Friday 3 November 2017


Food for thought from Henry Hobhouse's Seeds of Wealth...
 If rubber had never been developed from a product harvested in the wild in South America to an industrialised plantation staple in the Far East, the whole history of the 20th century would have been completely different. There would have been 'very little motorisation, a few (probably only military) aircraft, and no electrified appliances in the home. The horse would still be king of the road, holidays would be taken at home, land travel would be by steam train, and most women would still be tied to a non-electric house and to daily shopping in an unrefrigerated, non-air-conditioned store, supplied in turn by horse-drawn transport.' Hobhouse continues, 'Historians are rightly contemptuous of  the might-have-been syndrome, but it is a reasonable device to use to point up the essential nature of a commodity.'
 Indeed. And the fact that rubber made it from South American jungle to Far Eastern plantation we owe to the vision of a civil servant called Clement Markham – the same man who had already succeeded in bringing the cinchona tree, the source of quinine, from the Andes to India as a plantation crop. But Markham's plan would likely not have succeeded but for the sheer luck of a Brazil-based chancer called Henry Wickham, who collected a large number of rubber-plant seeds that happened to be of a pest-free, disease-resistant strain, and managed to ship them out of the country under the noses of the authorities. By yet more luck, they stayed dry (water would have ruined them) and survived the journey to Kew (where the development work, so far unsuccessful, was being done) – and the rest is history.
 And here's a mind-boggling fact from Hobhouse's chapter on wine. A count of the yeasts and moulds present in a kilogram of grapes in a Californian vineyard discovered about 100,000 moulds, more than 100,000 'wine yeasts', and over 10,000,000 'other' yeasts. And each yeast would contain some 5,000 enzymes... There's nothing simple about wine – or history. 

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