Thursday, 29 November 2018

How Does Your Garden Grow?

There have been a number of programmes on TV about art; competitions, National Treasures, great houses and their gardens etc. They take in the history of gardens and gardening during the 19th Century and other period and display the wonders of many of those in the British Isles.

This is a period when they began to flourish in ways beyond the past into the magnificence that we still see in many of the ones that have survived. It is owed to the owners, their estate managers and above all the gardeners, but one thing is omitted. The fertiliser, Guano, see the Wikipedia article, and this is a story of its own.

It was brought to mind when clicking  through The Dundee Courier of January 1845 and for the shipping intelligence. There were two ships listed, the "Lady Lilford" and the "Lusitania", not the 1904-1917 liner but an ordinary cargo ship of the time with that name. Of the eleven ships listed in the Courier, four were at Ichaboe, the others being the "Midas" and the "British King".

The two reported to be bound for Dundee were there for the one thing that was to be had. It was guano, an incredible amount of it, owed to a lack of humans and generations of seabirds. The "Lady Lilford" had taken on a hundred tons.

But it could not just be bought it might have to be fought for in the guano wars of the period; see Wikipedia again on Ichaboe Island. Guano could command up to £25 a ton on landing so it was a rich cargo for the Master, Scott, a Liverpool based man. Also he had a bundle of Kashmiri Pashmini Shawls, some perhaps destined for the Court.

It was a voyage to make him a prosperous man in property having satisfied the owners with a hold full of jute. In 1851 he was living in upmarket Nile Street a few doors away from his mother-in-law who ten years later was aunt to the Countess of Antrim and connected to various McDonnell's in Liverpool.

It had its impact on the history of agriculture and the effects of changes there on general social history. Those who could afford to use it on their estates and farms would have a major advantage to those limited to the traditional substances. During the periods of adverse weather conditions and the more guano you had the less labour you might need.

Could we have a TV series devoted to the history of fertiliser down the ages? It might enrich the mind.


  1. The profits from guano paid for the Gibbs family to expand Tyntesfield Estate & House just outside Bristol (Now National Trust property)

  2. These days the House of Commons generates a fair amount of guano but strangely enough nothing useful seems to grow there.