RDS Silver Medal (1847) for Seed Potatoes


In 1845, Ireland experienced a potato blight which destroyed 40% of the Irish potatoes and the following year, virtually 100% of the crop was ruined. Irish farmers and farm labourers had to pay exorbitant rents and taxes, forcing them to export their most of their crops (corn, wheat, barley, and oats) to Britain, which left the potato as the sole dietary staple for the people and their animals.

Most Irish people remember the year 1847 as “Black ’47” since it was the worst year of the Great Irish famine in terms of famine, forced evictions, emigration, and death from hunger & disease. It is indeed ironic that the medal illustrated below is a prize for seed potatoes at the RDS Agricultural Show in 1847 – at the height of ‘the great hunger’ as it was known to the native Irish.

While other regions in Europe were able to turn to alternative food sources, the Irish were dependent on the potato and the results of the potato blight were disastrous.

It is not known exactly how many people died during the period of the famine, although it is believed that more died from diseases than from starvation

RDS Silver Medal:

1847 Agricultural Potatoes. Silver, 43.3mm, 37.0g. Royal Dublin Society - Hugh Barton Esq for Seedling Potatos from imported SEED in 1847

Silver Medal 1847: Agricultural Potatoes. 43.3mm, 37.0g. Royal Dublin Society – Hugh Barton Esq for Seedling Potatoes from imported seed in 1847 (the height of the Irish Potato famine)

Royal Dublin Society Medal, 1847. Agricultural: Potatoes. Silver, 43.3mm, 37.0g.

  • Obverse:
    • NOSTRI PLENA LABORIS Royal Dublin Society Instituted 1731
    • Minerva seated right, signed; Woodhouse.
  • Reverse:
    • To Hugh Barton Esq for Seedling Potatos from imported SEED in 1847
    • Initials WW under wreath bow.
  • Edge:
    • Exhibition of Farm Produce 1847

An Gorta Mór:

The Great Famine (Irish: an Gorta Mór) or the Great Hunger was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It is sometimes referred to, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine, because about two-fifths of the population was solely reliant on this cheap crop for a number of historical reasons.

  • During the famine, approximately one million people died
  • And, another million people (possibly 1,500,000) emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

The ultimate cause of famine was potato blight, which ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s. However, the impact in Ireland was disproportionate, as one third of the population was dependent on the potato for a range of ethnic, religious, political, social, and economic reasons, such as land acquisition/inheritance, absentee landlords, and the Corn Laws – all of which contributed to the disaster to varying degrees and remain the subject of intense historical debate.

The Famine statues, in Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, were presented to the City of Dublin in 1997

The poignant Famine statues, on Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, were presented to the City of Dublin in 1997. Their gaunt, elongated forms remind us of the condition that many were in before they boarded the famine ships bound for America

Emigration during the famine years of 1845–1850 was to England, Scotland, South Wales, North America, and Australia.


  • Of the more than 100,000 Irish that sailed to Canada in 1847, an estimated one out of five died from disease and malnutrition, including over 5,000 at Grosse Isle, Quebec, an island in the Saint Lawrence River used to quarantine ships near Quebec City.
  • Overcrowded, poorly maintained, and badly provisioned vessels, known as coffin ships, sailed from small, unregulated harbours in the West of Ireland in contravention of British safety requirements, and mortality rates were high


  • In America, most Irish became city-dwellers; with little money, many had to settle in the cities that the ships they came on landed in.
  • By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
  • In addition, Irish populations became prevalent in American mining communities.

The Barton Family:

The Barton family descended from Thomas Barton, a Protestant soldier from Lancashire who came to Ireland with the Earl of Essex’s army in 1599. Ten years later, Thomas was awarded an estate of 1,000 acres in Co Fermanagh for his services to the Crown.

  • His son Anthony was one of thousands of Protestant settlers murdered during a savage uprising by Ulster Catholics in October 1641.
  • Anthony’s widow, Margery, and their children were stripped of their clothing and abandoned without food on a snow-covered island in Lough Erne. Margery managed to keep the children alive by eating the hide of a dead calf.

During the reign of Charles II, her son William recouped the family fortunes and became a substantial landowner in Fermanagh and Donegal. In 1725, William’s grandson Tom Barton settled in Bordeaux and established himself as a wine merchant.

The business boomed over the ensuing decades; by 1785 the company was shipping 125,000 barrels of wine annually. Tom and his family lived at the Château Le Bosque in Saint-Estephe but he used his wealth to increase his land-holdings in Ireland, most notably with the purchase of the Everards’ estate at Grove in Co. Tipperary.

  • Tom’s only son William married Grace Massy, a daughter of the Dean of Limerick and sister of Sir Hugh Dillon Massy of Doonas, Co. Clare.
    • The couple had six sons and three daughters.
      • The eldest son Thomas succeeded to Grove and was Whig MP for Fethard during the 1798 Rebellion; his descendents founded the Tipperary Foxhounds and continued to reside at Grove until the death of Captain Charles Barton in 1955.
      • The third son, Charles, became a Lieutenant General in the British Army and was ancestor to Sir Sidney Barton, British Ambassador to Abyssinia (1929 – 1937) and Hugh David Barton, sometime Director of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank.
      • The youngest son Dunbar married Elizabeth Riall, heiress to the Rochestown estate; their grandson Sir Dunbar Plunket Barton was a prominent Judge and Senator of the National University of Ireland in the early 20th century.

Hugh Barton:

William and Grace’s fourth son, Hugh, was the most successful of the siblings. For reasons unclear, he succeeded to the family’s wine estates on the death of his grandfather in 1780. He was only fourteen at the time.

  • His inheritance coincided with the arrival in Parisian society of Thomas Jefferson, the mild-mannered Virginian diplomat who went on to become President of the USA.

Jefferson had a great fondness for Bordeaux wines generally and the Barton vines in particular. In 1794, the French Revolution entered its most violent phase, the Terror. Under foreign invasion, the French Government declared a state of emergency, and many foreigners residing in France were arrested.

  • Hugh was caught up in the French revolution and he was one of the foreign merchants arrested and imprisoned in 1793. He subsequently fled back to Ireland, leaving the wine business to be run by Daniel Guestier.
  • In 1802, Hugh returned to France and formed a partnership with Guestier.
  • The resultant “B&G” wine label has since become one of the most well-known French wine brands in the world.
  • The Barton family sold their interest in B&G in the 1950s although the family have retained Châteaux Leoville Barton and Langoa vineyards to this day.

In 1831, Hugh Barton purchased the Straffan estate in Co Kildare from the bankrupt Henry family. He commissioned Dublin architect Frederick Darley to build a new mansion, based on Madame Dubarry’s great château at Louveciennes.

The original Straffan House was built in 1832 by Hugh Barton of the world famous Barton and Guestier Wines. The house was based on a magnificent château at Louveciennes not far from Versailles. Distinctly French in style, it bears all the hallmarks of a magnificent and elegant country retreat.

The original Straffan House was built in 1832 by Hugh Barton of the world famous Barton and Guestier Wines. Distinctly French in style, it bears all the hallmarks of a magnificent and elegant country retreat. The house fell into disrepair but was restored in 2005 as the K-Club and a golf course was built in the extensive grounds.

  • The Straffan estate remained with the Barton family until 1949 when Derick Barton sold the house to John Ellis of Yorkshire.
  • By his Scottish wife Anna (née Johnston), Hugh had four sons and six daughters.
    • The eldest son Nathaniel succeeded to Straffan in 1854 and was great-grandfather to Derick Barton who sold the estate.
    • Derick’s son Anthony is the present head of the Straffan branch and currently manages the French vineyards.

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