The father of British Beekeeping Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey
In Mittelbiberach, Germany Karl Kehrle was born on the 03rd August 1898. Karl was a sickly child, when only twelve years of age his mother arranged for to travel to Devon, England to Buckfast Abbey to become a Benedictine Monk. When he arrived at the monastery, his birth name was changed and from that day forward, we knew him as Brother Adam.
Brother Adam was originally given tasks the same as the other monks, which after their studies of scriptures and intellectual study included working to maintain the ageing monasteries’ artefacts and stonework, cooking and washing in the kitchen, tending to the vegetable garden. Eventually, in 1915, when working in the Abbey’s apiary, Brother Adam found his calling when working with the bees. This started seventy-seven years of discovery and the breeding of the strain of bees we all know as Buckfast Bees.
Brother Adam was a geneticist who in his quest to breed the perfect bee kept meticulous records of his bees, easily being able to recall a Queen bees parentage, colouring, nature whether aggressive or social, egg laying, honey production and the ability to overwinter on the infamous Dartmoor fells.
This quest would bring admiration from beekeepers from all over the world who would make a pilgrimage each year to work for free so they could learn from Brother Adam. They took his methods back to their own countries, where they starting to raise Buckfast bees.
In 1950 Brother Adam travelled through Europe and continued his quest to raise the perfect honeybee by mating Queens from other known strains such as the Italian, Russian or Carnolian bees from Slovenia. Eventually Brother Adam was to go on Safari all over the world and would bring back Queens to raise new virgin Queens that he would mate with his best Buckfast Drones.
Between 1950 and 1984 Brother Adam visited the following countries. Algeria, Jordan, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Libya, Greece, Slovenia, Crete, the Ligurian Alps, the USA, Turkey, the Aegean Islands, Yugoslavia, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt. We also know that he visited East African nations such as Kenya and Tanzania around Mount Kilimanjaro.
His work achieved international recognition and on the 16th June 1973 he was awarded an OBE in recognition of his services to beekeeping. One year later on the 13th may they awarded him the Bundesverdienstkreuz, which is the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1987 they awarded him an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in Sweden, followed by another doctorate in 1989 from the University of Exeter.
Sadly, although frail but still sharp of mind at 94 after committing his life to beekeeping and his faith as a Benedictine Monk, the new Abbot David Charlesworth refuses to fund a key beekeeping research position at Buckfast Abbey that Brother Adam needed at such a frail age to continue his work.
Brother Adam was so hurt by this decision that he temporarily left Buckfast and returned to his birthplace of Mittelbiberach, where he spent time with his family who still live in the area. One can only imagine the hurt and deep contemplation of Brother Adam’s thoughts, but he remained true to his faith and return to Buckfast in the Autumn of 1993, where he lived in isolation from the other Monks.
1995 saw the end of Brother Adams’ involvement with his beloved bees when he was effectively retired. He moved out of the Abbey to a small house not to far away, where he sadly passed away on the 01st September 1996. They held his funeral service in a packed Abbey on the 07th September 1996 that paid tribute to oldest Benedictine Monk and the father of British and world beekeeping.