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Fisher Life in the 1890s

Fishers as a class may be said to wear more clothing than ordinary people.The men always wear flannel next to the skin, above that, one, two or three ordinary cotton shirts, and then the distinctive garment of the fisherman - the surcoat. This is a shirt which opens all the way down the front. It is made of coarse blue serge. On the legs they wear thick flannel drawers - one or more pairs, according to their thickness, or the season of the year. Their trousers are of heavy blue cloth. At sea they wear long waterproof leather boots which reach the hips and their costume is completed by a double breasted waistcoat with sleeves, of similar material to the trousers. They always discard this garment when at work on the oars, or the lines, but resume it again when sailing. One or two of the old men still adhere to the fashion of their youth, and instead of flannel drawers wear tailor-made knee
breeches of blue cloth. In warm weather one sees them going about the village in this picturesque attire, having left off their trousers.
The women wear a white cotton chemise next to the skin, stays, two or more jackets of cloth, a knitted jacket, and a small shawl around their neck and shoulders. In cold weather they add another shawl which they wear round the head. Only a few of the older women wear the white caps or "mutches". None of them wear drawers of any kind, but always a white flannel petticoat, above which they wear two or three skirts of heavy blue serge. The top one is generally "kilted", a custom peculiar to fisherwomen. The children are clad in much the same way as their parents.
During about five months of the year, (at the Banks and the Herring Fishing), the men live chiefly on tea, loaf-bread and oatcakes. They usually come home at each week-end and are then better cared for. During the rest of the year they consume large quantities of small fish and potatoes, and a certain amount of butcher meat and farinaceous foods. Many drink cocoa and coffee as well as tea.
In the matter of alcohol, they are not a very abstemious race. When money is plentiful and often when it is not, the women (being the purse-bearers), bring home a pint of rum or whisky, once or twice a week. Some of the men and one or two of the women, seldom come home from the town sober. There is also a shop in the village where porter and ale may be had, and especially of a Saturday night the trade is very brisk.

Fisher children are by no means behind ordinary country children in point of intelligence, while their facilities for home study are not so good. The evening is usually the busiest time in fisher houses - cleaning and baiting the lines - and the children are called upon to lend a helping hand. Yet the results of examination shows that the fisher children make quite as good an appearance as the other scholars. At present there are four lads, who so far as far as theory is concerned, are quite able to pass the Board of Trade examination for Second Mate.
The inhabitants of Portlethen village are of quite a superior physique. Most of the women are decidedly above the average height, while no less than seventeen of the men are 6 ft. and over, one man being 6 ft 6 ins. They are decidedly well developed and possess splendid constitutions; One would
expect this from the nature of their calling. The women have, as a rule, very roomy pelves, this being due no doubt partly to heredity and partly to the fact that they are accustomed to carrying from early girlhood onwards, heavy burdens in their creels, which rest on the sacrum. They carry the fish from the harbour to the houses (up a very steep hill) and from the village to the railway station - nearly a mile. Many of them carry a year's supply of peats home from the moss in their creels. It is no uncommon thing for a young girl to carry a creel one and a half cwts. in weight, or more. The fact remains that their confinements are usually easy, instrumental aid being seldom required.

 




The inhabitants of Portlethen village are of quite a superior physique. Most of the women are decidedly above the average height, while no less than seventeen of the men are 6 ft. and over, one man being 6 ft 6 ins. They are decidedly well developed and possess splendid constitutions; One would
expect this from the nature of their calling. The women have, as a rule, very roomy pelves, this being due no doubt partly to heredity and partly to the fact that they are accustomed to carrying from early girlhood onwards, heavy burdens in their creels, which rest on the sacrum. They carry the fish from the harbour to the houses (up a very steep hill) and from the village to the railway station - nearly a mile. Many of them carry a year's supply of peats home from the moss in their creels. It is no uncommon thing for a young girl to carry a creel one and a half cwts. in weight, or more. The fact remains that their confinements are usually easy, instrumental aid being seldom required.
Most of the young men marry between the ages of 22 and 25, their wives being usually one or more years younger. There is one bachelor over 70 years of age, all others being under 30, and not likely to remain long unmarried. But there are a number of unmarried women of more than 30 years of age. Ante-nuptial cohabitation is almost invariable, and about half of the wedded couples begin married life with one, two and (very occasionally) three children. But such a thing as loose immorality is unknown in the village, the father and mother always marry sooner or later. There is only one inhabitant of over five years of age whose parents were unmarried and this was owing to the father being drowned at sea. Thus it will be seen that morality is at a much higher level than in either town or country. Perhaps the explanation lies to a certain extent in the fact that children are more or less a source of gain to a fisher. The sons go to sea with their father, allowing him to take a larger share in a boat, and consequently to get a larger share of fish, while the daughters help to clean and sell them. Neither sons nor daughters are paid for their services. Many of the younger married couples have to employ a servant to help them. The first child is frequently born to parents who are both under 20 years of age. In spite of this, the families are not large and last census the number of inmates per house averages only five. A family of seven or eight is considered a big one.
Marriage between cousins is a custom which has been handed down from father to son. There are no less than nine first cousins married to each other, while one couple are first cousins on both sides - that is, the woman's father is the man's uncle and the man's mother is the woman's aunt. This represents almost one fifth of the married couples. Many have the idea that it is not a fair or proper thing to get a wife elsewhere while a cousin remains unmarried. This custom of intermarriage has gone on for ages, and as there are no importations of men (every man in the village was born in it), the only new blood that enters the community is when a man takes a wife from another fishing village. This is sometimes done, but by far the greater number marry natives of the village. Thus it will readily be understood that the majority of the inhabitants are blood relations to each other. Here we have to deal with a small population in which we find one or two curious anomalies. First of all there is the marriage of cousins, which has always been very common and is borne out by the fact that at present almost one fifth of the married couples are cousins. Yet in a case in which the supposed evil effects of inter-marriage ought to be intensified by the insanitary condition of the village, there is found a population with an abnormally low death-rate, exceptionally well developed physique, a high average of duration of life and a remarkable freedom from constitutional diseases of any kind. Against the sanitary disadvantages have been placed the advantages of situation, mode of life, and meteorological conditions. Those two sets of forces thus neutralizing each other, we have a case in which extensive inter-marriage is un-accompanied by any of the evil effects with which it is usually credited.