John R Tudor.

The Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state online

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proclamation to that of his father before referred to, and, to
show that he could bite as well as bark, appeared, according to
Rushworth,^ during the following summer, with "a formidable
Armado " of sixty sail, under the Earl of Northumberland,
" upon the coasts of the Isles, part of the King of Great
Britain's Dominions," where the Dutch busses were then
fishing. The Dutch, refusing to desist from fishing, were
fired into, some busses being sunk and some captured, upon
which they agreed to give _;2^3 0,000 for the remainder of that
season's fishing, and to pay a yearly tribute in future.

This tribute, according to de Witt,- consisted of every tenth
herring, and " must have been paid had not the Free States of
Holland, in the year 1667, brought their Maritime affairs into
another state and condition. " At this period he ^ estimated that,
out of a total population of 2,400,000, 450,000 subsisted by
the deep sea fisheries alone, and that upwards of 300,000 lasts
(from 12 to 14 barrels to the last as sold by the fishermen) of
herrings and other fish were landed yearly from them. Here it
may be as well to give some account of the rules and regulations
under which the Dutch fisheries were carried on. By the Ordin-
ance ■* for the Government of the Great Fishery^ passed at the
Hague in 165 1, and renewed again in 1656, in which the
Great Fishery was styled The principal Mi/ie and chief
Support of these Countries, and of the Inhabitants therein, the
benefits arising therefrom were jealously restricted to the in-
habitants of the provinces of Holland and West Frizeland, who
were forbidden to hold shares in any buss partially owned

^ Rushworth's Collections, vol. i. pt. ii. p. 322.

^ Jan de Witt, p. 182. 3 ibidem, p. 35.

* Repo}-t on British Herring Fishery, p. 1 74.


by any persons residing out of those provinces, and by
article eight the captains of the men-of-war were directed to
arrest any buss, the crew of which should be detected selling
herrings to the Zealanders or inhabitants of the United Pro-
vinces, other tlian of Holland or West Frizeland. No herrings
were allowed to be caught, except for bait on the Dogger-
bank, before the feast of St. John the Baptist, the 24th June
N.S., and none after the 31st of December ; and before sailing
each buss skipper was compelled to state where he intended to
fish, to what port he intended to return, and what private
mark he used on the bung-stave of his casks, and to swear that
he would strictly keep all the regulations, and not sell any salt,
fishing-line, other materials for fishing, or any other merchan-
dise whatever to the people of Shetland or any other foreign

No herrings, not salted the evening they were caught, were
allowed to be cured, and the fish caught one night had to be
carefully separated from those caught another, the fish being
laid close and even, and not crossways nor pressed witli
baskets or trays, and each class of fish being carefully assorted.
Up to the 15th of July, Vent Jaggers, Hkewise under strict
regulations, were allowed to visit the fleet on the fishing-grounds
and purchase fish from them, though no fish could be sold
until they had lain ten days in pickle. There seems to have
been a graduated system of bounties of some kind on these
early caught fish, which are said at times to have realised the
enormous price of one hundred dollars per barrel.

After the 15th of July no herrings were allowed to be sold
till the busses returned to port, where their cure had to be
finally perfected within three weeks after being landed, no fresh
pickle being allowed to freshen them up, and all repacking
having to be done openly. When finally ready for sale the
prices of the different assortments had to be declared, and
masters and supercargoes were forbidden to concern them-
selves in the sale by Taste at the Btmghole, whatever that
may have meant. In the early fishing, only Spanish or


Portugal salt was allowed to be used ; after Bartholomew-
tide fish could be cured with boiled sea-salt, made according
to a contract with the city of Cologne. No fish were
allowed to be exported to France and the western markets
but those caught after Bartholomewtide ; and only those
cured with coarse salt could be sent to Bremen and the
eastern markets.

At their second outset vessels were not permitted to sail
before the 14th of September or fish before the 20th, after
which date masters might put their herrings in other vessels, and
assist their crews in hauling nets. All these rules were enforced
by fines, imprisonment with bread and water diet, corporal
punishment, or Naval Discipline. Query : did Naval Discipline
mean keel-hauling ? According to Edmondston,^ who wrote at
the commencement of the present century, the busses, which ran
from seventy to eighty tons, carried one large lug sail and a small
inizen, and had crews of fourteen hands, of which some were
boys. Keymor ^ stated that in his day each buss carried forty
men, and de Witt ^ estimated the cost of a buss at 4,550 guilders,
and of fitting her for sea at 5,500 more, which, taking the guilder
at a trifle under is. lod., would make the total expenditure
about ^920. Their nets, of which each buss generally carried
two fleets, were, according to Edmondston,^ sixty yards long
and fifteen feet deep, and twenty made a fleet, and as the
busses carried no boats they had to be shot and hauled from
the deck. The reason for the restriction of the fishery to
between St. John's day and the last day of the year probably
arose from the idea so long prevalent, that the herrings, instead
of, as is believed to be the case nowadays, moving in from the
deep water to the shore for the purpose of spawning, migrated
in several vast shoals from the northern regions. Several
writers give a sort of time-table for the arrival of the fish at
different points on the coast ; de Witt,^ for instance, saying that

1 Edmondston's Zetland Islands, vol. i. p. 268. - Keyinor, p. 7.

•■' Jan de Witt, p. 22. •* Edmondston's Zetland Islands, vol. i. p. 269.

* Jan de Witt, p. 22 ; see also Puckle's England's Way, p. 9.


Holland was well situated not only for the Doggerbank, " but
also near the herring-fishery, which is only to be found on
the coast of Great Britain^ viz., from St. J^ohn's to St. James's,
about Scket-Latid, Phartt, and Boekjiess ; from St. James's to the
Elevation of the Cross about Bockelson or Seveniot, from the
Elevation of the Cross to St. Katherinis in the deep waters to
the eastward of Yarmouth.'''' During the period which inter-
vened between the arrival of the busses in Bressay Sound, or
Buss Haven, as the Hollanders termed it, and John's Mass,
when they were at liberty to commence fishing, their crews
seem to have held high carnival on shore, and to have amused
themselves like a lot of playful grampuses. In a pamphlet,^
published in the middle of the last century, we get a good picture
of Dutch Jack ashore. " There is no Horse-hire demanded here,
unless it be in the Summer, when the Dutch are upon the Coast ;
during that Time, some of the Country People bring in their
Horses for the Dutchmen to ride, and I must own, that if they
were not better Sailors than Riders, I would not chuse to
venture my Live as far as G?-avesefid in one of their best
Bottoms. There is a Spot of Ground above the Town, al)out a
Quarter of a Mile in Length, and pretty even Ground, which
is very rare in Zetland ; here the Countryman comes with his
Horse, enquiring in Dutch., who will ride ; immediately comes a
clumsy Dutch7nan., gives him a Dublekee (that is Twopence),
then up he mounts ; the Owner of the Horse immediately falls
a beating the Creature, and pricks its Tail with the Point of his
Stick ; then behold ! in an Instant, down comes the Dutch-
7tian ; up he gets again, and mounts afresh, but before he gets
on a second Time, there must be a second Dublekee, and he
is scarce up before he is down again ; so that the Fellow often
makes a Shilling of the Dutchman before he comes to the End
of the Place ; this, together with what Money they receive for
their Stockings, is all the Cash they have from one Year's End
to the other ; unless when some Dutchman fancy any of their
Horses then they chance to make a good Profit, as they will
^ Campbell's Great White Herring Fishery, p. 9.


sell a Horse to a Dutchman for a Pound, that they cannot sell
to their Neighbours for three Half-Crowns. "

Probably the middle of the seventeenth century saw the
great fishery at its zenith, Brand ^ and Gifford - both stating that
they had been told of 2,200 sail having been in Bressay
Sound at once, and the former writer remarking, " Yea, some-
times so thick do the Ships ly in the Sound, that they say men
might go from one side of the Sound to the other stepping
from ship to ship." In the year 1702 ^ a French fleet attacked
the Dutch men-of-war off Fair Isle, and, sinking the admiral's
ship, proceeded to Bressay Sound, where, according to Gifford,
they burnt 150 busses. From this blow the great fishery is
said never to have thoroughly rallied, Fraser'^ putting the
number of busses in 1736 at 300, and in 1779 at 162.
During the Napoleonic wars, as the Dutch sided, willingly or
unwillingly, with the Corsican, they had to abandon their old
fishing-grounds for a time, though after Waterloo they returned
again. After many fluctuations the number of vessels had
fallen as low as 90 in 1865, since which time they have been
gradually picking up again. In 1878 there were 391 vessels
of all classes engaged in the Dutch herring trade, of which
eighty-nine were loggers ; eighteen were loggers vief stoomp-
spill, that is, with steam winches for hauling their nets ; twelve
were sloeps : seven only were hoekers, that is, the old busses;
two hundred and sixty-four were homschuits ; and one was an
ijzeren schroefstoom-logger. The bomschuits, called in Shetland
" booms," hail chiefly from Scheveningen, in North Holland,
are bluff-bowed and sterned, flat-bottomed or nearly so, to
admit their being run ashore, ketch or yawl rigged, and carry
weather-boards to lessen their drifting when on a wind. The
loggers are said to be built on the model of the Grimsby
smacks. In 1857 all the old laws affecting the fishery were

1 Brand's Orkney and Zetland, p. S9.

2 Gifford's Zetland, p. 5.
•^ Ibidem, p. 5-

■* ¥x2iSQX^s Domestic Fisheries, Appendix, p. 75.


abolished, and a Fishery Board constituted similar to what has
existed in Scotland since i8og.

Whilst the Dutch were thus coining money out of the seas
which wash the shores of the British Isles, the natives of
those isles had, so far as the herring fishery was concerned, to
look on apparently helpless. It was not for want of companies
being started for the prosecution and encouragement of the
British fisheries, as company, after company, was got up, only to
collapse in a few years' time, either from the gross ignorance of
those entrusted with the management, or else, which is more
probable, from the special unfitness of any company to prosecute
the fishing trade to a profit.

Tlie Shetland Herring Fishery.

The Shetlanders, till the commencement of the present
century, contented themselves with catching a few barrels of
herrings, "the gleanings," as John Smith termed them, "of the
Hollanders' busses, for the busses driving at sea break the
scull or shoal of herrings." The year 1826 was practically the
first year in which any quantity of herrings were cured in
Shetland for exportation, since when the fishery has fluctuated
from time to time, as will be seen from the returns given in
the Appendix. At present it is on the rise ^ again, a good many
boats from Caithness and the south having the last few years
come north to prosecute the herring fishing in Shetland waters,
and the adoption by the Shetlanders themselves of large boats,
for all classes of fishing any distance from land, will probably
prevent its ever collapsing again, as the old-fashioned six-oared
Shetland yawls are too small to carry a proper fleet of nets. A

^ On the i6th of September in the present year (1882), the total herring
catch for Shetland for the season so far was estimated at 104,000 crans,
or barrels, giving the enormous average for each large boat engaged of
about sSo crans.



curious fact in Ihe natural liistory of the herring is that on the
west side of .Shetland the fish arc shotten or spent by the end
of August, whilst on the cast side tlicy remain />/// to the end
of September.^

1 Rtpciyt on the Ihrrins; Fisheries, 1S78, Appendix, p. xxi.




The Liti}^, or Tlaaf Fishini\.

TuK Shetland fishery, and in fact tJic L^nx-at mainstay of the
islands fur centuries, has been the long-line fishing for ling,
tusk, and cod, sometimes known as the ling fishing, and more
generally as the Jiaaf fishing, so called from the Danish and
Norwegian //rtrz', Gothic haaf^ the sea, in contradistinction to the
fishing carried on inshore. Up to the year 17 12, when a higii
duty was placed on all imported salt, and a custom-house
established for the first time at Lerwick, the fish trade of the
islands was almost completely in the hands of the merchants



from Hamburg, Bremen, and Lubeck, who, coming over about
the commencement of May in every year, hired booths., or store-
houses, from the proprietors in which to store their hemp,
lines, hooks, tar, linen, tobacco, spirits, and beer, and also
rented the ayres., or stone beaches, as curing-grounds.

According to Smithand Gifford, Scotch and English merchants
also came ; but the greater bulk of the trade was undoubtedly
in the hands of the " Dutchmen," as these North German
traders were termed. To them the native fishermen trucked
the fish they caught in exchange for their various commodities,
or sold them for the foreign currency the merchants had brought
with them. For long enough German and Danish coins were
the only ones current in Shetland, very much to the disad-
vantage of the natives, as the rate of exchange was all
against them. Even in 1806,^ Dutch and Danish coins were
more common in Lerwick than British money. On the
imposition of the salt duties the Hanseatic traders were
driven away, and the proprietors compelled to turn fish-
curers themselves. Einding the business, thus thrust on them
in the first instance, a very profitable one, they after a time
commenced that subdivision - of farms, which has intensified
the evils of the small crofting system — the bane of the islands —
if it did not actually create them. Under the old Country Acts
early and improvident marriages were in some degree prevented
by young couples not being allowed to marry, unless they could
show that they had at least " forty pounds Scots of free gear to
set up house upon, or some lawful trade whereby to subsist."

All these restrictions were now thrown to the winds, and
everything was done to encourage early marriages to such a
degree, that between the years 1755 and 1793, according to
Edmondston,^ Shetland increased its population by 4,976
inhabitants ; w'hilst during the same period only one hundred
had been added to that of Orkney, a much richer and more
fertile country. Numerous writers, from Adam Smith down-

^ Neill's Tour, p. 71. " A''ezci Method of Fishing.

^ Edmondston's Zetland Islands, vol. ii. p. 344.


wards, have described the state of the Shetland peasantry till
quite recent times as little better than serfdom. Up to quite
modern times a Shetlander could only fish for his laird or his
laird's tacksman ; had to procure every article he was in need
of from the shop of the laird or tacksman ; and was. expected
to dispose of every article of farm produce and every beast he
had for sale at the same place. Nay, more, if a lad went to the
Greenland Whale P'ishery for the summer, his family had to pay
a guinea ^ as a fine for his so doing. The Shetlander thus
realised to the full the advantages of buying in the dearest
market and selling in the cheapest.^

Competition was unknown, as no one could start a shop, in
most places, without the proprietor's leave, and even if they
could have done so, the fishermen for obvious reasons could
not have dealt there. At :the present day very few of the
proprietors engage in fish-curing on their own account, shops
are springing up all over the islands, and the tenants on most
estates are said no longer to be compelled to fish for their
landlord's nominee, but that many evils arising from the
system still survive is undoubted.

Till within the last forty or fifty years, all the boats used for
the haaf fishing were imported from Norway in pieces ready
for putting together. At the present day, all the boats used,
with the exception of some of the big East Country boats,
and of which more hereafter, are built in the islands, though
the model used is, with little, if any alteration, still the same,
that of the Norwegian yawl. Sixareens or sixerns, sexaringr,
(so called from their pulling six oars), are the boats principally
used at the haaf. They run from eighteen to twenty-two feet
of keel, and, as a rule, are built entirely of Norway pine,
though occasionally larch is used for the lower timbers and
boards. They are all clinker-built, stem and stern alike, with
great sheer fore and aft, and great rake in stem and sternposts
— so that a boat which measures only twenty-one feet on
keel, is nearly thirty over all.

1 Neill's Tour, p. 9S. 2 Shirreff 's Shetland, p. 15.

K 2


Buoyant as corks in a seaway, they are very tender at first,
though stiff enough when down to their bearings. The sail
used is a dipping lug, hoisted on a mast stepped nearly
amidships, and occasionally you may see a small jib or foresail
set as well. They pull six oars double banked, and use one
thole-pin, called a kabe., and a humlabund or grummet, made
sometimes of cord, generally of raw cowhide and down at
The Ness (as Dunrossness is always called in other parts of
Shetland) of whale sinew, when it can be obtained. They
prefer the grummet to the double thole-pin on the ground of
its being handier in a seaway. The names of every article of
A boat's equipment, and most of the terms used in the navi-
gation or management of it, are of pure Norse derivation. A
boat itself is either /d-z-r or kuoren ; the stern is kupp or steven ;
the loose boards forming the flooring are the tilfer ; the plug
used to stop the hole through which, when run ashore, any
water, the boat may have made when afloat, is run off, is the
Jii/e ; the scoop used in baling is auskfrrie ; the division boards
dividing a boat into compartments ^xo. fiskafeal ; the compart-
ments themselves are rooms ; a stone anchor is a fastie; the
band binding the ribs together is hadaband ; the horn used to
show the course to other boats at night, or in fog, is looder-
horn ; a boat's compass is a diackle ; oars are renis^ remaks, or
ars ; the mast is steng ; the crooked piece of wood or horn
by means of which the yard is hoisted up and down the mast
is rakie ; the halliards are the tows, a term also sometimes
applied to the fishing lines ; the starboard side of a boat is
called the linebnrd, because the lines are hauled in on that
side ; whilst the port side is for obvious reasons termed back-
burd ; to keep a boat in position in a tideway, or up to wind,
is to atidoo ; to back water is to shoo; and to reef a sail
is to sivift. In Appendix H will be found a fisherman's yarn,
given in the Shetland dialect, and taken from Hibbert. There is
a softness, some people call it lisping, about Shetland speech,
with which a stranger, accustomed to the broad Doric of the
east coast of Scotland fishermen, is always struck at first.


One great peculiarity is the use, as in Germany, of the
second person singular, instead of the second person plural.
The boats, which cost on an average about £,2 1 apiece, are,
when not hired from the curer, generally owned by the crew,
in shares, who form what is called a "company." For a
very long time, probably down to the commencement of the
present century, if not later, the Shetlanders, like their Faroese
cousins to the present day, knew hardly anything of the manage-
ment of a boat under sail, and trusted almost entirely to their
oars to reach their fishing-grounds and to return therefrom.
Hence the selection of many of the haaf stations, as they
are termed, to which the fishermen resort for the summer
months. Each boat's crew at the haaf station have their
own hut, built of rough stones, and roofed with pones, i.e.
thin strips of dried turf, which are also packed into the chinks
and crannies of the walls to render them air-tight. The
amount of air space would, if the yet is ever steeked, hardly
satisfy a sanitary inspector, whose sense of smell too would
probably be offended by the amount of putrescent fish and offlxl
that is scattered about all over the place. Each curer's boys
have a hut to themselves, whilst the storekeepers sleep in the
booths belonging to their respective employers. The fishermen
and boys return to their homes every Saturday, for the helie, as
they term the interval between sunset on Saturday and sunrise
on Monday, — a period during which, by the Old Country Acts,
all Shetlanders were forbidden to fish, travel by sea or land, or
be in any way engaged on secular matters. The banks or
gruns lie at all distances from the land, the principal one
at the Feideland haaf, lying about forty miles north-west from
the station, though boats are said sometimes to go as far as
sixty miles from the land, sinking Rooeness Hill before the
lines are completely set in " the deep waters." On the east
side they must at times go even further, as last summer (18S1)
the boats from The Skerries and Fetlar are said to have been
hauling in sight of fishermen from the Norwegian coast.

Rocky or coral bottoms are said to be best for ling and tusk,


and should the lines by any chance in foggy or misty weather
get shot on certain " long lanes " or channels with a sandy
bottom, the fish taken are rendered worthless by the cega tridens,
or bee, as it is termed in Northmaven. This sessile-eyed crus-
tacean resembles a gigantic woodlouse, about an inch and a
half in length, of a light crablike colour, and with a hard crus-
taceous covering. Creeping in through the gills the bee eats
away the inside of tusk, ling, and cod, and leaves the fishermen
nothing but the skin and bone. Flat fish, such as skate and
halibut, it is compelled to leave untouched, as these fish have
the power of closing the gill-covers, which prevents the bee
getting access to the interior of the fish. In order to enable
the fishermen' to know what sort of ground they are over,
Mr. Cobb, who was sent to Shetland about the year 1770,
for the purpose of giving the fishermen hints as to improved
methods of catching and curing fish, invented a sort of dredg-
ing trawl, made of stout canvas, and with a mouth like that of
a Highlander's purse, made of strong tin. The Shetlanders
saw the good of it, but the moment Cobb had left the islands,
gave up using it.^

In fine weather the sixareens make two trips a week to the fiir
haaf, starting from eight to ten a.m. on the Monday, and return-
ing on the Wednesday, and again from Thursday to Saturday.
The smaller boats, fourareens, {fcefingr) going about half the
distance, ten to thirty miles, lay and haul their lines every day,
and, as a rule, get more conger, than do the boats at the far haaf.
The whole complement of lines in a boat is termed a long line
or fleet, each member of the crew contributing his own portion,
termed a packie, which is made up of so many boiights or
buchts, each of forty fathoms of from 2 lb. to 2\ lb. line. The
number of boughts to the packie varies in different parts from
nine at The Ness, to twenty or twenty-one in Northmaven, where
a fleet of lines will cost about jQi'] ids. Occasionally, lines as
well as boats are rented from the curer ; ;£6, as a rule, being
paid for a season's hire of lines and boats, or jQz to ^£,'3 for
^ Fea's Considerations, part ii. j). 55.

Online LibraryJohn R TudorThe Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state → online text (page 12 of 59)