Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society
Upon his father’s death in 1751, Robert took full control of the Marsham estate. He married again and a second son was born in 1758. Thomas, who unfortunately died at the age of 14, shares a tomb with his parents just outside the Stratton Strawless church porch.
Robert’s interest in trees and methods to increase their productivity continued incessantly. He shared his findings with other interested gentlemen who were similarly occupied with planting their estates, although more typically for landscaping. His findings were published by the Royal Society and he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1780. He was particularly keen to show that trees were a good investment for a landowner, and equating their growth to a percentage annual financial return. Robert advocated that good timber was always an asset, and could be used for raising money for paying taxes if necessary.
He mixed with all the local gentry, including the Windhams, the Walpoles, and the wonderfully named Sir Harbord Harbord (later Lord Suffield) and he would often share jury service at the assizes with them. The assizes were an incredibly important part of the social calendar; missing them through ill-health was considered very unfortunate. Sentencing was harsh; the theft of a sheep could result in hanging; the theft of a silver spoon in a public flogging. There is some evidence for Marsham’s compassion in his letters, but equally for a distaste of the revolutionary clubs that formed after the French Revolution.
Much of what we know about Robert Marsham can only be gleaned from the letters he wrote in the last decades of his life. These provide glimpses of humour, and a love of family. The most famous of these letters were the correspondence between the 70 year old naturalist Gilbert White and the 80 year old Marsham. This exchange of views continued for 3 years ending shortly before White’s death in 1793.
In his old age Robert despaired of missing the assizes but was thankful for his family: “considering I have son & daughter, & 5 grandchildren that I love, & believe love me; I should be an absolute brute, if I was wretched”.
It must have been to the great chagrin of his wife that he never finished building the new Hall; he was much too preoccupied with trees, and it was left to his son to complete the building works.
Robert Marsham died in 1797 aged 89 – a tragic loss to his family and friends, Stratton Strawless, Norfolk, arboriculture and to Phenology.