The New Statistical
Account of Scotland (1845)
Volume XII – Aberdeen
Fisheries.—It is probable that
there have been fishers settled at the mouth of the Dee, both in Futtie
and at Torrie, (on the south side) ever since Aberdeen became a town of
any noticeable magnitude. The fishers who now inhabit these villages are,
like those along most of the east coast of Scotland, evidently of a race
distinct from the other inhabitants, and from their aspect, features,
and other circumstances, it seems probable that they have come from the
opposite coasts of Denmark and Sweden.
They occupy a village consisting of two squares of houses, which were
erected by the town some twenty years ago, at the south-east extremity
of the parish, and immediately adjacent to the entrance of the harbour.
Each house consists of a but and a ben, with occasionally a small apartment
between. The magistrates designed to have made the houses of two stories,
but the fishers refused to live up stairs, and they also refused to have
any other than an earthen floor in their houses. In both of these, though
there may have been some superstition and a good deal of prejudice, there
was also some reason,—for it would have been next to impossible
for them to have kept a wooden floor clean, while an earthen one, if not
clean, at any rate does not show the dirt so much, and it would have been
very inconvenient for them to lug their long lines and their heavy baskets
up stairs. On the whole, their houses are, generally speaking, as clean
and comfortable as the nature of their occupation will admit of.
From the circumstance of most of these fishers being
employed as pilots, and from their immediate connection with the harbour,
and constant intercourse with the inhabitants of Aberdeen, there is in
them a greater degree of civilization than is observable in most of the
other fishing communities. At the same time, their double employment as
fishers and pilots is by no means favourable to their religious, moral,
and domestic habits.
The unavoidable want of regularity in their hours, the general practice
of giving allowances in drink for any particular service, and their custom
of dividing the pilotage money among the boat's crews generally on Saturday
evening, all tend to lead them to the public house, where sometimes a
large portion of their earnings is spent. Yet drunkenness, though prevalent
among them, is by no means universal, and the number of exceptions seems
to be increasing of late.
A fisherman who is a pilot will earn as much as £ 1, 10s. or even
£ 2 per week during summer, but not half so much during winter.
On an average, however, they can make fully as much as any other labourers
in the same class of society, and of this money the husband has the possession
and command, while the wife retains possession of all the money arising
from the sale of fish. It is not often that either party manages these
gains to the best advantage.
The fishers are a hard-working people and extremely honest, and they deem
it the greatest possible reproach to cast a doubt on their honesty, which
they are the more easily enabled to maintain unimpeachable, because all
their bargains and transactions are for ready money.
They seldom marry with persons not of their own community,
except in a few instances where the daughters of fishers have married
with seamen and ship-carpenters. This may arise not so much from any dislike
to form connections out of their own craft, as from the fact that, on
the one hand, a fisherman would find a woman of any other class wholly
incapable of giving him any assistance in this occupation, and unable
to perform the hard work devolving on the fisherwomen; and, on the other
hand, a fisher-woman, from the irregularity of her occupation, and want
of leisure and opportunity to attend to her daughters, unless when they
follow her in her fishing employments, cannot educate them so as to be
useful wives to persons of any other class.
A free school was established some years ago by Mr John Davidson, goldsmith,
exclusively for the white-fishers, and it has been the means of doing
a great deal of good among them. It is taught on the plan of the sessional
school, and its effects are manifest in the decided and progressive improvement
of the manners and habits of the fishers. The children who attend the
school re-act on their parents, and, as it were, shame them out of their
indifference to useful knowledge and habits.
The fishers are, generally speaking, a long-lived people and very healthy,
and, notwithstanding the dangerous nature of their occupation, there are
few accidents of serious consequence among them.
Like most other fishermen, they have a good many superstitious ideas and
practices, and they have implicit faith in many traditions, and in various
omens. Thus they reckon it very offensive for any one to count a boat's
crew, or a company of them returning from market, and it is not less so
to tell how many fish they have caught. If a fisher be turned back when
he is going out to fish, he will on no account go out that day, and is
very much provoked. Often, too, things, which any one but they would esteem
mere trifles, cannot be spoken of without interfering with some omen,
whose influence they would hold it sinful to doubt.
It is at the same time to be noticed, that the fishers of Futtie have
less superstitions than those that live in the fishing-villages along
the coast, both to the north and south, where they live almost entirely
secluded from intercourse with the inland agricultural population.
Whale-Fishing was first introduced into Aberdeen in the year 1753, and
the success which attended the first attempts induced others to embark
in the same trade, which, for a time, was very profitable. Accordingly,
the number of ships from Aberdeen engaged in whale-fishing gradually increased,
till, in 1820, there were fifteen, which, on an average, had about fifty
hands each. The greatest tonnage of oil brought, home by these vessels
in one season was in 1823, when fourteen vessels brought 1841 tons. Of
late years, however, from various causes, such as the withdrawing of the
Government bounty, the reduction of the duty on foreign seeds from which
oil is made, the diminished demand for oil, of late, in consequence of
the introduction of gas as a means of obtaining light, and the want of
success in the fishery, several vessels having repeatedly come home clean,
the trade has been, in a great measure, given up, and there are only two
vessels at present engaged in it from this port.
Salmon-fishing.—This branch of trade has been long carried on with
considerable spirit, and generally with good success, at Aberdeen, and
the rents of the fishings in the river Dee form an important item in the
revenue of the town, and of several private proprietors. Of late, too,
the fishing has been carried on to a considerable extent by stake-nets
on the beach.
At present, the number of men employed in salmon-fishing here may be about
200, and the annual amount of wages paid about £3000. In an average
season, the quantity of fish caught may be reckoned at 20,000 salmon,
averaging ten lbs. each, and 40,000 grilses of four pounds each, of which
by far the greater part is packed in ice, and shipped for the London market,
a very small part only being put into tin cases for exportation. It is
now about thirty years since the mode of using ice for preserving the
salmon fresh was introduced in Aberdeen. Previous to that time, the fishers
were under the necessity of boiling it and preserving it with vinegar,
but this mode is now almost altogether disused. The average price obtained
for the salmon and grilses sent to London is about 8d. per lb.
Herring-Fishing.—-Until within the last few years, this branch of
industry was not prosecuted to any extent in Aberdeen. The late Provost
Blaikie used his endeavours to establish it, and, to a certain degree,
these endeavours were successful. The number of boats employed in it has
been annually increasing; and last year there were about 60 thus engaged
during the season, and their success has hitherto been such as leaves
no room for doubting, that this fishery will continue to he prosecuted,
probably to a greater extent than it has hitherto been.