[From Manx Annals,1901/2]

MANX ANNALS.
EIGHTY YEARS AGO.

CHAPTER III.

The herring was as fickle then as it is at the present day-indeed this inconstancy is the only constant thing connected with the fish. Early in June, 1811, great quantities of herrings were caught near the mouth of Carlisle harbour, " in general they measured fifteen inches long, and five in girth." These dimensions certainly exceed any caught off the Isle of Man nowadays in June. In that year herrings were scarce off the Manx coast till August, when the boats were very successful, coming into Douglas deeply laden; 1812 was a poor year, and the early part of the next year was worse-only a few herrings caught off Peel in July ; but as August set in the herrings turned up, and by the second week the fishing was remarkably productive at Peel and so on all through August. and at Douglas in September right into October, in the second week of which month immense quantities were caught. The herrings caught off Derbyhaven and Douglas in one night in September were estimated-at 7,000. 1814 was generally poor for the fishermen till September when the boats off Douglas were averaging eighty to ninety mease each, and about the middle of October forty to fifty mease. In 1815 Peel fishing in July was pretty good, and in August better, but on the whole the year was bad. Thus the records go on-one night, month, or year, poor ; next night, month, or year, good.

The retail prices in Douglas market at that time strike one now as being high. For instance : June 21st, 1811, herrings ware sold at eight a shilling; August, same year, six shillings a hundred ; July, 1813, ten shillings ; in September that year, when the boats had a hundred mease each, three and six a hundred ; in September, 1816, when the boats at Douglas and Peel averaged the same quantity, the prices were, at Peel, eighteen pence a hundred, and at Douglas two shillings for a like number. A glut of this sort now would mean a fall in price to half-a-crown a mease and possibly no buyers at that. The fact was the curers received a substantial bounty for every barrel of packed herrings.

Fishing is generally a lottery, and much the same inducement that allures the gambler to try his luck prompts the fisherman to pursue his calling--each hopes to got a " haul " that will counteract the effect of past losses. A letter in the "Manks Advertiser" of November 2nd, 1820, by " Monansis "-who evidently had no sympathy for the fishermen and his hardships- on the subject of the generally neglected state of small farms in the Isle of Man, says :-" The obstacle to the improvement of farms is the pursuit of the herring fishing. The, subject is peculiarly important whether considered in a moral, political, or commercial point of view. , The baneful influence of the fishing on the morals of the country suggests the necessity of putting it under bettor regulations or abandoning it for over. . The Manx herring fishing has been invariably found to form habits of indolence, to lead to rioting, and drunkenness, and to generate a passion for gambling and dissipation,.. A great part of the crews are petty farmers. . . And in the - harvest time when they are required at home they. are fast a sleep on the beach. In one of our most populous parishes almost all the farmers are, during the herring season, to be seen in the customs of mendicants, hurrying along the roads on every Monday morning to their boats ; the state of their farms betrays the folly of their conduct." He then advises all concerned to give up the fishing and devote their time and capital - on improving their farms. He quotes some figures from a member of Parliament who says "from accounts he has heard," &c., &c., and after some, juggling makes the following remarkable statement :-"Balance of gain in favour of cultivation, 140,000."

When the century was young, a trip across the water between the Isle of Man and the adjacent isles was no joke. The packets wore mostly cutters, and the passage some times took days owing to adverse winds. Gore's Liverpool Directory for 1811 gives the following information for those who were about to travel :-

"The new and, remarkably fast sailing schooner, William Leece, burthen 100 tons and the fine cutters, Duke of Athol, Nelly and Betty and Alert, built purposely for the trade, and fitted up in a very superior style for the convenience and accommodation of passengers, sail by rotation every week ; also, the fast sailing cutter; Friends, neatly finished out being for passengers only, sails every other day between Liverpool and Douglas. Performed by Leece and Drinkwater, Drury-lane, Water-street, Liverpool," ." The following complete and excellent packets and traders are also constantly employed, between Liverpool and Douglas, viz the Duchess of Athol, and the Mary, which have two cabins and two state rooms each, and elegant accommodation for passengers, etc., and the Chesterfield, which has convenience for carriages and horses, and sails regularly to the Isle of Man twice a week. Performed by Barrow and Fleetwood, 15, George's Dock Passage."

Notwithstanding the regularity of these fast and elegant packets, the Manx folk had to put up with this sort of thing : Saturday, January 19th, 1811; the two mails due last Tuesday had not arrived when this paper was put to press, -'Since our last; we have been favoured with Dublin papers down to the 12th instant, which in the absence of the mails have-enabled us to furnish our columns." And again :-" February lst, 1816; the Lady Elizabeth sailed from Whitehaven on 19th January, and was driven into Whithorn on the 21st. had to stay there, till the 25th, on the evening of which day she arrived in Douglas." In May, 1812, a new packet-the Stag- began sailing between Douglas and Dublin, Skerries and Drogheda ; fares: cabin, 17s 6d; steerage 7s; .horses, 21s ;. slinging money for each horse 2s 6d. Later in the same month the Brown Betty started running between Douglas and Dublin, and in the summer another - the Sarah. In August, a new packet, the Friends, of Peel, commenced plying, between that port and Ardglass.

Ramsey and Whitehaven had their packet,, and Liverpool and Dublin were not the only ports connected with Douglas. In the summer of 1814 a new smack-the Broughton- sailed from Douglas every Monday, and from Kirkcudbright every Thursday. She, like all the others, was "elegantly fitted up." Besides these, there was the Lady Elizabeth, which carried the mails once a week between the Island and the Mainland by way of Douglas and Whitehaven.

Speaking of mails-to carry on a correspondence then one required a long purse. In 1810 the rates were as follows :-From any post-office in England to any place not exceeding 15 miles distant, 3d ; above 15 and under 30, 4d ; and so on' up to any distance over 150 miles, 8d. All letters between Great Britain and the Isle of Man over all other rates 2d. These were rates for "single letters," those not more than quarter of an ounce weight; a letter weighing an ounce was rated as four single letters. By 1810 postage was heavier still, when to send a "single single letter" any distance, under 15 miles cost 4d ; under 30, 6d; and letters to the Isle of Man over all other rates, 3d.

To add to all this, no letter was delivered without an extra charge. The mails were carried by Government vessels, and no one was allowed to carry letters privately under pains and penalties. No Smuggling in letters being allowed, pockets were searched ; and often, to prevent discovery, passengers had slits made in the tails of their coats, and other out of the way places, for stowing, written communications. It was not till July, 1815, the Postmaster-General thought it fit and right to allow letters to and from Liverpool and the Island to be conveyed by private vessels, but " all letters both inwards and outwards must pass through the Post Office." In 1820, a further improvement took place, when the Post Office ordered that the Lady Elizabeth, was, in future, to carry each way eighty instead of fifty-two mails in the year.

Smuggling, in a small way, was carried on by means of the packets. In November, 1814 a search was made on board the New Triton (Douglas and Liverpool packet)- when fourteen dozen packs of playing cards were found carefully folded in a bedquilt at the bottom of a barrel, and covered with potatoes. The captain having been apprized of the smuggling, to save himself and the vessel, informed the revenue officers ; thus the success of the search. In 1820, the Molly and Peggy did a nice bit of smuggling occasionally with the Peel tradesmen, This was suspected fer some time ; still nothing came to light till one day in summer, when the Customs officers examined her whilst lying in Peel harbour and found hidden amongst the ballast thirteen rolls of tobacco. The skipper and crew were packed off to Castle Ruahen.

 


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