William Duckitt, SV/PROG (1768 - 1825)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Esher, Surrey, England
Death: Died in Darling, WC, South Africa
Occupation: Farmer
Managed by: Lea Herbst
Last Updated:

About William Duckitt, SV/PROG

The Duckitt Expedition - Esher's Contribution to South African Agriculture

The tomb of William Duckitt (d. 1801) in St. George's Churchyard, Esher, also commemorates his son William who died at the Cape of Good Hope, "to which settlememt he was sent with a large establishment by George the Third to introduce his Father's system and implements of Agriculture."

William Duckitt senior was born on the Isle of Wight but as a youngster was employed by the Duke of Newcastle in the garden at Claremont, where he started his crop experiments and designed his first implements. He married Elizabeth Isles in Esher in 1763 and his second son was named William. The family moved to Weylands farm, then owned by Francis Pelham of Esher Place. The 17th Century farmhouse still survives across the River Mole from Wayneflete Tower. There William senior designed many agricultural implements, winning a silver cup for his drill plough, and many prominent farmers visited him, including George III - "Farmer George". The youngest son, John, became gamekeeper at Esher Place and later managed the Estate and model farm at Woburn for the 5th Duke of Bedford. John succeeded his father at the farm of Sandown.

In the meantime William junior was employed at the Treasurer-General's office in London, and had married Mary Whitbread. He was selected to introduce his father's modern farming methods to the Cape, three years after the British occupied it in 1796. The authorities realised that the Boer farming methods were outdated and would be unable to feed the increasing population of Cape Town, the British garrison and those in the many naval and merchant ships.

The story of his expedition is recorded in his journal, which has never left the Cape.

A well-armed ship, the Wellesley, was selected for the voyage but had to wait for a convoy as England was at war with France. Numerous other delays occurred, mainly because of the boorishness of the Captain. William wrote that he "refused to go further than the usual Rations allowed to troops which would by no means do for My Family....and no more sufficient for three months was sent". He overcame the problem by obtaining from the War Office an order granting full allowances and also arranged for a supply of meat from Alder, a well-established Esher butcher, at the cost of £15. 6s. 5d.

The Wellesley loaded off Gravesend, leaving on 3rd April 1800 with William's wife and two sons and a farming staff of ten, including Isaac Isles and five members of the Crowcher family, all from Esher. William, however, joined at Portsmouth, having travelled down alone from Esher by chaise for £4. 14s. 8d. Also on board were a Devon bull and two heifers from the Duke of Bedford's prize herd, hop plants, fruit trees and machinery designed by his father. The plan to take sheep was abandoned at the last minute as a bureaucrat remembered an Act of Parliament of 1788 which, to protect the English woolen industry, forbade the export of sheep.

Accompanied by East Indiamen and the Grand Fleet, the ship sailed to the Cape, surviving a skirmish with a French privateer. William wrote "Had a very favourable but long passage and thank God the most part of the crew enjoyed a state of good health. Eleven of the Lascars died after the action but not one of the Europeans during the whole passage. Captain Gordon was very unpleasant to all the passengers till after the action, when he thought proper to change his conduct." They landed at the Cape on 11th September 1800.

William's first experiments in horticulture were not a success, but having obtained a Meat Contract for both the Army and Naval personnel in 1801, he continued to farm at Klaver valley for many years. He had a blacksmith's shop for manufacturing ploughs to his father's design, organised a racing stud and introduced vines to the area - producing wine and brandy by 1818.

William died in 1825 and his wife in 1843, but his descendants still occupy fourteen farms north of Cape Town. They have a house in Darling named Esher and a Waylands farm on the outskirts. In the late 19th century William's grand-daughter Hildagonda, was responsible for introducing nemesia plants into Britain. She exported the nemesia seed to Sutton's Seed Merchants in England where they caused a sensation. She was also the instigator of the Christmas Chincherinchees flower export market from the Cape. Started by Hildagonda's brother over eighty years ago at the Waylands farm, the Wild Flower Fields are now an important tourist attraction. Along with the orchid export nursery across the road, the farm and its associated names from the Esher area are fascinating consequences of the experiments in Esher two hundred years ago.

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William Duckitt, SV/PROG's Timeline

1768
November 20, 1768
England
1768
England
1795
March 23, 1795
Age 27
UK
1796
1796
Age 28
1799
November 28, 1799
Age 31
England
1800
1800
Age 32
1808
April 25, 1808
Age 40
South Africa
1825
April 13, 1825
Age 57
Darling, WC, South Africa
1825
Age 57
South Africa
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