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William Fisher Hobbs

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William Fisher Hobbs (1809-1866)

1867 Obituary [1]

MR. WILLIAM FISHER HOBBS was born at White Colne, in Essex in the year 1809 ; he was the son of a Kentish yeoman, by whom he was early initiated into the business of the farm ; but his education was completed in Leicestershire under Mr. Stone, the celebrated sheep-breeder.

After studying for some time further in Suffolk, his friends, considering him qualified, at the age of twenty two years, to conduct a business for himself, took for him the farm of Marks Hall, forming part of the estate of the late Lord Western, in the parish of Coggeshall, in Essex, containing nearly 500 acres, chiefly grazing land, which afforded ample scope for the exercise of the knowledge he had acquired.

At the first meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society, at Oxford, Mr. Hobbs took the first prize for cereals, and after that time the grain raised on his farm was always in request, as well for seed with the farmers as with the miller and the merchant. His success at Oxford encouraged him to persevere in the improvement of all kinds of grain and roots cultivated in the district ; for which purpose he offered a bonus of one shilling to his harvestmen for every ear of wheat containing at least one hundred grains. On one occasion a workman brought him six ears containing an average of one hundred and seven grains each. These he sowed separately, and found that not only were the best ears the most prolific and produced the largest ears, but that the largest grains and the best formed also yielded the strongest and best products.

In 1844 his uncle, Mr. Fisher, died, leaving him a large property. The new position of Mr. Hobbs made no difference in the predilections and pursuits of his life. In becoming a rich landowner, he still remained a farmer ; and the estate of Boxted Lodge is still one of the best cultivated in the county. It was in the transformation of this property that Mr. Hobbs displayed his science as a practical farmer. Up to the period of his taking it in hand, it had been neglected and unproductive. The light land wanted consistence ; the heavy lands were soddened with water ; the bottoms of the ravines were turf-bogs. The estate was divided into innumerable inclosures by high hedges, with a ditch on each side to carry off the water ; whilst thickets occupied a large space that should have been devoted to the plough. All the farm-buildings were in ruins; and disorder and sterility prevailed throughout. Soon everything was changed. The peat-bogs were converted into fertile meadows, the old hedges disappeared, the ditches were filled up and the land drained, the springs opened and utilized, the sandy soils solidified, excellent farm-buildings erected where the old ones had stood, the small inclosures were converted into large rectangular fields, the mansion, the gardens, the homestead-all were transformed.

Mr. Hobbs will deservedly occupy a prominent place in the annals of modern agriculture. There were few so well grounded, and none perhaps who united so thoroughly practical a knowledge of the business of the farm with those scientific acquirement's which he did so much to develop. He early placed himself in the hands of agricultural chemists, and successfully used the manures, guano and super phosphate of lime, when first introduced. He was one of the first and most earnest supporters of the now universally accepted theory of deep systematic drainage, and was one of the best judges of stock that ever entered a show-yard, being equally at home with cattle, sheep, pigs, or cart-horses. He was well up in implements, while he could set a furrow and put a labourer right in almost any work upon which the man might be employed.

But, famous as he was for his improved Essex pigs, it was in the more general service of agriculture that Mr. Fisher Hobbs came to be distinguished. He was one of the first real farmers invited to join the Committee of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, and for more than twenty years was one of its most useful members. As a member of the Council, as the chairman of a committee, or as a steward of the show, his energy was indomitable, and his administrative ability as excellent. He was equally active at the Smithfield Club, where he was in turn an exhibitor, a steward, and a judge : while he was one of the founders and most active members of the London Farmers' Club, at the time when, from its independent views, it was called the 'Tenant Farmers’ Bridge Street Parliament.'

At the time of his decease Mr. Fisher Hobbs was a Vice-President of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, a member of the Council of the Smithfield Club, one of the Committee of the Farmers’ Club, one of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, as well as a supporter of many similar societies in his own and other counties.

In 1855 Mr. Hobbs was nominated a delegate from the Royal Agricultural Society to the Universal Exhibition at Paris. The following year he formed part of the jury at the Great Exhibition of the Palace of Industry ; and in 1857 of that of the famous International Show at Poissy.

Like most men, Mr Fisher Hobbs had his failings; he had not the art of making or retaining friends. He did not understand the uses and the pleasures of that generous hospitality which makes other centres of agricultural improvement so world-famous. A few years in the House of Commons, where on many questions his practical knowledge would have been most useful, would have corrected the defects bred by the pride of wealth and the adulation of humble and obsequious followers. But as a friend - it might almost be said as a slave-to the cause of agriculture, no one ever laboured more conscientiously or to a better purpose. His great practical knowledge, his untiring industry, and a certain quickness of observation, were of immense service, backed as these qualifications were by ample means, and with no family ties to interfere with his public pursuits, for he died unmarried. The following is a trait of his quick discernment. At the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws, all his neighbours were struck with stupor under the apprehension of certain ruin. They dismissed their house-servants and labourers, who, having no employment, went in crowds to the union-houses, to the great increase of the parish burthens.

Mr. Fisher Hobbs, on the contrary, assembled those unfortunate labourers destitute of bread or work, and set them to work to clear and cut down a large wood on his estate. His neighbours thought him mad, for they were all reducing, rather than increasing, the area of their arable land. Scarcely had he finished his undertaking, when they recovered from their panic, and again took on their labourers, The field cleared by these unfortunate men is called to this day “The Free-trade Close,” and is most productive.

Mr. Hobbs was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 4th of March, 1851. He died at his house, Boxted Lodge, near Colchester, on Thursday, the 11th of October, 1866, in the fifty-eighth year of his age. He had been in delicate health for some time from the rupture of a blood-vessel, and for the last few months of his life had been almost entirely confined to his room, and for a year or two previously he had been seen but little in public.

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