Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 September 2014
The nineteenth century saw an explosion in creativity and innovation, often applied to and motivated by an urge to improve, refine and make more efficient industrial and agricultural processes. There were many innovations in the field of agriculture, supported by the sponsorship of societies and associations and, in the 1850s and 1860s, by strong investment under High Farming. This article examines one of these innovations, the steam plough, with reference to its application in the Scottish Highlands in the 1870s and 1880s. In particular, it illuminates the social networks which lay behind the development and utilisation of the steam plough in the rural Highland context, delineating how aristocratic, religious and local networks combined to have a major impact on rural society in Scotland and beyond. It will examine how these networks interacted to promote the contemporary culture for agricultural and rural innovation through the development of the Fowler's steam plough. What makes this example of particular interest is the fact that agriculturally and financially, the Sutherland land reclamations were an unconditional failure. The environment was too challenging for the technology and despite vast financial resources, the landowner, the third Duke of Sutherland, was, after fifteen years, finally convinced by his advisors that further efforts were futile and irresponsible. This article will interrogate why, despite its essential unfeasibility, the project was pursued, and will argue that the momentum created by the dynamic between the three networks involved propelled it forward despite growing evidence of failure. This article therefore uses an inductive approach by examining a particular example of agricultural design innovation and analysing the pertinent social issues in what would have been termed by contemporaries ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.
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56. Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, 7.
57. Highland and Agricultural Society, 1878.
58. Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 65.
59. Thomas Fowler, brother of John and Robert, for example, was a cotton trader based in Alexandria and assisted Fowler and Company in gaining a foothold in that country: Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, pp. 63, 68, 77.
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61. Bonnett, Saga of the Steam Plough, pp. 65–82.
62. Hannah, ‘Moral Economy’, pp. 249–99; Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 66.
63. Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 93.
64. Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, pp. 5–6, 61, 93.
65. For instance, the firm that handled Fowler's Egyptian business was Briggs and Company of Alexandria, the same firm that represented Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, a Norfolk based Quaker operation; Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 65.
66. Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 62.
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68. Winter, Secure from Rash Assault, p. 73.
69. Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 90.
70. Pickard, ‘Wire Fences in Colonial Australia’, 28, for another successful colonial transfer; Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 91.
71. Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 96.
72. Roberts, ‘Sutherland Reclamation’, 409.
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74. Museum of English Rural Life, TR FOW, SP2 records of work events; Winter, Secure from Rash Assault, p. 74; Lane, Story of the Steam Plough Works, p. 95; Inverness Courier, 6th August 1874.
75. Hannah, ‘Moral Economy’, p. 299.
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77. For example, Times, 12th September 1876; Cannadine, Aspects of Aristocracy, p. 183.
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82. National Library of Scotland, Acc. 10225, Reclamations, 5, ‘Lairg and Kildonan Reclamations: Statement as to Cost’ (1892).
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84. See for example, Times, 7th September 1874.
85. See for example, Napier Commission Evidence, pp. 1704–31, 1764–70; Bonnett, Farming with Steam, p. 14.
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93. National Library of Scotland, Acc. 10225, Reclamations, 42, table: ‘Statement as to Cost and Rent of Reclaimed Farms’, 1883.