[From Feltham's Tour, 1798]
To the same.
THE subject of this letter is the staple commodity of the island, Herrings; and I have the pleasure of accompanying it with a Poem on the Fishery, which was given me by a Manks lady.
The coasts of the Isle of Man abound with a variety of fine fish The salmon frequents the bays from July to September. I was witness to a trawl of 120, near Ramsay; while, a few evenings after, his Grace of Athol, with a party from the Deemsters, were not lucky enough to take more than a solitary individual. The preference is rather given to the salmon of Kircudbright; a small vessel came into Ramsay harbour with a quantity from thence, which was sold for 6d. Manks per pound.
Their rock cod is esteemed superior to the grey, or common sort; when first taken it is of a fine red colour, and of a superior flavour to the others.
A marine animal, called the Battlecock, is found sometimes sticking to the rocks; it has almost all the desirable qualities of the turtle, abounding with a substance that is esteemed a substitute for the delicious green fat.
A fish termed a Blockin, somewhat between a herring and a whiting, and eels, are caught by line and worms. The sands abound with small eels, called here Gibbons, or Sand-Eels.*
Cod, ring, gurnet, and most fiat-fish are plenty, and extremely good. But it is herrings which are their grand support; it is these only can rouse the dormant energy of the Manksman's mind, stimulate him to industry, and enliven the whole island.
From an eminent writer we learn that " Herrings, about the beginning of the year, issue from the remote recesses of the North, in a body surpassing description, and alm,ost exceeding the power of imagination. The first column detached moves towards the West, by the coasts of Newfoundland, towards North-America. The Eastern column, proceeding leisurely by the coasts of Ireland, sends off one division along the coasts of Norway, which soon divides into two, and passes by the Straits of the Sound into the Baltic; the other towards Holstein, Bremen, &c. The larger and deeper column falls directly upon the Isles of Shetland and Orkney, and passing these, divides into two; the Eastern column moves by the side of Britain, detaching gradually smaller shoals to the coasts of Friezeland, Holland, Zealand, Flanders, and France; while the Western column passes on the other side of Britain and Ireland. The remains of this body reassemble in the (channel, and proceeding thence to the ocean, retire to their asylum in the North, where in peace and safety, they repair the losses they have sustained. When grown large, they set out again the next season, and make the same tour."
Another writer* gives us this account; " The herrings are found in the greatest abundance in the highest Northern latitudes within the arctic circle. In those inaccessible seas, that are covered with ice during a great part of the year, the herrings find a quiet and sure retreat from their numerous enemies; there neither man, nor the fin fish, nor cachalet, dares pursue them. The great colony sets out about the middle of winter; their numbers exceed imagination, and their enemies also are innumerable, especially the sea-fowl, near the pole, who, watching their emigration, spread ruin among them. In this exigence the defenceless emigrants have no alternative, but to crowd close together. The main body separates in two divisions; one moves to the West along the coasts of America, as far South as Carolina, and are so numerous in Chesapeak-Bay as to become a nuisance. The other division takes a more Easterly direction, towards Europe, arriving at Iceland about March, where, notwithstanding their loss, they form a body of amazing extent depth, and closeness, occupying a surface equal in dimensions to Great-Britain and Ireland; subdivided into columns of five miles in length, and four in breadth, swimming near the surface, but sinking sometimes for some minutes. The forerunners appear off Shetland, in April or May, and the grand body in June.
Their approach is known by a small rippling of the water, the reflection of their brilliancy, and the birds who attend them.
" One division proceeds along the East side of Britain, the Orkneys, Murray :Firth, coasts of Aberdeen, Angus, and Fife; the great river Forth, Scarborough, and Yarmouth, the ancient and once only mart in England for herrings. The other division from the Shetland islands proceeds along the West side of Britain, and are larger and fatter than those of the East side; crowding the coasts of Sutherland, Ross, and Inverness, which, with the Hebride isles, especially Long Island, compose the greatest stationary herring fishery in Britain, that upon the coast of Shetland excepted. Having visited most of the Western shores, the shoal proceeds towards the North of Ireland, where, meeting with a second interruption, they are again divided into two brigades; one pastes down the Irish channel, and visits the Isle of Man, and affords an occasional supply to the East coast of Ireland, and the West coast of England as far as the Bristol channel. The other shoal skirts along the West coast of Ireland, visits the Lakes of Donegal, and then disappears in the immensity of the Atlantic."
That peculiar shape which nature has given to most fishes, we endeavour to imitate in such vessels as are designed to sail with the greatest swiftness; but the progress of a machine is nothings to the rapidity of an animal designed by nature to reside in water: any of the large fish overtake a ship in full sail with a great ease, play around it, and outstrip it with pleasure.
The boat-builders are uncommonly clever, constructing entirely by the eye, making no use of line or rule, unless in laying the keel. The Manks boats are in size from 23 to 33 feet in keel; and 13 feet beam, with 6 feet hold; they are cutter-rigged, sail remarkably fast, and withstand a heavy sea. But the Virginian pilot-boats, I have heard mentioned as exceeding them in swiftness of sailing. The fishing busses * from the Western coast of Scotland are precluded, by the restrictions of the revenue officers from taking fish on the coasts of the Isle of Man, or Ireland
Manks boats seldom exceed eight tons, and cost, including the nets, about 70 guineas. The produce is divided into nine shares; two for the owner of the boat; one for the proprietor of the nets; the other six to the fishermen. The nets are buoyed up by inflated bags of dog-skin dried in the sun, and smeared over with tar. Upwards of 400 boats compose the Manks fleet. An admiral and vice-admiral are annually elected the one is allowed 51. by government, the other 21. for the season. These conduct the fleet to the herring ground. On leaving the harbour the fishermen, with uncovered heads invoke the blessing of Providence;and Bishop Wilson's Form of Prayer for the Herring Fishery, is used during the season.+
Herrings in their prime are remarkably fat; one that weighs 5 oz. 10 dry will have 480 grains of spawn, containing 36,960 eggs. (Phil Trans. vol. 57.) The spawning time is the latter end of October.
Herrings are capricious, deserting, either partially or wholly, particular bays and coasts. This island, as well as England and Wales, can witness to many remarkable instances of this kind. To the Dutch the credit is given of having been the first to discover the season of their passage; and their first regular fishing is dated back to the twelfth century. The Dutch consider it in its true light; for in a placart of 1624, the fishery is called, " The Golden Mines" of the United Provinces; and in another, in 1651, the herring fishery is termed the principal mine and chief support of Holland! May England ever cherish and encourage every attempt to increase and establish it!
The fresh herrings of the island are peculiarly good, and larger than those of Yarmouth When the season arrives, the fish are looked for, and their appearance is indicated by the quantity of gulls that hover around them, no less eager than the Manksman to feast on the delicious fare. At this period, therefore, the gull is considered as sacred. The first maize that are caught are entitled to a bounty.*
The fishermen sometimes exorcise, or burn the witches out of their boats with dry ring, or heath; and to eject this they contrive the flame so as to reach every part of the boat. The first boat that discovers the herring, sounds a horn as a signal to apprise the other boats. They sometimes take 70 maize) at 500 per maize, in one boat.
The oath of the deemster, or judge, from the singular allusion to the herring, I take this opportunity to introduce.
"By this book, and by the holy contents thereof, and by the wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought in heaven above, and in the earth beneath, in six days and seven nights: I, John F. a, do swear, that I will, without respect of favour or friendship, love or gain, consanguinity or affinity envy or malice, execute the laws of this isle justly, betwixt our Sovereign Lord the King, and his subjects within this Islay and betwixt party and party, as indifferently as the herring's back-bone cloth lie in the midst of the fish.":,
Gottenburg herring (says Lieut.-Governor Shaw) made once an article of commerce in the island, of which it is now deprived, and the importation prohibited, except 1000 barrels in case of failure for home consumption. Herrings caught, for the most part of the season, on the coasts of the island, are, from their superior rich quality, unfit for the West-India markets, or for any length of voyage in a warm climate; therefore great advantages resulted from dealing in Swedish herrings.
Having in a former letter mentioned the herring custom, I now annex the annual amount of this duty, paid to the lords of the isle, which was in 1760, 1211. 19s.; in 1761, 921. 4s.; in 1762, 901. 19s.; in 1763, 811. 1s.; in 1764, 601. 9s and in 1765, none paid to his Grace's family.
This the Duke of Athol considers in its origin as a memorial right. The boats employed (says his Grace) at first paid a proportion of fish, afterwards a commutation of so much money on each boat; and they had the privilege in consequence of drawing up their boats, and drying their nets on any part of the territorial property. It is asserted, that they were originally paid to the garrisons, and delivered only there. On the other hand, it is stated that they were, delivered at Douglas, where there was no garrison.
The price of herrings varies from 6s. to 7s. per hundred, they are cured when cheap by the merchants. Girls from nine to thirteen years old carry the herrings in baskets from the boats to the houses prepared on purpose, where women thoroughly rub them with salt. Left a few hours to purify, they are then barrelled with a layer of salt between each layer: a barrel is about 600, which cannot cost the curer more than 12s. but in England it sells for 25s.these are termed white herrings; but there is a great risk and expense of preparation, which a bad season incurs. Those designed for red herrings are first regularly piled up, with a layer of salt between each row, and remain to purify some days. They are then washed, and when drained sufficiently, are fixed by the mouth on small rods (somewhat like yarn wicks for making candles), and hung up in large houses for the purpose, in length about 90 feet, and about 60 broad. Here the herring rods are hung as close as admissible, and reach from the roof till within eight feet of the floor. Their regularity and lustre make a very beautiful appearance: fires are kept under them continually smoking for four or five weeks, made of the dried roots of oak; when being sufficiently reddened, they are shipped for the Mediterranean ports, from whence the vessels return with a cargo to Liverpool and to the island. The fishery commences in July, and ends in the autumnal equinox.
Bounty on Herrings, cured white, at is. per barred
96 15 0
43 1 0
130 16 0
93 18 0
Barrels, cured red, exported for the bounty of 1s. 9d. per barrel.
1787, to Italy, &c.2,636½ barrels. 1788, to ditto and Dublin, 5,462½. 1789, to ditto and ditto, 12,559½. 1790, 6,866½. To Great Britain, 1787, 2,074 barrels. 1788, 4,435½. 1789, 3,015½. 1,790, 2,747½.
Herrings, cured white, exported for the bounty of 2s.8d. per barrel.
1789, to Leghorn, 10 barrels. Cork, 315 barrels. Dublin, in 1790, 125 barrels.
In conversation with an eminent English merchant of Leghorn in June 1798, he informed me, that the only herrings used in Italy were the smoked, commonly called red herrings, of which they used to receive about three moderate cargoes in a year from the Isle of Man. That they preferred the Yarmouth and Lowestoff ones, but the island herrings were much esteemed and might, with very little additional care in curing, be equal to the others. Respecting salmon, he observed, that they received in Italy (chiefly imported into Leghorn) from the Isle of Man, before the war, from 2,000 to 3,000 barrels per annual from 100 lb to 200 lb. weight each; and that it was an increasing trade, until checked by the war. That three sorts of salmon were consumed in Italy; that from Newfoundland, the Isle of Man, and Scotland, of which the Scotch was the best. Salmon exported from the island is split and wet salted, and after the barrels are closed, pickle enough to keep them moist is conveyed into the bung-hole. The smallest sort is the most marketable in Italy, as they are ambitious of serving a whole fish up; and these sell for 8. per barrel extra. In 1791 the price- to the consumer was on an average 9d. per pound in Leghorn.
A society under the title of the British Society for extending the Fisheries, and improving the sea-coasts of Great-Britain, was instituted in 1786. This was owing to the patriotic exertions of Mr. John Knox, above quoted, who traversed and explored the Highlands of Scotland no less than sixteen times, and expended several thousand pounds in forwarding his beneficial designs.
I am happy to learn that government, aware of this advantageous branch of commerce, have still the improvement and extension of the fisheries under their immediate consideration.
1An act of Tynwald passed in 1791, to regulate the mode of shooting the nets; and by an act of 1797, nets are forbidden to be tarred, such practice having been found injurious. was then lost
Mr. Sacheverel, who wrote in 1702, says, that the herring fishery , and had been for some years. Herrings are a delicate fish, and are killed with a very small degree of violence. When taken out of the water it gives a small squeak and instantly expires; and though immediately thrown back it never recovers.
Hence the proverb, As dead, as a herring.See Dr. Anderson on the Hebrides, Fishery, tic. 8vo. 1795.
* The Dutch busses are the best constructed for the herring fishery in the open sea. They are long round vessels, which run from 50 to 70 tons, and cost, including ever requisite, near 10001.; have 50 nets to a buss, each about 60 fathoms
t See this Form in Bp. Wilson's Works, vol. iv. 8vo. edit.
BY A MANKS I,ADY.
The promptitude with which the following lines were produced, to a casual request over a cup of tea, added to the difficulty of the subject for a lady's pen, must conspire to enhance in merit: and though I am not at liberty to attach the name to whom I am obliged, yet such politeness and condescension will not soon be forgotten.
HAIL ! mystic myriads !
Mona's pride and boast,
From Arctic regions pour'd upon her coast;
Whose annual visits since the world began,
Have cherish'd and enrich'd the sons of bat;
Your praise I sing:Ye Guardians of our Isle,*
Deign on my native patriot muse to smile;
Welcome, with me, the kind aquatic band,
And greet this blessing to a grateful land.
From hence emerg'd: with other fiends
I see Leviathan, in pastime, hunting thee;
The glittering millions of thy wond'rous train
Attract, yet awe, the monsters of the main;
For thy firm phalanx strength and art defies,
And each rash foe inevitably dies.
Yet still distress'd, ah I luckless tinny breed
Detach'dcut off, and straggling, lo ! ye bleed;
Onward impelled, for Southern climes you steer,
Haply to find some station free from fear:
Shetland and Orkney meet your searching eyes,
And proffer shelter to your suppliant cries.
The enormous mass, now parting, seek repose
In Swilly's bosom, dreading there no foes:
Loch Brown, Loch Maddy, Isla, Jura, Clyde,
(Within whose fond encircling arms you glide)
And Arran's isle, and Mona's craggy shore,
You seek for food and peace, denied before.
Here reader pause:admire, revere, and love,
The great First Cause, whence all these wonders move
Who, thus beneficent, most kindly pours
Profuse his bounty to such distant shores.
But saydoes local change secure thy wish ?
New foes pursue thee still, delicious fish:
HERE porpoise, grampus, tear thee into shreds,
While dog-fish rouse thee from thy coral beds;
Then upward chas'dthe surface aid denies,
Thy splendid form attracts the gannet's eyes;
That hov'ring o'er soon rapid plunges down,
And countless numbers feel the fatal wound.
When sportive you, in wonted gambols play,
And frisking rise and ruffle all the sea;
E'en eagles dart, light skimming o'er the flood,
Imprinting talons in your guiltless blood:
Triumphant then they soar on pinions strong,
And bear you victims to their unfledg'd young.
Of your approach, if fishers want a test,
They scale the rocks to seek the eagle's nest;
There if your fins, or scales, or bones appear,
The signal's certain, all pronounce you near.
In various ways, such Providence's plan,
Birds become telegraphs to favour'd man;
The finny nations, and the feather'd elves,
Conspire to serve us, while they serve themselves.
Spread on the moss-crown'd rock, prepared and dried,
The nets made ready for the next kind tide;
The expectant fleet, five hundred strong and more,
With sails expanded quit Eubonia's ~ shore.
Then cheerful scud, the curling billows rend
Tho' first a fervent pray'r to Heav'n they send,
Uncover'd eachnot more intent to guide
The bark, than Heav'n invoking on their side.
The historic muse instructs that priests of old
Consulted birds their mysteries to unfold;
SO HERE, the crews, that would by fishing thrive,
Steer to the spot where gulls and gannets dive;
With truth concluding that the ground to fish on
And leave to paganspagan superstition.
This station gain'dwhen sable night has spree
Her gloomy curtain o'er the Manksman's head;
The signal madeeach to his business gets,
Some gently ply the oar, some drop the nets:
This task perform'dperhaps those seized with sleep
Are roused by bursts of thunder o'er the deep; "
Now the white billows tumble mountains high,
And forked light'ning shoots along the sky."
Myriads of fish that lay in calm profound,
Now swift as light'ning from the bottom bound:
See, see I the mighty masses upward urge,
And form a dreadful animated surge !
The blaze, the crash, the preternat'ral swell,
Threatens the skiff that floatsa cockle-shell.
Amazement, horror, each man's feelings hold,
Sense is suspended, and the blood grows cold.
At home all anxiousto the pier quick fly,
To crowd up lights, and invocate the sky But,
Muse, forbear, and hasten to express
Their song of joy, not themes of deep distress.
The master now inclines his nets to try,
Attention's fix'dhope sparkles in each eye;
They haulWhat luck ? the Spangled net is seen
Glowing with glittering fish in guillotine ! *
All hands are eager, kept in full employ,
Successive heaps now multiply their joy;
Wet the' the work, no limb nor heart is cold,
The draught is greater than the bark can hold !
This soon proclaim'd, less lucky friends draw near
And ease them of their surplus and their fear.
Now morn appearsthe crews as each have sped
Find schemes of interest floating in their head:
Some steer their cargoes for Hibernia's shore,
To British markets some convey their store;
But eager homeward bend the major part,
Joy in their looks, and pleasure in their heart.
The coast is lined with many an anxious eye
To greet the victors, and their load descry:
Nearer advancing, looming wond'rous low,
Their depth announces what all wish to know.
On shorenow smoke in spires ascend the sky,
And BELLA+ cheerful waits to boil and fry;
Home sails each fisher spangled to the waist,
And loads of fish announce a rich repast.
Vapours now, incense like, (if not as sweet)
Invade the senses as you pass the street.
The table spreadMamma, Tom, Judy, Kate,
With fingers greasy ply the smoking plate:
The father joinsbut dropping in a snore,
Dreams he's some inches higher than before.
Nor is it partial pleasure revels here,
The joy is general with a lucky year.
Herring's the toast through all the happy isle,
And, when you meet a face, you meet a smile.
'Tis true, my friend, fresh herring on the dish
Would leave no Roman epicure * a wish:
When drest with all our garnishes of art,
Proud might an alderman play on his part:
Nor yet would words convey his just applause,
Silent you'd seek it in his busy jaws;
But cloth removedo'er port I hear him sing,
Of viands delicateHerring's the King.
" Now Phoebus ushers in the cheerful day:
Now commerce bustles on the busy quay:
The cooper's adze, the cart's discordant tones,
And herring barrels rolling on the stones."
Now busy factors cure, and smoke, and dry
To distant climes export the scaly fry;
While foreign marts the welcome bounty own,
And send back treasures of the torrid zone.
May commerce, then, still flourish round our coast,
And England's glory be our heart-felt toast.
* Named also, Ammodytes, Launee, Sand-Sprat: used as food, and as a bait.
* Knox' Views of the British Empire, 2 vols. 8vo.
* Mona and Eubonia; different names for the island.
* The herrings are caught by the gills.
Arabella, a damsel celebrated for her cocking of fish.
* The modern herring was unknown to the ancients; the Halee of the Romans was only a kind of sauce made of any salt fish,
* Their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Athol.
~ Solan goose,