Lewis Gompertz
A black and white 19th-century illustration of a man in profile, facing right, with short curly hair and sideburns, wearing a formal suit with a high-collared shirt and bow tie.
Portrait from Fragments in Defence of Animals (1852)
Bornc. 1784
London, England
Died2 December 1861 (1861-12-03) (aged 77)
Kennington, London, England
Occupation(s)Activist, philosopher, writer, inventor
Years active1814–1852
Known forActivism for animal rights and welfare, and veganism
Notable workMoral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes
Ann Hollaman
(m. 1809; died 1847)
FamilyGompertz family

Lewis Gompertz (c. 1784 – 2 December 1861) was an English Jewish activist, philosopher, writer and inventor. He dedicated his life to promoting animal rights and welfare, and veganism.

Gompertz was born around 1784 into a wealthy Jewish family of diamond merchants in London and was the youngest of 15 children. He received an informal education due to being barred from university for his religion. Gompertz dedicated his life to animal rights, promoting veganism and the humane treatment of animals through his 1824 book, Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes. As a founding member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, later the RSPCA, he served in key roles but resigned in 1833 due to his outspoken views and religious exclusion. He then established the Animals' Friend Society, advocating for animal welfare until his retirement from public life in 1846. An inventive mechanical engineer, Gompertz created numerous devices to reduce animal suffering, publishing his works on inventions and animal protection. He died of bronchitis in 1861 at the age of 77.


Early life and family

Lewis Gompertz was born around 1784 into a large and wealthy Jewish family of diamond merchants in London.[1] He was the youngest of 15 children of Solomon Barent Gompertz (1729–c. 1807), a merchant from Walthamstow and Vauxhall, and the fifth son of his second marriage, to Leah Cohen (c. 1747–1809).[2] He was the younger brother of the mathematician and actuary Benjamin Gompertz, and the poet Isaac Gompertz.[3]

Being Jewish, Gompertz and his siblings were barred from attending university, instead receiving an informal education that fostered critical thinking and problem-solving skills.[1] The Gompertz family, descended from the Ashkenazi Gomperz family of Emmerich near the Germany–Netherlands border, was prominent within the Hambro Synagogue at Hoxton in East London.[2]

Gompertz married Ann Hollaman at St Leonard's, Shoreditch, on 12 December 1809.[4]

Animal rights advocacy and philosophy

Gompertz devoted his life to the alleviation of animal suffering, arguing that it was morally indefensible to kill animals or use them in ways not directly beneficial to them. A committed vegan, he abstained from consuming animal products, including milk and eggs, and refused to ride in coaches due to the exploitation of horses.[2] He also refused to wear leather or silk and opposed hunting and animal experimentation.[5] His views were collected in his 1824 book Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes, which combined philosophical dialogues, moral theorems, and suggestions to improve the conditions of animals. The book also criticised capitalism, the subjugation of women, and praised Owenite cooperation.[2]

Contributions to animal welfare organisations

Gompertz was a founding member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), later known as the RSPCA, attending its inaugural meeting in 1824.[1] Despite the society's early financial struggles, he undertook management roles, including the honorary secretaryship in 1828, acting as de facto treasurer and often as a financial benefactor. His involvement in disputes with the rival Association for the Promotion of Rational Humanity to the Animal Creation and accusations of promoting Pythagorean and anti-Christian views led to his resignation in 1833 after the SPCA reformed its committee to base its principles exclusively on Christianity, effectively excluding Gompertz as a Jew.[2]

Following his resignation, Gompertz founded the Animals' Friend Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which he managed with his wife Ann until 1846. The society welcomed evangelicals and Quakers and for some time outstripped the SPCA in its activities. Gompertz edited the society's journal, Animals' Friend, or, The Progress of Humanity, from 1833 to 1841. Ill health forced his withdrawal from public work in 1846, and his wife's death in 1847 further impacted him. Committees of the society met until 1848, but it eventually languished.[2]


Gompertz's improvement on Baron von Drais's draisine, 1821

Gompertz possessed a notable aptitude for mechanical engineering.[2] His inventions, though sometimes impractical, were made with a focus on reducing animal suffering.[6] They were displayed at his home and later at the Adelaide Gallery. He filed only one patent (for carriages, no. 3804 of 1814) but published a comprehensive Index to 38 Inventions, around 1839. His notable inventions included an expanding chuck, substitutes for cog wheels, and a modified velocipede designed to avoid animal use. His work was featured in various publications, including the Mechanics Journal and Animals Friend, and culminated in his compendium Mechanical Inventions and Suggestions on Land and Water Locomotion (1851) and Fragments in Defence of Animals (1852).[2]


Gompertz died of bronchitis at the age of 77 on 2 December 1861 at his home in Kennington, London. He was buried beside his wife in the graveyard of Kennington Church.[2]

Selected publications

See also


  1. ^ a b c Renier, Hannah (March 2012). "An Early Vegan: Lewis Gompertz". London Historians. Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wolf, Lucien; Marsden, Ben (2004). "Gompertz, Lewis (1783/4–1861), animal rights campaigner and inventor". In Marsden, Ben (ed.). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10934. Retrieved 22 April 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Hooker, P. F. (1965). "Benjamin Gompertz, 1779-1865" (PDF). Journal of the Institute of Actuaries (91): 203. doi:10.1017/S0020268100038786 – via Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.
  4. ^ "GOMPERTZ Lewis". Cemetery Scribes. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  5. ^ Preece, Rod (2009). Sins of the Flesh: A History of Ethical Vegetarian Thought. University of British Columbia Press. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-7748-5849-6.
  6. ^ Gompertz, Lewis (1992). Singer, Peter (ed.). Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes. Fontwell: Centaur Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-0-900001-37-6.

Further reading