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.
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.
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.