Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Caird, James

CAIRD, Sir JAMES (1816–1892), agriculturist and author, was the third son of James Caird of Stranraer, Wigtownshire, a ‘writer’ and procurator fiscal for Wigtownshire, by Isabella McNeel, daughter of Archibald McNeel of Stranraer. He was born at Stranraer in June 1816, and received his earliest education at the burgh school. Thence he was removed to the high school at Edinburgh, where he remained until he entered the university. After studying at the university for about a year he left without taking a degree, and went to learn practical farming in Northumberland. His stay in Northumberland was terminated after about twelve months by an offer to him of the management of a farm near Stranraer, belonging to his uncle, Alexander McNeel. In 1841 he took a farm called Baldoon, on Lord Galloway's estate near Wigtown, a tenancy he retained until 1860. He first attracted public notice in connection with the controversy between free trade and protection which continued after the repeal of the corn laws. An ardent free trader, he published in 1849 a treatise on ‘High Farming as the best Substitute for Protection.’ The support of a practical farmer with a literary style was of the highest service to the supporters of free trade, and the work speedily ran through eight editions. It introduced Caird to the notice of Peel, who commissioned him in the autumn of the same year to visit the south and west of Ireland, then but slowly recovering from the famine of 1846, and to report to the government. His report was subsequently enlarged into a volume, and published in 1850 under the title of ‘The Plantation Scheme, or the West of Ireland as a Field for Investment.’ The sanguine view which he took of the agricultural resources of the country led to the investment of large sums of English capital in Irish land. In the beginning of 1850 the complaints by English landlords and farmers of the distressed state of agriculture since the adoption of free trade caused the ‘Times’ newspaper to organise a systematic inquiry. This was encouraged by Peel in a letter to Caird (6 Jan. 1850), who had been nominated the ‘Times’ principal commissioner. His associate was the late J. C. MacDonald, one of the staff of the paper, who, however, co-operated only during the earlier portion of the work. Caird's letters to the 'Times,' dated throughout 1850, furnish the first general review of English agriculture since those addressed by Arthur Young and others to the board of agriculture at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. They were republished in 1852 in a volume entitled 'English Agriculture in 1850-1851.' The work was again published in the United States, and was translated into French, German, and Swedish. At the general election of 1852 Caird contested the Wigtown Burghs, which included Stranraer, as a liberal conservative. He was defeated (16 July) by the sitting liberal member by one vote. He was returned (28 March) for the borough of Dartmouth at the general election of 1857, as a 'general supporter of Lord Palmerston, strongly in favour of the policy of non-intervention in continental wars,' a somewhat incongruous profession of faith. His dislike of intervention in foreign affairs led him to oppose the government conspiracy bill, generally believed to have been introduced at the instigation of the French emperor. To his attitude on this question he frequently referred with satisaction in after life. His first speech (21 July 1857) was upon his motion for leave to bring in a bill to provide for the collection of agricultural statistics in England and Wales. It was not until 1864 (7 June), 'after years of fruitless endeavour,' that he succeeded in carrying this measure, extended to Great Britain, by way of resolution, in spite of the opposition of Lord Palmerston. He also obtained a vote in the session of 1865 of 10,000l. for carrying the resolution into effect. The returns were first published in 1866.

While his opposition to the conspiracy bill estranged his Palmerstonian supporters, he alienated the conservative section of his constituents by moving for leave to bring in a bill to assimilate the county franchise of Scotland to that of England, a measure which, by enlarging the Scottish county constituencies, was intended, as Caird avowed, to diminish the influence of the landowners. The motion was defeated (6 May 1858).

At the close of the session of 1858 (4 Sept.) Caird set sail from Liverpool for America. From New York he proceeded to Montreal. Thence he made a tour through the west of Canada, and, returning to the United States, visited Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland. He returned to England before the end of the year, and in 1859 published the notes of his journey in a volume entitled 'Prairie Farming in America, with Notes by the Way on Canada and the United States.' His observations on Canada provoked some resentment in that colony and gave rise to a pamphlet, published at Toronto, 'Caird's Slanders on Canada answered and refuted' (1859).

On the opening of the parliamentary session of 1859 Caird declared himself in opposition to the conservative government's bill for parliamentary reform. He thereby again offended the conservative section of his constituents, and at the dissolution (23 April) deemed it imprudent to offer himself for re-election at Dartmouth. He accordingly stood for the Stirling Burghs and was returned unopposed (29 April). On this occasion he vindicated his political conduct as that of 'a consistent Liberal.' He claimed support as having endeavoured in parliament to promote measures for reducing the expenses of land transfer (speech of 3 June 1858), and for the more economical administration of the department of woods and forests (speech of 22 June 1857). He continued active in parliament, chiefly on questions connected with agriculture. Having, during the session of 1860, taken a prominent part in parliamentary debates on the national fisheries, he was nominated a member of the fishery board. In the same year he bought the estate of Cassencary in Kirkcudbrightshire, which he afterwards made his home, relinquishing his tenancy of Baldoon. In June 1863 Caird was nominated on a royal commission to inquire into the condition of the sea fisheries of the United Kingdom [see Huxley, Thomas Henry, Suppl.], and was made chairman. During 1863, 1864, and 1865 he visited for the purposes of the commission eighty-six of the more important fishing ports of the United Kingdom. The commissioners reported in 1866, and their report has mainly governed subsequent legislation on sea fisheries.

After the outbreak of the civil war in the United States in 1861 the growing scarcity of cotton led Caird to interest himself in the extension of the sources of supply. On 3 July 1863 he moved in the House of Commons for a select committee 'to inquire whether any further measures can be taken, within the legitimate functions of the Indian government, for increasing the supply of cotton from that country.' The motion was supported by John Bright [q. v. Suppl.] and Cobden, and from this time Bright maintained a constant friendship with Caird. The government, however, resolved upon a policy of laissez-faire. Caird, therefore, during the recess visited Algeria, Italy, and Sicily, with a view to ascertain their capabilities for growing cotton. After his return he resumed his parliamentary activity, constantly speaking on subjects connected with agriculture and occasionally on India and Ireland, but abstaining from debates on foreign policy. In June 1865 he was appointed enclosure commissioner and vacated his seat in parliament. This office he held until the constitution of the land commission in 1882, of which he then became senior member. He published in 1868 'Our Daily Food, its Price and Sources of Supply,' being a republication of papers read before the Statistical Society in 1868 and 1869. The book passed through two editions. In the following year he revisited Ireland. The outcome of this tour was a pamphlet on 'The Irish Land Question' (1869). He was created C.B. in 1869. His exertions upon the sea fisheries commission and his eminence as an agriculturist and statistician procured his election as a fellow of the Royal Society on 3 June 1875.

As president of the economic section of the social science congress held at Aberdeen in 1877, he delivered an address published in the Statistical Society's 'Journal' for December of that year on 'Food Supply and the Land Question.' After the great Indian famine of 1876-7 Caird was appointed by Lord Salisbury, then secretary of state for India, to serve on the commission instructed to make an exhaustive inquiry into the causes and circumstances of that calamity. He was specially marked out for the post as well by his interest in the agricultural resources of India while in parliament as by a recent work, 'The Landed Interest and the Supply of Food,' published in 1878. This work was 'prepared at the request of the president and council of the Royal Agricultural Society of England for the information of European agriculturists at the international agricultural congress' held at Paris in that year. It was translated into French and published in Paris, as also in the 'Journal' of the Royal Agricultural Society, and towards the close of 1878 as a separate volume. As famine commissioner he left England 10 Oct. 1878 and returned in the early summer of 1879, after having travelled over all parts of the country. A narrative of his experiences and observations was published in four successive parts in the 'Nineteenth Century' review of the same year. It was reprinted in an extended form in 1883, and during that year and 1884 passed through three editions under the title of 'India, the Land and the People.' In 1880 Caird became president of the Statistical Society, delivering his inaugural address on English and American food production on 16 Nov. (Statistical Society's Journal, xliii. 559). He was re-elected president for 1881, when he took for his subject 'The English Land Question' (15.Nov.) (ib. xliv. 629). This was reprinted in the same year as a pamphlet with the title 'The British Land Question,' and had a wide circulation. In 1882 he was created K.C.B. In 1884 (17 April) the university of Edinburgh, on the occasion of its tercentenary conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D. He was nominated by Lord Salisbury in 1886 a member of Earl Cowper's commission to inquire into the agricultural condition of Ireland. On the formation of the board of agriculture in 1889 Caird was appointed director of the land department and was elevated to the rank of privy councillor. He retired from the board in December 1891.

Caird had in 1887 contributed to a composite work entitled 'The Reign of Queen Victoria,' edited by Mr. T. H. Ward, a review of English agriculture since 1837. On the attainment of its jubilee by the Royal Agricultural Society of England in 1890, he revised this essay and published the revision in the society's 'Journal' for that year. His last communication to the society was 'On the Cost of Wheat Growing' (Journal, 1891). He died suddenly of syncope at Queen's Gate Gardens, London, on 9 Feb. 1892.

Sir James Caird was a J.P. for Kirkcudbrightshire, and D.L. and J.P. for Wigtownshire. He married, first, Margaret, daughter of Captain Henryson, R.E.; secondly, Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Dudgeon of Cleveland Square, London. He had issue, by his first wife only, four sons and four daughters, of whom three sons and two daughters survived him. Although during the latter years of his life necessarily resident for the most part in London, he continued to take a keen interest in practical agriculture. He introduced the system of Cheddar cheese-making into the south-west of Scotland with great success. At his own expense he furnished a water supply to Creetown, a village adjacent to his estate. His society and advice were sought by the leading agriculturists of the kingdom.

There is a portrait in oils at Cassencary by Tweedie, painted about 1876. A photogravure hangs in the Reform Club, London.

[Private information; Times, 11 Feb. 1892; Galloway Gazette, 11 Feb. 1892; Edinburgh Univ. Tercentenary, 1884, p. 73; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, 1857–65.]

I. S. L.