• The Buscot Robert Campbell

    Robert Tertius Campbell was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1811.  With a name like “Tertius”, he was indeed the third generation with the name Robert Campbell.  He was raised in a very well-to-do pioneering business family in Sydney.  By the 1850s, Robert Tertius Campbell was part-owner of Campbell and Co., a large and successful Australian importing and retailing company that extended into farm ownership and gold buying.  He married Ann Orr in 1835 in Australia and had seven children.

    Having made his fortune in Australia, Robert Tertius Campbell moved to southern England to ensure a sound education for his children and to purchase an estate so as to continue farming.  He found at Buscot Park, near Faringdon, in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), the county estate he had been looking for.  The estate was in a semi-derelict condition that was mainly pastureland, bounded to the north by the upper reach of the Thames River, and which straddled the turnpike road between Faringdon and Lechlade.  The estate included the parishes of Buscot and the depopulated village of Eaton Hastings.

    Campbell, at the age of 48, bought Buscot Park in 1859 for £125,000.  The Buscot property was secured with a mortgage in 1861 for £100,000 to help fund his planned property improvements and innovations.

    I had the opportunity to examine the 1859 sales documents and property map at the Berkshire Records Office in Reading.  The Buscot Park estate consisted of 3,558 acres (1,440 hectares) and included the Buscot manor, tolls at Buscot lock, the Buscot coal wharf, 26 cottages or tenements and a malt house in the township of Buscot, seven cottages or tenements in Eaton Hastings, and the lock-keepers cottage at Buscot.  An estimated 3,500 people resided on the estate, mainly in the villages of Buscot and Eaton Hastings, at the time of purchase.  By even today’s standards this was a very large block of real estate.

    The sale documents show that there were five tenements at the Old Malt House, one of which was tenanted by Isaac Sellwood who was paying £1 12s 0d rent per year.  Isaac was an agricultural labourer working on the estate.  His son James, later to immigrate to New Zealand, was just nine years old at the time of the Campbell purchase.

    The Buscot Park residence itself was a stately two-storied manor built in a then popular Italian Palladian style.  It was built for Edward Loveden between 1779 and 1783, and consisted of many stately rooms, halls and stairways.

    After three generations in the Loveden family, the Buscot Estate was sold to Robert Campbell who then set about putting his own stamp on the home and estate.  He successfully converted a very run-down home and estate into one of the most industrialised and advanced farms in 19th century England.  He was no doubt building upon and applying his knowledge and practice of large-scale land development and farming methods in New South Wales, Australia.

    There is much that can be, and has been, written about Robert Tertius Campbell.  Although somewhat tangential to the Selwood story, a digested version here does provide an insight into the life and events that surrounded the Selwood family at Buscot, Berkshire.

    Robert Campbell brought to England large-scale farm ownership and business management.  In contrast in Queen Victoria’s England, almost 90% were relatively small-scale tenant farmers paying rent to non-farming landowners.  Owner-occupiers were to be found only on the smallest holdings.  Farming in England was very much a family enterprise that inextricably bound work and home and involved the whole family.

    Robert Campbell’s first move was to improve the draining of his estate and introduce an extensive irrigation scheme.  On the estate’s northern doorstep Campbell had the source of water for that – the Thames River.  His boundary included the Buscot lock and, a little further downstream, the flash lock at Hart’s Weir at Eaton Hastings.

    Campbell dredged the Thames below the Buscot lock to give deeper water at Old Hart’s Weir.  He installed two large water wheels and pumps on the Thames.  One wheel and pump was at Buscot lock, and remains there today.  It was 12 feet (3.6 metres) high and 16 feet (4.9 metres) wide and weighed over 25 tons (22.7 tonnes).  It had a pump-driving capacity equivalent to 21 horsepower (19 Kw).  The other water wheel was a twin-wheel pump at Old Hart’s Weir, which also included a re-designing of the flash lock at Eaton Hastings.

    At a reputed cost of £80,000 to £90,000, the Campbell irrigation scheme included an eight-hectare (20 acre) reservoir on the hillside to the west of the Estate manor.  In addition to the reservoir there were two landscaped artificial lakes fed from both natural sources and the irrigation system.

    The irrigation scheme was part of a grand innovative project to produce sugar beet and to convert this by distillation to alcohol.  This was a practically unknown science in England.  A large distillery was built at a reputed cost of £100,000 on the small island that contained the Buscot lock.  This island became known and is still known as Brandy Island.  The distillery was a massive building and opened in 1869.  Campbell exported his spirit to France at 2s 6d per gallon where it was used in brandy making.

    To supply the factory, about 10,000 to 12,000 tons of sugar beet were produced annually on the Buscot Estate. To carry this and other farm products to the distillery Campbell laid six miles (9 km) of narrow-gauge railway across the property to bring the crop to the factory.  The waste sugar beet pulp was carried by rail to cattle fattening sheds sited near the village itself.  This narrow 2’8” gauge railway had three 0-4-0 tank engines built by Appleby Brothers of Southwark, and were named after Campbell’s daughters:  Edith, Emily and Alice.

    At about the same time, the Faringdon Branch Railway of the Great Western Railroad, adjacent to the Buscot Estate, was opened on 1 June 1864 and Robert Campbell was an influential figure in this.

    The south-east terminus of the railway was at Oldfield Farm, where Campbell built a large corn mill driven by an impulse-type water turbine, fed from the nearby reservoir, which in turn was fed by the main irrigation reservoir.  The power from the turbine was put to good use and there were numerous power take-off points used for threshing and to drive other machinery.  The dairy was also at Oldfield, and this too was a highly organised commercial enterprise.  Milk was collected from local farms and dairy produce sent to London, via the Cheese Wharf on the River Thames, continuing an old estate tradition.

    Robert Campbell was certainly an innovator.  He put the by-products of his factories to good use.  Sugar-beet pulp was used for the intensive fattening of livestock.  The cattle were housed on slatted floors and their movement restricted for six weeks, while there was sufficient beet pulp for 12,000 sheep and 2,500 oxen per year.  Campbell probably also carried out breeding experiments to find the best breeds with the best conversion ratios.  He used Indian cattle as part of these experiments.

    With a light railway and a turbine-driven mill, it is obvious that only the very latest technologies had any place on Campbell’s estate.  The main field cultivations were carried out by one pair of 20 horsepower (hp) and two pairs of 30 hp Fowler ploughing engines, the 30 hp one being over twice the size of normal engines and the largest built at that time.  They pulled six-furrow ploughs and at times worked through the night by “lime light”.  Deep cultivations were also tried, and ploughing to the depth of 30 inches is recorded.  He also arranged that the water pumps could be driven by traction engines in times of drought.  Similarly, the Oldfield mill could be driven externally by traction engine should the turbine fail.  Traction engines were also widely used for estate duties.

    To complement the factory and to process the by-products, Campbell built on Brandy Island a mill for the manufacture of oil cake, a gas works, an artificial fertiliser works, and a vitriol works, using the by-products of the gas works.  Coprolite (fossilised dung) and night soil were also utilised as fertiliser at Buscot.

    A barn built by Campbell in about 1870 is arguably the oldest concrete structure in England.

    To run a business the size of the Buscot Estate with all its innovative practices, a high level of management and communication was required.  Robert Campbell introduced a telegraph system that covered the entire estate to communicate and share information with managers and staff.

    Concrete barn built abt 1870

    Campbell had a good reputation as an employer, instituting a nine-hour day and paying well.  He was also reputed to have tried a six-day week for his dairy cows, though whether this was motivated by religious zeal or to give both man and animal a shorter working week is not recorded.  The plan did not work!

    Robert Campbell quickly made a name for himself and his fame spread beyond the Upper Thames.  Many came seeking a job on the farm or in his factories.  He soon established his credentials with the powers that be for, within three years of purchasing Buscot, he was appointed in 1862 as “the High Sherriff of Berkshire”.  The High Sherriff is an antique Saxon appointment, initially serving as the King’s representative on taxation and upholding the law.  This is quite remarkable as Robert Campbell, an Australian, had only owned Buscot for just three years.

    But despite the innovation and the investment, Campbell ran into problems.  Most of the developments and innovations were financed through large mortgages.  His distillery had a skilled foreign workforce, which he lost soon after it opened, as they returned home to fight in the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War.  He had also drawn the attention of the gentlemen from Customs and Excise who wanted their quantum of tax.  Within ten years, Campbell had to close the distillery and sell it off to pay his debts.  There was a snowballing effect, and the pressures started to seriously affect his health.

    Then to add further to Campbell’s stress, there was a murder in mysterious circumstances that involved his eldest daughter, Florence.  It set the national press into a fever and has since generated many books, television programmes, and even an Agatha Christie whodunit!  Florence, born in 1845, married Charles Bravo in 1875.  In 1876 Bravo died of antimony poisoning and Florence was charged with his murder.  The court case that followed lasted five weeks and was apparently one of the most sensational of the Victorian period.  Revealed in the court was Florence’s illicit love affair with a prominent physician.  The jury were unable to agree on a verdict and Florence was released but was thereafter the subject of controversy.  She died of alcoholic poisoning on 21 September 1878 and was buried at Buscot’s St Mary’s Church at night in an unmarked grave.

    Daughter Florence Campbell Bravo

    When Robert Tertius Campbell died, on 15 October 1887, the estate was sold for £83,000 and this primarily paid off the mortgage.  However, an Australian newspaper reported that the late Mr Robert Campbell left a personal wealth of £617,000.  The estate was left to the four sons.  Robert Tertius Campbell is buried not at Buscot’s St Mary’s, but at nearby Eaton Hastings St Michaels and All Angels.

    In 1889 the Buscot estate was sold to Sir Alexander Henderson who later became the First Lord of Faringdon.  Buscot Park is now owned by the National Trust and is a protected heritage site.  The stately home and some of the land is leased back to the current Lord Faringdon.

    Robert Tertius Campbell helped give the Selwood family, and many others, positive future opportunities.  However, it was his son, Robert Campbell (junior) who was primarily instrumental in shaping the Selwood life in New Zealand.  But before we look at Robert Campbell junior’s contribution, we will briefly look at two Australian-based Robert Campbells who set the financial base and success for the Campbell family.  Yes, each was a Robert Campbell – one was the father of Robert Tertius and the other was his great-uncle and who could be fairly regarded as the patriarch, the founder of the Campbell dynasty.