Webb, Jonas (DNB00)

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WEBB, JONAS (1796–1862), of Babraham, stock-breeder, was born on 10 Nov. 1796 at Great Thurlow in Suffolk. He was second son of Samuel Webb, who afterwards removed to Streetly Hall, West Wickham, in Cambridgeshire. He began business as a farmer at Babraham in Cambridgeshire in 1822. As the result of a series of experiments conducted by himself and his father, he rejected the native Norfolk breed of sheep and specially devoted himself to the breeding of Southdowns, which were then little known in his district. He first of all purchased ‘the best bred sheep that could be obtained from the principal breeders in Sussex,’ and then, by a vigorous system of judicious and careful selection, he produced a permanent type in accordance with his own ideas of perfection. He began his career as an exhibitor at the second country meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, held at Cambridge in 1840, when he received two prizes for his Southdown ewes. This success was followed up at practically every subsequent annual meeting at which he exhibited, until at Canterbury in 1860 he took all the six prizes offered by the society for rams, and sold the first prize ram ‘Canterbury’ for 250 guineas. He was also a constant prize-winner at other shows. In several instances, however, these successes were bought dearly, as his ewes and aged rams were rendered useless by over-fattening. The result was that he resolved to exhibit for the future only young rams. He had great success with his Shearling rams exhibited at the French International Exhibition in 1855, for which he received a gold medal of the first class. The Emperor of the French congratulated him on his success, and admired the beauty of the rams he exhibited. Webb presented him with the choicest specimen, receiving some time afterwards in return ‘a candelabrum of massive silver with appropriate devices.’

In the course of the last two years of Webb's life the Babraham flocks were all dispersed, 969 sheep being sold by auction in June 1862 for 10,926l. He, however, bred cattle with success to the last. His herd of shorthorns, begun in 1838, and recruited by purchase from the celebrated herds of Lord Spencer and Lord Ducie, was mentioned by Mons. Tréhonnais in 1859 as the most important shorthorn herd then existing, and one which had perhaps only been surpassed in beauty and perfection by those of Booth and Towneley. At the Royal Agricultural Society's show held at Battersea in 1862, immediately after the dispersion of his flock of Southdowns, Webb's shorthorn bull calf ‘First Fruit’ gained the gold medal as ‘the best male animal in the shorthorn class’ (for a portrait of this bull see Farmers' Magazine, December 1862.)

Webb died at Cambridge on 10 Nov. 1862 (his birthday) quite suddenly, his end being accelerated by the death only five days before of his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached. He was buried at Babraham on the 14th. He was one of nine children, left nine children himself, and his eldest son, Henry Webb of Streetly, has also had nine children. ‘His honour and scrupulous good faith,’ says the famous French agriculturist M. Tréhonnais, ‘his generosity and uniform affability gained him the respect of everybody.’ Elihu Burritt, in his ‘Walk from London to John-o'Groats,’ gives an interesting description of Webb's life and work. A full-length statue of Webb, erected by public subscription, stands in the corn exchange at Cambridge.

[Farmers' Mag. 2nd ser. xi. 195–7 (March 1845), 3rd ser. xxii. 5–9, 464–6 (July–December 1862), containing a notice which also appeared in the Mark Lane Express, 17 Nov. 1862; Illustrated London News, 1862 (portrait and memoir); Journal of the Royal Agricultural Soc. of England (1846) 1st ser. vii. 60, (1847) viii. 8, (1856) xvii. 37, (1858) xix. 381–2; Ann. Register, 1862, p. 793; Journal of Agriculture, 1863, pp. 202–3, 447–8; Robiou de la Tréhonnais's Revue Agricole de l'Angleterre, 1859, i. 104–10, a biographical sketch with a portrait; Comte Gerard de Gourcy's Second Voyage Agricole en Angleterre, 1847, p. 25, Quatrième Voyage, 1859.]

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