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.