Radio


The Two Maries was a program on the ABC’s (as in Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s) Radio National program: Occam’s Razor. On 25th October 1998, the show featured Dr Jim Leavesley who had recently published a book called ‘What Killed Jane Austen’.

Dr Leavesley made these statements in the program:

To the [medical] profession’s amused contempt, Stopes opened a birth control clinic in 1921, mainly to fit cervical caps. It made a slow start, but was enough to outrage the Catholic Church.

Though having been denounced as immoral, up to then Stopes had held her hand. Now a Dr Sutherland, with religious zeal wrote she was conducting ‘a monstrous campaign of harmful methods’, and ‘a class conspiracy against the poor’.

Although mild compared with the usual abuse, she snapped, and sued for libel. Sutherland won, but obtained a derisory 200-pounds damages. She appealed, and the judgement was reversed. He and his backers were not to be denied, however, and appealed to the House of Lords, inviting monetary contributions from ‘right minded people’. Three of the five Law Lords were over 80, and Stopes lost 4-1.

I have not read “What Killed Jane Austen” and the book’s page on Amazon suggests that it is written in a light entertaining style. Quirky, whacky, zany, whatever. Regardless of the style, one expects the information given in the program to be accurate. Yet Leavesley was well wide of the mark.

“Sutherland won, but obtained a derisory 200-pounds damages”. Damages are one of the legal remedies that may be sought by the plaintiff in an action for defamation. The plaintiff is the person who initiates the legal action and Sutherland was the defendant. Defendants may pay damages, if they lose, but they don’t receive them. In Stopes v. Sutherland, the defendants won the case, meaning (1) the plaintiff failed to win damages and (2) Sutherland and his co-defendant didn’t have to pay them. That said, they were awarded costs, meaning that the plaintiff had to pay their legal bills.

Translation into quirky, whacky, zany speak:

“Costs against you? Man, your case sucks, dude.”

“Three of the five Law Lords were over 80, and Stopes lost 4-1”. The implication here is that age was a factor in the Law Lords decision (the old fuddy duddies…etc.) The single dissenter from the majority decision, Lord Wrenbury, was indeed under 80, being aged 79. What a difference a year makes!

“…enough to outrage the Catholic Church…Now a Dr Sutherland, with religious zeal wrote she was conducting ‘a monstrous campaign of harmful methods’, and ‘a class conspiracy against the poor’.”  The old “Roman Catholic Doctor” trope. Dr Jim Leavesley is a medical doctor, as Sutherland was. I wonder if he realised that Sutherland was fighting the increasing influence of eugenics? Or that tuberculosis, a disease of poverty, was regarded as an inherited condition? Or that the eugenic solution was to breed out the tuberculous? Or that, had mainstream eugenists had their way, the “unfit” would have not been allowed to have children? Quirky! Whacky! Zany!

I don’t know where the phrase “a class conspiracy against the poor” comes from, but regardless, Dr Sutherland is ridiculed for his “religious zeal” and religion is given as his only motivation given for his opposing Stopes’ birth control clinic. Catholics and contraceptives! Quirky! Whacky! Zany!

Here’s the thing: Sutherland opposed eugenics before he believed in God, and long before he became a Catholic. In his book Birth Control, he wrote about that, if you created a society in which the poor were not allowed to have children, because they were “a privilege of the rich”, you end up with a slave state. A society in which the sterile slaves eat, sleep, work and die. Quirky! Whacky! Zany! (but not so much if you are a slave).

Here are items 9, 10 and 11 of the “Tenets of the C.B.C.“:

Tenets CBC

Here is the M’Neil family from Sutherland’s 1911 cinematic debut, “The Story of John M’Neil”:JMN

The film was made in a time when tuberculosis killed 77,750 people each year (1907 data). In the film, each member of the family is infected with the germs of tuberculosis. Tenets 9, 10 and 11 of the CBC give you the eugenist’s viewpoint: Mrs M’Neil had consumption, no doubt because of the “weakness of certain organs” (Tenet 10). The “individual ill-health” of Mr and Mrs M’Neil  is no doubt the reason for the “diseased…nature of their offspring” (Tenet 9). Mr M’Neil is a printer. Is he in work? Let’s hope so, otherwise the “disaster or unemployment” clauses of Tenet 11 are triggered. Three good reasons for the M’Neils to be prevented from having children.

Marie Stopes’ birth control clinic was the beginning of what she saw as becoming a large national movement to transform British “racial stocks”. The Mothers’ Clinic provided free contraceptives for the willing, while she campaigned for Acts of Parliament to compulsorily sterilize the unwilling, and recommended the gold pin as an interim measure for the “racially negligent”. In her eyes, people like the M’Neil’s were “bad through inherent disease” and “racially diseased”.

Halliday Sutherland stood up to that.

Quirky? Whacky? Zany?

Actually, what’s funny about that, or what’s worthy of mockery, I have yet to discover.

1907 Deaths

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

Centenary of the House of Lords judgment21 November 2024
11 months to go.

E-mail notification

Receive an e-mail when announcements are made.

%d bloggers like this: