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The Agricultural Interest-JAMES Frew-Robert GRAHAM-In
troduces the Potato-History of the Potato-Graham's Experi. ments — Widespread Interest and Success — DR. ROBERT RENNIE-Graham and Rennie Compared-Peat Moss Studies --The Nature of Peat-Peat Companies~Rennie's Early Life -Presentation and Marriage—A Distinguished Son-Second Marriage-A Faithful Pastorate-Number of CommunicantsNew Parish Church—The “ Essays on Peat Moss ”—The Peat Bogs of Europe-Dullatur Moss, Flanders Moss-Substances contained in Moss-Qualities and Sterility of Moss-Publication and Honours — Czar of Russia - Alexander I.-Offers Appointment-Sir John Sinclair Advises Acceptance-The Czar's Presents—Bell of Antermony-Rennie's Death.
NOTWITHSTANDING the enormous development of the national commerce and manufactures, the agricultural interest is still the most important in the country. With this interest the parish of Kilsyth has more than merely a local connection. It was for the largest portion of his life the residence of James Frew of Balmalloch, and it was the birth-place of Robert Graham and Robert Rennie.
Of the first, not more than a very few words need be said. He gave himself to the rearing of Ayrshire stock, and is a good example of how, by persistent energy, the ordinary Scottish farmer may come to make for himself an honourable name. In his special department at the Highland and Agricultural Show at Perth in 1861, and
at the great English Show at Battersea, the same year, his animals carried all before them. The late Duke of Athole frequently visited him at Kilsyth, and recruited his stock by the purchase of the finest animals of the Balmalloch strain. He was born in Campsie parish in 1795, and died at Balmalloch in 1874.
But if James Frew is one of the lesser, Robert Graham is certainly one of the larger lights of Scottish agriculture. We simply owe to his memory a debt which we cannot pay. He introduced the potato to Scottish agriculture, and the Scottish farmer now produces annually over 800,000 tons of that important food supply. The value of the potato as an article of diet, relished alike by prince and peasant, its easy culture, its adaptation to a wide diversity of soil and climate, and its large and profitable productiveness, well entitle it to the high esteem in which it is now universally held. To the historian, those fields around Neilston, where it was first grown in Scotland, are more suggestive and interesting than those heights close by the “Slaughter Howe," where the Covenanting army was so desperately worsted.
While the history of the origin of wheat and oats is buried in obscurity, that of the potato and its introduction into Europe is fairly well known. It was imported into eastern civilisation by the Spaniards from Quito, where they found it cultivated by the natives. Hieronymus Cardan, a monk, brought it from Peru to Spain, and from that country it passed into Italy and Belgium. In 1586, Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato into Ireland from North Carolina and Virginia, and cultivated it with some success on his own estate near Cork. Some authorities place the date of the introduction of the plant into Ireland twenty-four years earlier. Be this as it may, it took kindly to its new habitat. Its cultivation developed with enormous rapidity, and no political cause could have so rapidly swelled the population. Finding it of easy cultivation, the Irish, too, soon made it “the staff of life," and the results were appalling. From Ireland the potato was introduced into Lancashire, but its progress was slow, and not till the last decade of the 18th century did its cultivation upon a large scale come to be general.
Robert Graham was the proprietor of Tamrawer, near Banton. He was also the factor on the Kilsyth estate, and resided at Neilston. Taking an interest in all agricultural projects, he had amused himself with the cultivation of the potato in his garden. In 1739, having become possessed of the idea that the potato might be turned to real agricultural utility, by way of experiment he laid down half an acre in the open field. His expectations were fully realised, and he went on extending his operations. As he learned by experience the art of preparing the ground, manuring, drilling, planting, and stirring, he grew more self-reliant. The farmers in the parish began copying his methods, and the success of his enterprise became so noised abroad, that noblemen and farmers from every part of the country came to him in flocks to receive his counsel and learn his methods. Taking land at such widely separated places as Dundee, Perth, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Renfrew, his enterprize influenced the largest and most important districts in the country, and in a few years potato growing became universal throughout Scotland, wherever there was suitable land. Robert Graham was held in the highest esteem for the new impetus he had given to Scottish agriculture. Although, however, he saw the success of his experiments fully proved, he must have failed to realise of what vast importance the potato was yet to be to the Scottish farmers, and how the land of his birth was to attain to such perfection in its cultivation, as not to be surpassed by any other country in the world.
In connection with the history of Scottish agriculture, the name of Robert Rennie is as worthy of remembrance as that of Robert Graham. There is, however, a very wide difference between the two men. Graham's experiments were successful, and led to immediate results. Every strath and carse and hillside in Scotland witnesses every year to the fruitsulness of his labours. It was not so with Rennie. On his favourite theme,the conversion of peat moss into arable land, manure, and fuel,-he read largely, thought profoundly, and wrote extensively and learnedly. His speculations attracted the notice of sovereigns and statesmen. The librarians of Edinburgh ransacked Europe to provide him with books. The Board of Trade, the Royal Society, the Scottish Highland and Agricultural Society, and the University of Glasgow, one and all encouraged him in his labours. Notwithstanding all this wide-spread interest and stimulus, apart from the essays he has left, the work of Rennie has had, so far, no practical result.
The vast mosses of Britain and Europe are still lying in our day as waste and evidently as irreclaimable as they lay in his. These great accumulations of the debris of the primeval forests are still tempting us to consider if no key can be found to unlock their carboniferous riches. For the present, it seems as if nothing can be done. We may rest assured, however, it is only for the present, for it would be absurd to suppose that the wheels of our chemical and mechanical progress could be permanently stopped at the margin of a peat bog!
When the time for the utilisation of our peat moss deposits comes, there can be no doubt the work of Dr. Rennie will be found an important connecting link in a long chain. I anticipate nothing of what follows by remarking in a sentence or two, that in every department of manufactures and agriculture, peat has been found hitherto most intractable and unproductive. The vast deposits have a promise of a varied production which in reality they never yield. Peat, as a fuel, burns with a red, smoky flame, emitting a strong, and to some by no means disagreeable, odour. The lighter varieties are exceedingly inflammable. Its combustible powers are, however, tantalising ; the yield of heat being very small in proportion to the bulk of the fuel. In Bavaria and Oldenburg it is used in the locomotive engines, but the tenders are larger than our largest cattle trucks. It can be compressed, but the advantage thus gained does not compensate the cost of the operation. Peat has been successfully used in the iron furnaces of Austria, and makes an excellent quality of iron, although here again the quantity of the ash militates against its use. Earnest and persistent efforts have been made to use peat as a gas producer. The harnessing of Will o' Wisp has, however, only been attended with the smallest measure of success. Again, charred peat has been excessively extolled for its value as a manure both when applied by itself and as part of a compound. So great were the expectations at one time of an enormous demand for it, and of the benefits likely to accrue to Ireland by thus disposing of her bogs, that a Royal Charter was granted to a company by which · its manufacture was to be carried on. Notwithstanding this huge enterprise, the bogs of Ireland are still one of the unsolved problems of that country, and the history of peat companies and manufactures is but the history of abortive and fruitless expedients