In this blog I examine the influences upon beekeepers to restock their apiaries honeybees at the time of the Isle of Wight disease.
Mr Woodley and Restocking
Let’s first look at Mr Woodley’s experiences, he writes in 1917:-
“I, as a scourged member of the craft, am not chastened by being wiped out [by the “Isle of Wight” Disease], or nearly so, twice…I set about repairing the damage at the outset with some success; in fact, by using formalin and Lysol in equal proportions spread on strips of thin board and pushed in at the entrances twice weekly of many of my hives, the first spring of the outbreak of “Isle of Wight” disease I preserved every stock so treated, and I quite thought I had got a remedy, and had a good take of honey from these hives, but the following winter and spring I lost most of them. Then I bought new swarms, both English and Dutch. Both strains were hived in disinfected hives, boiled frames, new foundations. Again using most of the advertised remedies, I had a fair take of honey.”1
By 1917 the Isle of Wight Disease had ravaged Britain’s honeybee population. It was also a time when Britain was fighting the First World War and suffering large numbers of casualties. Many bee-keepers were blaming Mr Woodley for the Isle of Wight Disease:-
This had never any right to be, and I am satisfied we should not be in the position we are today had it not been for Mr. Woodley and a few of his friends; while our true friends of the B.B.K.A. were trying to get a Bee Diseases Bill passed, a few of these gentlemen of knowledge were giving their time and money and visiting the Board of Agriculture trying to defeat this Bill.
– J. Pearman, Derby. (1)
The opponents of legislation were in the minority, but they were better organised, and by the exercise of some occult influence they were able, as Mr. Woodley claims with the arrogant assumption of the possession of a monopoly of the knowledge of bee-keeping, to thwart a measure which, would have been of inestimable value not only to bee-keepers but to the community at large. Mr. Woodley and his clique are quite welcome to all the credit they claim for having inflicted what is in reality a serious injury upon the bee-keeping industry, and the stigma attaches to them of having been the means of allowing “Isle of Wight” disease to run its course unchecked for an additional four years, thereby reducing the number of bees and the output of English honey to such scanty dimensions that £187,000 worth of foreign honey had to be imported in 1916 to make good the deficiency.
– George E. H. Pratt, Sheinton, Salop.(2)
I should like to say how heartily I agree with Mr. Pratt  for his chiding Mr. Woodley in his article “Notes by the Way,” for it is very apt to give the impression to the uninitiated that legislation is not so urgently needed as most of us think, and I must add that the standpoint taken by Mr. Woodley seems hardly in accordance with his profession. What would he say if he heard of a case of anthrax in which the owner of the infected animals absolutely refused to take any precautionary measures as laid down by law? Especially if he had close neighbours keeping cattle. If we have legislation for cattle breeders — why not for bee-keepers? As all able bee-keepers are aware, it is not the bee-keeper proper for whom we require this legislation, but to bring those careless or ignorant, obstinate or indifferent…into proper line, and compel them to reduce the danger of infection by doing away with their “died out” skeps and old box hives. “Old Dick Welch” would have to take up that rotten old skep, and so save Mr. Woodley much needless expense in the way of outlay for disinfectants and medicines for his own bees, by way of precautionary measures, to say nothing of time and labour.
Honeybees are reputed to be the messengers of the Gods. On the death of their bee-master (beekeeper) the honeybees must be told. It is thought that the honeybees on being told of their master’s death, would fly to the spirit-lands and tell them of his impending arrival. Mr Woodley explains this tradition:
“On the death of the owner each hive was adorned with a bit of crape, and notified of its loss by some member of the family tapping it while repeating the words,
“Wake, little brownies, wake. Your master’s dead another you must take.” [British Bee Journal 1907]
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