Think of animal welfare and Italy and if any one person springs to mind it is probably Giuseppe Garibaldi and his brave start in 1871 in establishing the Societ Protettrice degli Animali in Turin. Badgered by a redoubtable Englishwoman, one Anna Winter, Garibaldi and his personal doctor, Timoteo Riboldi, brought the society into being and vowed from the outset that neither politics nor religion would in any way tangle with its sole task of attempting to prevent cruelty to animals. Sporadically, other small groups burst into life elsewhere in Italy. But like small, isolated brush fires, they pretty much sputtered out, unable to bond together into a cohesive, nationwide movement.

Then along came an Englishman. In the 1890s, in his early 20s, he set off like so many of his countrymen on a tour of Italy. It would be the turning point for the young man, for he was about to spurn a promising career in science back home. Leonard Hawksley would never be the household name that Garibaldi was, but his remarkable achievements in Italy would put him on equal if not stronger footing in the realm of animal protection.

Hawksleys first focus was on the horrendous and widespread sights he witnessed in Naples. There, horses and mules were fitted with spiked reins, jagged-edged halters and bits studded with sharp nails. When these creatures were lashed, it was invariably with wire whips inflicting yet more pain. The young man was appalled. An ally from the very outset was the Princess Mele Barese, an Englishwoman who was married to a local baker with aristocratic yearnings that rose higher than the yeast in his bread. She had set up her own little army of uniformed inspectors to monitor nefarious doings against animals in her adopted city. However, her skills in running the Naples Anti-Cruelty Society on a sound financial basis were dodgy to say the least: all incoming monies were stored in a paper bag and only counted up once a year. If the sum was lower than expected, she topped it up from her own pocket. When it exceeded what she thought she had, the principessa dipped into the bag and spent the extra on something for the society to even things out.

Hawksley introduced far sounder accounting practices, renamed the group the Naples Society for the Protection of Animals, pursued perpetrators of cruelty and continued to manage the group until 1909. He had also succeeded in setting up a group in Rome in 1901, with 40 inspectors to investigate cases throughout the country. Admirers and enemies alike began to nickname him Campofalcone. To critics who asked why a foreigner was meddling in the animal welfare of a country not his own, he would snap back: Animals dont have nationalities.

Up and down Italy, Hawksley increasingly stirred up trouble, often paying dearly the consequences of his crusade. Pained by the sight of oxen straining under loads of marble on the mountainside in Carrara, he protested. To pay him back, miners lay in wait until one day they spotted him coming down the narrow alley of a quarry. Off went a blast, showering Hawksley with fragmented stone. He got off lightly that time, with an injured arm. On another occasion, for other inspections, he was ambushed one night, knocked unconscious and laid out in the dark on the town tram tracks. Luckily, the tram driver spotted him in his path and stopped just in time. Hawksley had been wounded in three places on his body and hit eleven times on the head. It would take him three months in bed to recover. And he lost the use of one eye on that occasion.

He took on a battle of the birds in Capri. There every Easter captured birds were released by attendants inside churches at the end of the service. People were utterly indifferent to the fact that the fluttering creatures had no escape routes and eventually dropped to the church floor, exhausted, to die. The following Easter Hawksleys inspectors stationed themselves at the door but were often outfoxed by the wily Caprese ladies who entered with birds concealed in flowing folds of clothing. With that, the inspectors countered by climbing to the cupola to keep the windows open.

Elsewhere, Hawksley took the Camorra head on. They were none too pleased in Campania where he was getting their companions prosecuted for infractions against animals. One camorrista approached him with an explicit warning: he would meet his end if he did not desist. Exasperated, Hawksley grabbed his tormentors whip and broke the handle over the thugs head. The menace changed to near admiration and the word went out to lay off Hawksley and his inspectors.

Perhaps to goad himself on, Hawksley kept seized animal traps on display in his Rome headquarters as a grisly reminder of the work that still needed doing throughout Italy. But he sought not only to arrest the perpetrators of cruelty; he wanted to see legal measures introduced as well. In 1912, cruel sports became punishable by law. The following year, he drafted the protection of animals act, which got watered down by the time it reached parliament. The battle and the frustrations continued. Nonetheless, Hawksley persevered. During world war one, he played a key role in forming the Italian Blue Cross with 22 veterinary hospitals that saved the lives of some 35,000 mules and horses. For his long years of devoted work in this field, he was made Commendatore in 1920.

The long years of struggle finally took their toll and in 1931, aged 58, Hawksley returned to England in ill health. He left behind 22 animal protection societies in Italy either founded directly by him or with his assistance. He died quietly, as he wished, in 1948. The spirit of his good work lives on through the Anglo-Italian Society for the Protection of Animals (AISPA). Formed in 1952 in London, with two representatives in Italy (Dr Malcolm Holliday in Arezzo and Dr Dorothea Friz in Castel Volturno), AISPA supports 30 projects throughout Italy, from the provision of medicines, surgical equipment and rescue vehicles to sterilisation programmes.

For a further in-depth study, the author would welcome all additional historical information on Leonard Hawksley and his work in the Rome area. Contact can be made either by e-mail to alexwrichardson@tiscalinet.it or by mail c/o Wanted in Rome, Via dei Delfini 17, 00186 Rome.