[From Manx Soc vol 16]


Sung to a tune taken from Boreas in the play called The Tempest.

Composed by a native poet upon the loss of the Herring Fleet at Douglas, in September 1787.


Come all ye bold Manx hardy seamen,
And pray listen to my song;
For the subject which it treats of,
To you specially do belong:
'Tis of the dangers ye encounter,
And the hardships that ye meet,
Every year without exception,
And the loss of the herring fleet.


On the twentieth of September,
The weather proving fine and clear,
The same night more fish was taken,
Than any other the same year:
The whole fleet next day got ready,
Bending way to the herring ground,
Little thinking so fine an evening,
That so many would be drown'd.


Now just about the hour of nine,
Not half the boats' nets being shot,
The sky darken'd to the southward,
To south-east the wind veerd about:
Then the Admiral hoisted signal for
To weigh and steer for home,
Not a man in the fleet expected
To see the waves so dreadful foam.


Some approaching in a cluster,
Just by the harbour's mouth,
To fall foul of one another
The poor fishermen were loath:
At length one boat knock'd down the light-post,
Then another ran on board,
Which caused the crews of both to go down,
Their souls to render to the Lord.



Then many other of the fleet, that foi.
The harbour made their way,
Mistaking lanthorns for the pier-lights,
On the beach all wreek'd they lay:
Another crew, and one odd man,
By this mischance then lost their lives.
What a dreadful sight next morning!
Oh! what tidings to their wives.


Had the pier of Douglas been rebuilt,
This misfortune had not been,
And it really is most scandalous
That the ruins still are seen.
Ships and boats pay certain duties,
The harbour to keep in repair;
Pray then why not repair our harbour,
And rebuild our quay and pier?

VERSE ii.-The writer has evidently made a mistake in the date-the fleet went to sea on the evening of the 20th September, and were wrecked on the morning of the 21st, St. Matthew's Day.

VERSES iv. and v. it would appear from these that the crews of three boats and one odd man only, were lost. Assuming that each boat had five men, this would only account for sixteen, whereas the other ballad makes the number amount to twenty-one.


IN the third verse of this ballad it is stated "the Admiral hoisted signal," and as this officer and his duties are but imperfectly known to the general public, and have never as far as I am aware been published ; I am enabled from documents in my possession to give a short account.

In connection with the Manx herring-fishery, two officers have been from time Immemorial appointed, called respectively "The Admiral" and " Vice-Admiral" The antiquity of these officers is apparent from the fact that they are specially referred to, and many of their duties defined in an act of Tynwald, passed in the year 1610, several of the provisions of which are still in force.

The Water Bailiff (or Admiralty Judge of the island) has the appointment, and he usually selects two of the most experienced fishermen (masters of boats) to fill the offices. He issues a commission to each officer annually, the term of holding being limited to the fishing season. The Salary to the Admiral is £5, that to the Vice-Admiral £3 ; and which are, by the Act of Parliament for regulating the harbours of the island, payable out of the harbour funds. Both the Admiral and ViceAdmiral carry distinguishing flags when at sea, and although their duties are not now so important as they formerly were, the office still commands respect, and is to some extent useful. It may be mentioned that the present admiral is an old and very respectable fisherman, Thomas Quirk of Dalby, who has held the office (first that of vice and latterly full admiral) for upwards of a quarter of a century.

The following is a copy of the commission annually issued to the Admiral and Vice-Admiral together with the ancient instructions.

"Know all men by these presents, that I, William Watson Christian, Her Majesty's Water Bailiff of the Isle of Man, by virtue of the powers and authorities in me vested, have appointed, and do hereby appoint Mr. Thomas Quirk, of the parish of Patrick in the said isle, Vice-Admiral for the ensuing season, ending the 12th day of November of the present year. In the execution of which office he is to conform to ancient custom, and to such directions and instructions as he shall receive from time to time from me.

(Seal) "Given under my hand and seal, the 20th day of
June 1857.
(Signed) W. W. CHRISTIAN."

INSTRUCTIONS TO THE ADMIRAL AND VICE-ADMIRAL, to be written on the back of their Commissions.

You are to make yourself acquainted with the nature of your office as executed by former Admirals of the herring-fishery, according to the laws of the land, and the accustomed regulations for promoting and well-conducting the said fishery.

You are to take care that the fleet of boats is properly stationed before shooting time, so that they may not come foul of each other, and that no man shoot his nets until the Admiral or Vice-Admiral has made the signal for that purpose ; and that no man has his nets in the sea after sunrise.

You are to take care that no man wilfully shoots his nets across or over the nets of another, or shall use any draw-nets or stake-nets during the time of the fishing, and to prevent as much as possible boats and their train of nets getting foul of each other.

You are to take care that no man shall cut any buoys or corks off any maws nets, or shake or take any herrings out of the same, or let the wind out of the buoys belonging to any other maws train. And if any man gets a good store of fish, that the master and crew make a proper signal to the rest of the fleet, and in case any person or persons Shall offend against any of the above rules and regulations, you are to take particular care to make proper presentments to me once every week (if need be) of every such person who offends in any of the above cases, or in any other that may be hurtful to the herring-fishery.

And you will take care in the discharge of your duty that you do wrong to no man.
Given under my hand, etc.


As the herring-fishery is as great a blessing as this poor island receives, ill enabling the tenants for the better and speedier payment of their rents and other impositions, and have warewithal to supply their other wants and occasions, when as all other their endeavours and husbandry would scarce advance any such advantages and gains unto them : so it hath been the incessant care and regard of the Government of this isle always, when the season of such fishing falls out, and rather before, upon the Tynwald, holden in June every year, to make open and public proclamation to the whole assembly of the island, to remind them to be careful in providing their boats and nets to be in readiness whensoever it pleaseth God to send them that blessing : and for the great furtherance and means to obtain such, it was the care of the then Government in the year 1610.
That every farmer or tenant within this island, whether lord's or baron's tenants, should provide eight fathoms of netts (when as then there was not so many that kept boats and nets as now), furnished with buoys and corks, ready for fishing, out of every quarter of ground, containing three deepings of ninescore mashes upon the rope, to be as an imposition upon the tenants for the more effectual obtaining of a blessing as aforesaid.

And lest that some persons should be too forward to fish before the fish should well ground about the land, and so might frighten it away, it was also provided that no person or persons whatsoever should attempt to shoot for the fish till after the sixteenth of July, which then was apprehended to be the season for such fishing.

And when it pleaseth God to send this blessing of fish about the isle, the water bailiff, upon notice thereof, as he is termed Admiral, is to take immediate care and course to have all the boats of the island or fleet to come to such a place as the fish is, to drive for the same, and to see after my Lord's custom fish ; and that there be good orders observed amongst them (which he is to redress if there be not), and to hold and observe these courses and orders following, viz.-That none shall be admitted to fish from Saturday morning till Sunday at night, after sunset, upon pain of forfeiture of his boat and netts or fish in the daytime without special liberty from the officers or water bailiff or that there be a great necessity for it. And no man is to shoot his nets till the Admiral or vice-Admiral have first taken in their flags, or to give a watchword if the night be dark, that they may know when to shoot their nets : and whosoever is found to offend herein forfeiteth ten shillings to the Lord, and twenty days imprisonment.

And whosoever shall wilfully shoot his nets acrows over the nets of another, or shall use any draw-nets or stake-nets during the time of the fishing, shall forfeit ten shillings.

And if any shall cut any buoys or corks off any man's nets, or shake or take any herrings out of the same, and it is sufficiently proved, shall be proceeded against by a jury, as in the nature of felony.

And if any of the fleet do, by God's blessing, meet with the scul of fish, or get a good store thereof, and reveal not the same to the next boat to him, that so the same might be discovered from boat to boat throughout the whole fleet, to the end, every of them might be partakers of that blessing ; that every one so offending is to be fined forty shillings, besides imprisonment.

Also, that if any shall lay violent hands upon or strike any of his fellows, or give him uncharitable language on sea-board, or under the full sea-mark, such person to be punished by forty days' imprisonment, and to be fined besides, at the water bailiff's discretion.

And if any draw blood by violent strokes on sea-board, or under full seamark, shall forfeit his goods to the Lord's pleasure.

Also, the water bailiff shall have out of every boat, as oft as they fish, a certain measure called a kybbon full of herrings ; and whosoever refuseth to give the same, or twelvepence in money in lieu thereof, shall be excluded from the fleet.

And that the water bailiff shall impannel forth jurors of enquiry to present all such as either contemn or break any of these orders, or commit any other offences or misdemeanours in the herring-fishing time; and at the Admiral Court to give in these presentments, that fines may be imposed upon them by the Court. And that upon every Saturday by two o'clock in the afternoon, during the fishing time, the water bailiff is to sit and hold an Admiral Court, as well to inflict punishments upon all offenders, as to reform all wrongs committed through the fleet.

And every master of a boat, and all others his fishermen, are to attend the same court, to serve upon jurors, or other necessary occasions, as they shall be required unto, upon pain of fineing

And the water bailiff may also, as oft as such occasions fall out, call a court, and impannel jurors to determine all controversies that concern seafaring or maritime affairs, betwixt party and party, at any other time, in what convenient place he pleaseth to sit, the same by virtue of his office, either upon the suit of any party, or in performance of any order, for the transmitting of any case from Chancery, to be so determined as most incident and proper to that course of determination.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001