Craig and Professor Munro

George Craig had a number of landowners as clients but it is those who lived at some distance from the Borders who naturally feature most often in his letter books. One of these was Dr Alexander Munro tertius (pictured), professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh. Munro lived at his house at Craiglockhart, near Edinburgh, but he owned an estate at Cockburn near Duns in Berwickshire. Craig acted as his factor from 1825.  

Munro is best remembered for his public dissection of the murderer William Burke in 1832. He was already well-known to his contemporaries, however, as the third and last of a dynasty of surgeons of the same name who had had a major impact on the teaching of medicine in Edinburgh.  

In his correspondence with Munro, Craig showed off his understanding of contemporary agriculture. As an experienced land agent, he was not slow in offering bold opinions about the best way to manage land or to engage the services of foresters, dyke builders and others in the improvement of it. Craig visited Craiglockhart to speak to Munro in person on occasion and Munro also visited Craig. Their correspondence, however, provides a flavour of their relationship and also some of the contemporary concerns which landowners faced at a time when farming, at all times a challenging occupation, was in the process of developing new and improved techniques. 

The letter transcribed in part below concerns Munro’s tenant, George Logan, whom Craig regarded as an able and knowledgeable farmer. He was also one of Craig’s correspondents, since Craig’s visits to Cockburn, although normally undertaken four times in the year, were not regular enough to dispense altogether with written correspondence.  The farm at Cockburn was involved both in arable crop production (using a rotation system of which Craig clearly approved) and sheep farming.  

During his visits to Cockburn, Craig engaged locals in conversation and sometimes reported on this to his client Munro. He seems to have made a deliberate effort to gather local intelligence, particularly about farming, commerce, politics and local administration. Local knowledge was an essential element in his professional life and he clearly worked hard to gain it in all the contexts in which he operated. 

As Munro was a new client, Craig had had no hand in negotiating or drafting the lease which the tenant Logan held. He was therefore free to make observations upon it, as he does in the letter reproduced below. His relationship with Logan eventually proved rather fractious and due to arrears of rent Craig removed him as a tenant in 1829, even though his lease was set to run until 1835. Logan moved to the north of England, but he could not escape Craig who employed local attorneys, Willoby & Home in Berwick, to pursue him for debt. This is another interesting example of Craig making use of attorneys based in England to pursue a debtor. 

Craig’s observations on farming are interesting. He himself owned some acres near Gordon and had long experience of dealing with tenant farmers and stockbreeders. The improvement which he proposed for Cockburn, to increase the number of cows in order to improve the yield of fertilizer, seems sensible and in other correspondence Craig championed the use of turnips as fodder. Much of his correspondence on agricultural matters dealt with enclosing land by the use of dykes, drainage and improvements in animal feed and crop rotation.  

Of the place names mentioned, Windshiel still exists but there is no trace of Oatliecleuch in Scotlandsplaces. The mention of Melrose Fair reflects the importance of these events locally and, particularly, for George Craig’s business. Many meetings and transactions were undertaken at the Borders fairs. Craig reported some of the business intelligence gained from these events back to his employers at the headquarters of the Leith Banking Company. 

George Craig to Dr Alexander Munro, 1 August 1825 (excerpt). 


I think Mr Logan a most active tenant, & one who will make the most of everything, & perhaps more than any farmer in Berwickshire, as far as his present system of management goes, which upon the whole is good, tho’ in some instances I think might be improved upon; but I am satisfied his whole capital is upon the farm, & that it is too high rented; & unless you agree to give him from 15 to 20 per cent reduction he will be unable to keep it & he did not hesitate to say as much altho’ it was for me to make it appear to him another thing to believe it; but the fact is I do believe it. 

Mr Logan has not had so promising a crop for some years – this because the best parts of the lands happen by rotation to be in white crop, in all about 300 acres three fourths of which will be oats the rest barley & wheat, & still after going over the fields they will not average 4 bolls an acre. The arable lands are managed under the 5 shift rotation vizt. oats – turnips & potatoes – oats or barley with grass seeds – Hay - & pasture which sometimes lies 2 years & even longer. Whether this is the rule laid down by the Lease I do not know, but it is as good a one as I know, & which I prefer to summer fallow & wheat for any part of the farm, the whole being light soil. 

The farm keeps 32 score of Cheviot sheep, which with the advantage of turnip & early grass should yield £8 a score. The dung I think too little done in, only six cows of their own & 4 or 5 of the hynds’ – were there double the number of cows kept a great deal more dung would be produced, of which the land would require an immense quantity. To correct this the greatest improvement I could propose would be two well watered grass parks, the nearer the onstead the better of about 20 acres each (to shift week about) which should always lie in grass which would keep 18 or 20 cows, & these to be taken into the byres from 10 o’clock forenoon till 5 o’clock afternoon every day from the 1st of May till the 1st of September only, would produce more dung than is bred on the farm at present the whole year in every instance I know of where this has been done its beneficial effects have been acknowledged & I have seen no place where would so well apply as at Cockburn which it completely wants – the only [only] old grass field they have being about 10 acres before the house 4 of which only is old grass. Mr Logan rears young cattle on the 2 year old fields, but had he plenty of dung to raise crops, he would find it his advantage to take grass parks from those who had them to let rather than pursue this plan which he does from necessity. At present he is paring & burning heath upon Oatliecleuch to make ashes in order to supply the place of dung.  

I found the different onsteads in good repair except Darlings mill where I understood a trade was carried on to the extent of no less than 50 bolls a week in oat & barley meal. With even the insufficient housing, Darling appears a man well fitted for his situation, & to deserve encouragement: but as he is only Mr Logan’s subtenant he cannot apply to you for any repairs. A Flour Mill & Granary would be a great improvement, & if this cannot be arranged among the parties during Mr Logan’s Lease it should be kept in view for the next one. 

The dykes upon the whole are in good repair, except the one around the large fir plantation which would require a man 10 days perhaps – but the hedges do not appear to get much dressing. The plan of your paying £10 a year along with Mr Logan for a man to keep them & your planting I think a bad one. If the two were properly done one man is hardly fit for them. The strips require much thinning, particularly along the Dunse & [He*n1] Road; & almost all the Scots fir should be taken out of them, & in some places even some of the young hard wood. An honest active man for a few years might I think be paid for the thinning of the whole. 

I have the got the plan of Cockburn & if I had those of Windshiel & Oatliecleuch I would desire one of Fyshe’s lads for a few shillings to lay them together upon a small scale & return you copies. I saw scrolls of them at Cockburn. I will be glad to see the tack one of these days. 

Mr Logan is to be at Melrose fair on the 12th inst.; so if you are inclined to accept of his bill payable at 3 or 4 months you can let me know. 

I am &c.