Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Nuts, Peat and Anthrax

Archive Services holds a number of unusual collections. For the past six months I have been cataloguing the collection of Robert H S Robertson. At first sight this appeared to be concerned with mainly with nuts and their by-products but it soon became clear the Robertson was an early pioneer of recycling and re-use of materials.

The collection is made up of magazine articles, research documents and correspondence. Robert H S Robertson was a fascinating man who gained an MA in geology, mineralogy and chemistry at Cambridge. After graduating, he spent several months mapping Dicksonland in Spitsbergen, and even has a glacier, Robertsonbreen, named after him.

In 1933 he was appointed chief chemist to the Fuller’s Earth Union Ltd in Surrey, where he worked for nine years and some of the records that are deposited with us relate to this time. He then went onto work as a consultant where he attracted respect for his research on clay minerals, became chairman of the British Clay Minerals group and was seen as the leading authority in this area.

Booklet about the Irish peat bog known as the Moving Bog

Robert H S Robertson was fascinated as to how biological science and industry could work together to create new processes and products and this is reflected in the many documents contained in the collection. With this interest in mind he set up the Resource Use Institute in 1969. The Institute was made up of friends working in similar fields as Robertson and was dedicated to the sustainable management of physical resources in particular peat. The company was based in Highland Perthshire, but with members who were widely scattered around the world and the business correspondence and files in the collection demonstrate this. There are a considerable number of records in the collection relating to Scottish and Irish peat production and land management.

Cohune nuts being shelled

Robertson also set up a company called Organic Products with American associates Bill McDow and Cary Winfrey. The company aimed to create new industries to produce organic products in particular the cohune nut-cracking project in South America. The company was concerned with putting the by-products of nuts to new uses. The collection contains correspondence relating to the Organic Products Company and its projects.

This remarkable collection contains documents which provide information for researchers working in many scientific disciplines. There is even some correspondence between Robertson and officials relating to Gruinard Island near Ullapool that was contaminated by anthrax. It is also a collection which demonstrates how scientists were beginning to search for renewable resources. We aim to have the collection fully catalogued soon and available for researchers.

Keren Guthrie, Senior Archives Assistant

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