Old fishing trawler – Ink in an A4 Watercolour Moleskine

I’ve been reading up about our bygone fishing industry for a project. Fishing was a huge part of the UK’s and Scottish industry in the 1800′s to the mid 1900′s. There were two main types of fishing techniques. Sailing trawlers either used nets to catch herring, which were once an abundant species or other types of fish, such as mackerel, which were pursued at different times of the year. Cod was fished further afield in the distant waters of the Atlantic. Fish could also be caught on long lines of baited hooks. Thousands of women followed the herring boats as they tracked the fish up and down the coast. It was a recognised “career” for single girls to follow the herring although married women would follow their husbands if they were part of a boat’s crew. When the boats landed their catch, the women gutted the fish, packed them in salted barrels and these were exported to the continent of Europe and as far away as Russia. A skilled girl could gut and pack two or three fish a minute and, because the saltly fish and sharp knifes were uncomfortable and dangerous they bound their fingers with rags for simple protection. For domestic use, and for “long lining”, local women collected bait (mainly shellfish) and baited the “long lines” of hundreds of hooks, carefully storing these in barrels until the lines were “shot” from the boats. The men in the boats had an equally hard and dangerous time, many of the earlier boats were of an “open” design exposed to the seas and wind. Our folklore is full of tales and songs about “great storms” and “fishing tragedies”. Our best remembered is the great storm of October 14th, 1881 where 189 fishermen were lost, 129 from the east coast village of Eyemouth, many drowning within sight of the shore where their helpless families watched in horror. (Read about why all those men were obliged to venture out in foul weather and the part the chuch played in all this)


Although there has long been a memorial to those lost this event still touches a raw nerve and a new one was recently erected. The rocks, that the figures are gazing at, are those the boats foundered on.


My painting is meant to show the type of boat used. There were two main types, the Zulu and the Fifey. This is a Zulu. Some of these boats had up to eight of a crew as the constant trimming of the sails as well as hauling in the lines or nets was back-breaking work. Other countries also had their fishing industries, with their attendant dangers and these should not be forgotten. I often give thanks that I am living in this age.