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Particular traditions of lugger design varied between regions of Cornwall, as well as between ports. West Cornish luggers were traditionally double-ended (curved at front and rear/forward and aft), whereas East Cornish luggers were built transomsterned (square-ended aft). Differences also emerged between Mount’s Bay boats and St Ives boats. In the latter, hull development is more ‘advanced’ 42 then in the St.
Ives example but by the late nineteenth century Mount’s Bay vessels had taken over those of St Ives. Situated on the north Cornish coast, St Ives harbour was much more exposed to the elements. As they grounded on the ebb tide the boats had to withstand heavy pounding and conditions were too rough to use wooden support legs.
Therefore St Ives boats were of heavier construction to cope with this stress, both fuller-bodied and flatter on bottom to sit upright on the beach. Mount’s Bay boats by contrast were able to be made finer with more graceful lines for a more agile and speedy performance. Whilst they would still be grounded on the ebb-tide until the harbour piers were built, their masters could attach legs for the boats to sit on in the more sheltered conditions.
Competition to race to the markets and in the trip home from distant fishing grounds was fierce, both to secure the best prices and the reputation of the boat and her crew. A plaque on the St Ives harbour records that one vessel achieved a record journey time of twenty-six hours from Scarborough home to St Ives. Regattas were also common, with competitions held within and between ports. Smylie (2009) notes that at an 1850 regatta, Mount’s Bay fishermen learnt from St Ives fishermen (who in turn had learnt from the Bretons) that a boost in speed could be achieved by the addition of a mizzen sail. Sailing regattas like that participated in by Ripple recently were also a feature of life in the nineteenth century when these boats were primarily used for fishing. Ripple was originally built as a pilchard driver, but late in her fishing career in 1927, she was lengthened by having 10 feet added to her middle, making her fit for mackerel driving. At the same time she was fitted with two 26 hp engines, replacing the single 16 hp engine that had been fitted in 1915.
Lugger finance Whilst merchant capital was invested in the drift fisheries, the low capital investment required enabled many more fishermen to own or have a share of property in their ventures. The traditional Cornish share system by which earnings of fishing boats were distributed also facilitated the starting up of a fishing operation with a small amount of capital. This meant that wages did not have to be guaranteed By ‘advanced’ maritime historians such as Smylie (2009) seem to refer to development of graceful lines, speed and manoeuvrability etc.
as they were by merchants in the newly emerging fisheries of ports like Grimsby.
Shares were divided between the ‘net share’ (paid to whomever owned and maintained the nets), the ‘body share’ given to the crew (of which the skipper and deckhands drew equal shares but only adult men got a full share, boys much less) and finally a ‘boat share’ distributed to the boat owners. The share division typically ran: 1/7 boat share, 3/7 net share and 3/7 body share 43. The share system in boat ownership also facilitated the starting of fishing ventures and provided another link between profits and the community at large in the Cornish context. The net share was an important share, because a set of nets cost as much as a new boat and had to be repaired or replaced frequently, being much more likely to get damaged. Netmaking and maintenance also called on the skills of spouses and were an important income for a young fishing family as well as widows, as Tony Pawlyn explained to me.
Young man comes in as a boy, age of twelve, thirteen, fourteen, works three or four, five years as a boy, literally on pocket money. Ok? He’s then deemed an able fisherman, so he gets his body share. He may be nineteen now, something like that.
And he’s on his body share. He won’t have any nets. At some stage he starts to go courting, and if the girl’s keen on him, she starts to make him some nets, you know when he’s at sea or something you know, she’ll start making some nets in the evenings for him. And so somewhere between, maybe after a couple of years and before he might get married, he might have one or two bits of nets. When he marries, within a year or so of being married, the wife would have made a full set of nets for him. And so he starts off with a body share, a body and a piece of net share (not a whole net share), and then as a fisherman, the highest thing he’s ever gonna get is a full net share, and a full body share. And hopefully within five, ten years he’ll start saving up enough money to start buying his own boat perhaps.
The Ripple, built 1896, is listed in the St Ives Fishing Vessel Index 1882-1902 44 as owned by Betsy Barber, Mastered by William Barber, a 1st class lugger, using nets, and crewed by five men. She was built, John informed me, by Betsy for her second son William, who had come of age and was no longer happy working the boat already owned by the family in the charge of the elder son. Fishing Vessel indexes only list the principle owners and so we so do not know if any others held shares in the case of the Ripple. Historical knowledge about nineteenth century fisheries is inevitably partial and incomplete. It was not until 1869 that the Sea Fisheries Act was passed requiring that all fishing boats should be officially registered. Until then, Tony Pawlyn (interview April 2010) St Ives Merchant Shipping Records (MSR IVES), Cornwall Public Record Office, Truro port authorities had their own local systems of registry, no records of which have survived. One of the ways historical details can be learnt about the organisation of fishing in the nineteenth century is through the merchant shipping records. These were admiralty records held for each customs area – a customs area being defined not by a particular port but by a coastal area. Therefore the Penzance register included all the harbours of Mount’s Bay – Newlyn, Mousehole and Porthleven as well as the port of Penzance itself. Fishing boats were not required by law to register on the merchant shipping records but were able to do so if their boats exceeded 15 tonnes. Some fishing boat owners and masters chose to do so, as a status symbol, confirming their ownership or charge of a ‘ship’. For others the advantage was one of gaining an official certificate of registration which served as a kind of title deed to the vessel which could be used in negotiating sales and mortgages.
The ports of Cornwall in this period were very busy places. Roads were poor and the railway was not extended from Devon until 1859. The sea provided all the primary routes and connections. War at sea was an ever present threat - the Napoleonic wars only ceased in the early decades of the century and the Crimean War broke out in the 1850s. Between the wars, admiralty vessels were put to use in an effort to finally stamp out smuggling and privateering. Ports therefore heaved with naval boats, coastal traders, privateers, smugglers and fishing boats. The merchant shipping records include sailing vessels of all kinds: sloops, schooners, brigantines, luggers, yawls, smacks and ketches. By law, property rights in shipping vessels were divided into sixty four shares. Shares were commonly divided between the principle or ‘subscribing owners’ and a number of other owners, of which there were often many, especially in the case of the profitable trading ships, drawing in a circle of investors and benefactors who tended to be from the middle merchant strata of Cornish society such as yeoman and shopkeepers etc. These share owners extended beyond the ports to other villages. In the case of fishing luggers, the number of owners tended to be smaller and drawn from a narrower section of society, mainly those within or connected to the fishing community, shipwrights, mariners, fishermen, coopers and rope-makers etc. In almost all the cases I noted in the St Ives Shipping registers, share owners for fishing boats are listed as residing in St Ives, showing how fishing capital in this century was concentrated within discrete fishing communities.
Shipwrights are commonly listed as owners of luggers in the registers. If a person wishing to have a boat built for a fishing venture, could not supply all the necessary capital, than a boat-builder and prospective boat owner may have negotiated a deal, whereby the shipwright provided the capital in return for a share of the boat’s profits.
Some or all of the shares were often also transferred to shipbuilders later in the lifetime of the vessel, in the event of a death or the venture no longer being workable, or to pay off a debt, or simply because boat-builders were in a good position to spot investment opportunities. In the St Ives shipping register, there is the
example of the John and William; Master: Simon Thomas; subscribing owners:
Henry Edwards (mariner) and Nicholas Wallis (shipwright). Shares were transferred to a Richard Grenfell (mariner) and Nicholas Wallis in 1826 and 22 (of 64) shares were later transferred to the widow of Nicholas Wallis. Widows are also common holders of shares in the registers, the boats providing an important source of income.
There is some evidence in the shipping records that merchant capital was also invested by persons from outside the working fishing community, although it still may have been sourced in St Ives. Several records for instance make reference to a William Hitchens, occupation described as ‘Gentleman’, residence: St Ives. Many more ‘gentleman’ investors may have in fact been involved than the records suggest for they may have wished their business to remain discreet and unofficial (as ‘sleeping partners’). The likelihood of this was suggested to me by John Lambourn who emphasised that the expansion of the fishing fleets in the nineteenth century had to be seen in the context of the imperial economy, the Atlantic triangle of trade of which the Cornish economy was a part, facilitating both the capital and the skills for the building of the fishing fleets. However it is also the case that in the context of St Ives especially, fishing capital became more and more owned by fishermen, their families and other working families in the community, as Deacon has argued (2001), pointing to increasing endogamy and decreasing inter-parish migration as a consequence as fishers sought to keep capital within the family. On the whole, banks were not involved in this local circulation of capital because what it depended on, other than generational continuity, was trust, so that fishing ventures could be undertaken even in the absence of binding contracts. The Bolitho family were merchant bankers in West Cornwall with interests in mining and buying and selling fish. Their banking business was later amalgamated into Barclays Bank and today, it is a branch of Barclays that sits near the harbour in Newlyn, serving the fishing industry. I asked Tony Pawlyn if the Bolithos had acted as money lenders to
fishermen and he gave me some insights into the financial culture of the time:
TM: Would they [Bolitho’s] have loaned money to fishermen?
TP: Probably, yeah. There’s not a great deal of evidence for that, but they probably did. The few mortgages that appear tend to be between merchants rather than bankers, you don’t get many bankers... well put it this way, most of the fishing boats were too small to register as boats, sorry as ‘British vessels’. So they don’t appear on the shipping register. One or two of the smaller ones do end up on the shipping register because somebody wanted a mortgage on them. And they had to be formally registered to get a legal mortgage. But most of the money lent on fishing boats was unsecured loans, based on the, “I know you, you know me, you’ll either succeed or you’ll fail, if you succeed I’ll get me money back, if you fail I’ve had it”. You know, because there was no alternative place to get the money from.
TM: But who would that relationship have been between?
TP: That would have been between [a merchant and] an owner skipper, who he might recognise or know. Put it this way. Up until the 1880s and 1890s, and even till the turn of the century, the last thing any fisherman wanted to be was in debt to a bank. In fact the whole theory of being in debt was a terrible prospect. They didn’t like the thought they were...there was a lot of independence. They liked to think they were free, you know, independence, they could go where they wanted, do what they wanted, and they could meet their own obligations. Wasn’t quite like that, they had to have a period of time between when you...few would save up first and buy the boat when they got the money, but most would get enough to start it going and then pay off over a couple of seasons. But, as I say, it wouldn’t have been a formal mortgage. It very much relied on the man lending the money knowing the man that was borrowing the money – a personal relationship.
One influential factor in shaping attitudes to money and work amongst fishers and other Cornish labouring communities such as mining families was religion. Whilst Newlyn and Mousehole were initially resistant to Methodist preaching (Mattingly 2009), the message of preachers such as John Wesley and the charismatic Billy Bray – that poor working folk could find salvation through hard work and simple and sober living – grew in appeal. Both men and women packed out the chapels, the men on the upper galley in their woollen sea jumpers, the women below. Women were more likely to be literate then men and therefore able to read the Bible. As Julyan Drew, the current Methodist minister in Newlyn explained to me, a common-place notion amongst the men was that they acquired their religion from their mothers. The message of Methodism consolidated the work ethic of the share-systems that organised fishing and mining and it encouraged saving and discouraged debt. Whilst this combination of religion and economic practices bred a peculiar kind of egalitarian spirit of independence, the expanding drift fishing industry also began to exhibit a pattern of internal differentiation.