[From Bullock's Account of IoM, 1816]
Herring Fishery, and Trade in general.
THE herring trade being the staple commodity, must be first noticed. It has hitherto been, considered as an established fact in natural history, that the appearance of the herring on the different coasts of Europe in the summer season, was in consequence of migration.- Their progress from the cold regions of the north has been detailed with singular precision ; they have been marshalled in large bodies, or sent out in detachments, as the fancy or information of Zoologists dictated; but late inquirers strongly question this progress from distant parts, and rather incline to the belief that the herring, like the mackarel, is in reality at no great distance during the winter months from those shores which it frequents in the season of spawning, inhabiting only the deep recesses of the ocean, or plunging itself in the soft mud at the bottom; but that at the vernal season it quits the deeper parts and approaches the shallows in order to deposit its spawn in proper situations.
The reasons given by Dr. Block are chiefly these: that it is physically impossible this fish should traverse so many thousands of miles in so short a time. That in one or other part of Europe, herrings may be found all through year; on the coasts of Swedish Pomerania from January to March. In the Baltic sea, and other places from March to November! About Gothland, and also on the coast of France, from October to December. The fishermen of Scarborough scarcely ever throw a net in any season of the year without finding herrings among their fish.
But by whatever means, or from what cause they are conducted by the hand of providence to the different coasts on which they are periodically seen, no where can their arrival be welcomed with greater avidity than at the Isle of Man, where a new spirit seems to inform the population as soon as the fishery commences. Between four and five hundred boats, usually of sixteen tons burthen each, and without decks, are employed in this service. These are manned by two seamen and four countrymen, who come from their inland habitations at this season, which commences about the end of July, and continues through the month of October. The nets, are buoyed up by inflated bags of dog-skin. The produce of a boat is commonly divided into nine shares, one of which appertains to each fisherman, the owner of the boat takes two, and the proprietor of the nets one.
The fishing is very frequently interrupted: the least appearance of a change in the weather, hurries them instantly to port. Indeed, the boats are by no means calculated for encountering a storm, or even a severe gale ; and some deplorable accidents which have happened in former seasons are still remembered as warnings against encountering similar dangers; nor are they solely restrained by fear, from constant exertion, dissipation is quite as frequently a bar to their pursuits : a very successful night is almost sure to be followed by drunkenness and consequent inability to attempt a repetition of their good fortune. They are also scrupulously careful not to leave the harbour on Saturday or Sunday evening. Tradition has preserved a story, that in former times they had a custom only to except Saturday from the pursuit of business but that with the setting sun of the following evening, it was the practice to put to sea. On one of these occasions a tremendous gale accompanied by thunder and lightning, signals of divine vengeance, dispersed the boats, a great part of which were speedily buried in the waves, the remainder took shelter in the recess of an impending cliff, and before morning were overwhelmed by its fall. The warning has been accepted by the inhabitants of Man, who in this respect, at least, are careful not to intrench upon the Sabbath day.
The view of this little fleet at sea on a calm day is highly beautiful. They always throw their their nets in the night, and on their return to the harbour next morning, children and women are employed to convey the fish to the several receiving houses where the operation of salting is immediately performed, as much of the excellence of the herring is thought to depend on the speedy performance of this process. The Dutch and the Scotch, (in imitation of them,) have adopted the practice of salting the fish on board the vessels, and of throwing overboard at rise all that remain fresh ; but in this island they proceed on the old plan. The fish are rubbed as soon as brought in, and left in heaps till the following morning., when they are regularly packed in barrels, with a layer of salt between each row. Those designed for red herrings are differently treated ; they are first piled up with layers of salt for two or three days, after which they are washed and hung up by the gills upon small rods, placed in extensive houses built for the purpose, where the rods are suspended in rows from the roof to within eight feet of the floor; underneath are kindled wood fires, which are kept constantly burning till the fish are sufficiently dry and smoked, after which they are barreled for exportation.
The number of herrings annually cured in the island is subject to considerable variation, but is calculated at an average of between eight and ten millions. The present price of fresh herrings varies from ten to twenty for a shilling ; and for those that are cured, two guineas the barrel. is the average price. A barrel contains about six hundred.
Formerly premiums were given to the owners of successful boats, and certain bounties upon all that were exported to foreign lands; but both are discontinued.
The. chief exports from the island, besides herrings, are strong linens and sail-cloth, but in no large quantities, there being but one factory for making these articles, and that on a small scale. Considerable supplies of grain have of late years been sent to Liverpool, with butter, eggs, fowls, bacon, and some other trifling matters. There is, as I observed before, a manufactory of woollens, but these are eagerly bought up for home consumption as fast as they can be finished. Some years back an attempt was made to establish a mill for cotton spinning; but after the erection of the works the proprietors made a rather late discovery, that the exportation of the article to Great Britain was probibited and after some ineffectual endeavours to convert the works to other purposes, the whole were suffered to go to ruin: nor do I imagine that manufactories on a large scale can ever answer here under present circumstances. England usually allows a large drawback on manufactured goods, which in their raw state are subjected to heavy duties, in order to preserve her trade in foreign markets. The population of the Isle of Man, considering the fishery, is not at all abundant for the existing occupations of the country; or if it were, the vicinity to the manufacturing counties of England, where labor is always rewarded with high wages, leaves no chance of competition for any insular establishments, except for the internal supply.
For some years past the inland trade has been much more flourishing than it now is. Since the non-protection act there are, particularly in Douglas, more shops than customers; but it is to he hoped this will revive again, or indeed very serious consequences may be apprehended. At all times the balance of trade is greatly against the island, but this has hitherto been counterpoised by the income brought in. from other countries through the medium of persons settling here; and now that this source is closed up, the distress for want of a due circulation is very severely felt. Gold coin is hardly.ever seen ;silver also very scarce, the copper being peculiar to the country is more stationary : fourteen-pence Manx makes one shilling British. To obviate this great want of a currency, the merchants and shopkeepers issue cards of five shillings, two shillings and sixpence, and one shilling each, nominal value ; these are in the form of promissory notes, payable on demand in British coin ; but they are found to be attended with so many inconveniences and such great risk to the public, that it is at present under contemplation of the legislature to make some regulations on this subject, and probably before long the British government will grant an issue of Manx coinage.
Some of the principal merchants in Douglas also circulate guinea notes, but the only regular bank established in the island is at Castletown, and the notes and cards of this house, from its known stability, obtain a natural and decided preference. The whole establishment is conducted on a scale of liberality very honourable to the proprietors and advantageous to the public, though it is often regretted that the gentlemen concerned in it, have not established a branch at Douglas, where the great commerce is carried on for the whole island.
The imports are all kinds of manufacted goods, chiefly from Liverpool ; coal from thence and from the ports in Cumberland. wine from Oporto and Guernsey, from whence also they get geneva and brandy : rum must pass through an English or Scotch port. Since the year 1765, the contraband trade has been near annihilated; the little that is now done in that way, is supposed to be by coasting vessels; but the custom-house department is so admirably conducted under the vigilant superintendence of the present collector, that it is generally believed the revenue is quite as well protected as at any of the ports of Great Britain.
The shops in the different towns have much the appearance of general storehouses, each one exhibiting an aggregate of articles not always calculated for combination ; nor can I give the dealers in general, particularly the natives, the praise of civility, or a desire to accommodate. Persons accustomed to the obliging manners of English tradesmen, are in general much disgusted with the air of inattention and disrespect prevalent here, especially in those who hay realized some property, or as it is usually termed, got a little above the world.
Some of the existing laws* are considered as great obstacles to traffic with other countries. or even to an extended trade amongst themselves. On one hand, the stranger is exposed to imprisonment and sequestratio'n of property for the smallest sum, whilst the native is protected from incarceration for the largest. The want of regular bankrupt laws also tends to cripple the efforts of the trader; and in many respects the fundamentals of commerce are neither understood nor acted upon, especially in what relates to credit and punctuality in money dealings; but all these defects, I think are in a course of rapid improvement. Every day brings with it a visible enlargement of ideas, and as the disadvantages are felt they will be overcome.
The manufactories for internal consumption, besides that already mentioned for woollen clother, are breweries, soap and candle maufactories, and tanneries. The brewer and maltster are combined in one, and all these being free from duties of every kind, must necessarily leave an open field for great profits, especially as the prices of the articles manufactured are nearly an high as in England, where they are subject to such heavy charges, and in consequence one would expect that large fortunes would be speedily realized by those entering on these concerns; but I believe, especially of late years, that the numbers engaged are rather too many for the consumption, and the payments of the publican and others too irregular to admit of the full advantages to be expected.
There are few shops, and not many houses occupied by the lower orders, where spirits are not sold either in large or small quantities. The smuggling trade introduced habits of intoxication, which still prevail to an extent the most lamentable; and nothing but a heavy duty, producing a consequent advance of price, will probably counteract this evil tendency.
Most of the small farmers and cottagers still spin their own wool and flax, and get them made into cloth by village weavers, there being generally one or two looms in every parish; these practices are favourable to economy, and encourage domestic industry, whilst they preserve the simplicity of the peasants.
* See Laws,