Natural knowledge, sea power and the decline of hemp cultivation in early modern England
Mattingly, N 2012, 'Natural knowledge, sea power and the decline of hemp cultivation in early modern England', History Australia-Journal of the Australian Historical Association, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 111-134.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the British state encountered a crisis in the supply of naval raw materials, which led to the transplantation of hemp in the peripheries of empire. This article investigates the problem from a longer-term perspective to explore the social and economic causes of the decline of hemp cultivation in early modern England. Using evidence drawn from the representations of poets, politicians and natural philosophers, I reconstruct the significance of the plant and practices surrounding it during a period when the acquisition of knowledge on land was connected to the pursuit of power by sea. My findings intersect local, national and imperial histories in the fields of agriculture and science. Hemp cultivation became associated with an ideology of agrarian improvement and was promoted as a means to enhance national and social security. Nevertheless, the practice could not be revived in Britain itself. I argue that this issue would have profound consequences upon the conceptual development of a modern world-economy.