Born on 30th of March 1674
Died on 21st of February 1741
If ever there was a man in advance of his time it was agricultural innovator Jethro Tull.
Born in March 1674 into a family of gentlemen farmers in the Berkshire village of Basildon, Jethro Tull studied at St John’s College in Oxford, but did not graduate. He did, however, study to be a barrister and was called to the bar in May 1699, eventually becoming a Grey’s Inn bencher in 1724.
Throughout his life Tull suffered repeated bouts of ill health, not improved by his never ending financial struggles in spite of being gifted a family farming property by his father. This was the somewhat ironically named Prosperous Farm near Shalbourne. Tull married and had five children, his growing household adding to his money worries.
Failing health twice forced Tull abroad to seek a more beneficial climate, and while travelling he meticulously studied local agriculture.
The great breakthrough Tull made (though it was not accepted for some time by his contemporaries) was the seed drill. This may not have been a true first, but his design – supposedly inspired by something he had seen in French viticulture, with a mechanism sparked by comparison with a church organ of all things – was simple and effective, a hopper feeding seed onto a rotating grooved cylinder, then dropped to the earth via a funnel. It could seed three rows at once, and because it had a harrow behind to cover the seed it wasted little compared to hand sowing. Personally it did him little good, however, as his farm-labourers, concerned for their jobs, constantly managed to sabotage or mis-use the machine.
His personal struggle was made worse by his friends persuading him to publish at great expense his (no pun intended) ground-breaking 1731 work The New Horse-Houghing Husbandry, explaining the superiority of horses over oxen for field work, and the benefits of sowing in rows and careful hoeing (obvious now but not grasped then). He died still little recognised, and unrewarded by his country, on February 21 1741.
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