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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

James Anderson (1739-1808)

The Bee, or literary weekly intelligencer ; volume 10 1792

RCIN 1058666

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In the late 1780s George III began an experiment in an attempt to improve the quality of wool produced in Britain, and specifically to increase the length and quality of the fibres in wool ‘grown’ in the UK, so that it might equal the superior wool produced in Spain. To this end he acquired some Spanish Merino sheep and appointed Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, as his unofficial shepherd. In this 1792 edition of ‘The Bee’, the royal experiment is described. Already in 1790 sheep from the King’s flock (kept at both Windsor and Richmond) were being sold at public auctions. At one of the King’s auctions in 1804 a group of Merinos were acquired for export to Australia, where they were responsible for laying the foundations of fine wool production there.

'The Bee, or Literary Weekly Intelligencer' was a magazine written by James Anderson, a farmer as well as a prolific essayist. His article on the monarch’s involvement in a project to produce fine wool in Britain was accompanied by a drawing of a Merino ram ‘to satisfy the curiosity of the public’. He followed this with an extract from 'Annals of Agriculture' by Arthur Young, who describes being given a Merino ram by George III, whom he named Don. Young praises the King’s interest in agriculture as forward-thinking, and good for the country. Indeed, George III’s investigations provided crucial knowledge of sheep breeding and fine cloth manufacture to the first Australian colonists, and contributed significantly to the growth of the Commonwealth wool trade. Within 50 years fine wool production in Australia and other British colonies ended Britain’s dependence on European wool. Australia is still a major exporter of wool to the rest of the world.