Shaw, William (1797-1853) (DNB00)

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SHAW, WILLIAM (1797–1853), agricultural writer, eldest son of John Shaw of Bath, was born there in 1797. He spent two years (June 1813 to June 1815) at Wadham College, Oxford (Gardiner, Reg. ii. 261), and was admitted to the Inner Temple on 20 June 1828, being called to the bar on 22 Nov. 1833. He first came into public prominence in connection with his efforts towards the establishment of the Royal Agricultural Society (Martineau, Thirty Years' Peace, iv. 448, ed. 1878). He took a leading part in the preliminary work of forming this society, and at the inaugural meeting held on 9 May 1838 [see under Spencer, John Charles, third Earl Spencer] he was chosen the first secretary, a position which he resigned in the following year, when he was elected (7 Aug. 1839) a member of the council. He was at this time editor of the ‘Mark Lane Express’ and of the ‘Farmer's Magazine,’ and his pen was busy for many years in advocating agricultural reforms and improvements. In 1838 he started with his lifelong friend, Cuthbert William Johnson [q. v.], the ‘Farmers' Almanack and Calendar,’ which continued to be issued annually in their joint names, nothwithstanding Shaw's death in 1853, until 1872. In 1844 Shaw and Johnson brought out an English edition of Von Thaer's ‘Principles of Agriculture.’

Shaw was a great supporter of farmers' clubs, and a frequent speaker and reader of papers at them. The establishment of the (London) Farmers' Club in 1840 was greatly owing to his efforts, and he was honorary secretary from 1840 to 1843. He read before this body six papers on tenant right and two on agricultural statistics. He took up enthusiastically the then novel but soon burning question of tenant right. In 1849 Shaw, with Henry Corbet (who subsequently succeeded him as editor of the ‘Mark Lane Express’), published a digest of the evidence on tenant right given in the previous year before the famous committee of the House of Commons presided over by Philip Pusey [q. v.] This digest was very popular, and is still useful for reference; a second edition appeared in 1854. On 1 April 1850 Shaw was presented with a service of silver plate by the tenant farmers for his advocacy of their cause, when he was described by the chairman who made the presentation as ‘the Cobden of Agriculture’ (Farmer's Mag. 1850, xxi. 407). He was one of the chief founders of the Farmers' Insurance Company (established in 1840, and amalgamated in 1888 with the Alliance Insurance Company), of which he was managing director. He was managing director also of a less successful venture, the Farmers' and Graziers' Mutual Cattle Insurance Association, established 1844, which fell into difficulties in 1849.

Other financial ventures of his proved unsuccessful, and during the time of the railway mania he became pecuniarily embarrassed. In November 1852 he fled to Australia, where, some time in 1853, he died very miserably in the gold diggings far up the country, with only a few pence in his pocket. He was married, but lived apart from his wife. Shaw was of commanding presence and had fine features. There is a small portrait of him by Richard Ansdell (1842) in the rooms of the Royal Agricultural Society at 13 Hanover Square. This was reproduced in the engraving of the society subsequently published in 1843.

[Mark Lane Express and Farmer's Magazine, passim; Minute-Books of the Royal Agricultural Society; Journal of Farmers' Club, February 1877 and December 1892; private information.]

E. C.-e.