[From 1911 MacDonnell Inquiry]
LETTER FROM MR. THOMAS H. LEECE ON THE STATE OF THE FISHING INDUSTRY
IN THE ISLAND.
Cronkmoor, Dalby, near Peel,
Isle of Man
To FRANK ELLIOTT, Esq.,
Secretary, Manx Constitutional Inquiry.
Although my name had been submitted to you
by the Reform League as a probable witness on the
fisheries at the recent Inquiry, I was unable to send
you an outline of my evidence; I attended the Inquiry
up to the day before its conclusion, and although you
did your best in an able and courteous manner, it was
impossible to take all the evidence intended. I now
submit the following memorandum to your Committee,
and as no witness from Peel was called at the Inquiry, I
venture to hope that my evidence will be considered. I
followed the fishing industry for 26 years as deck hand,
and also in the capacity of skipper and owner; I was also
manager for the Peel Fishing Company for ten years,
part of the time in Ireland and Milford Haven; had
carrying steamers running from the Irish ports to
Milford, also large consignments sent via Dublin and
Holyhead. I had to do with packing, transit, etc., of
fish, and had experience of handling and charges in
several railway centres in England ; would have as high
as 10,000 boxes in the markets in one day.
In 1876 we had 200 fishing boats employing about
1,500 men and boys, annual average earnings about
400l. per boat, and fished around the coast of the
British Isles; to-day we have about 40 boats, mostly
second-class, employing about 280 men and boys.
In 1880 we landed on an average about 600l.
worth of fish daily at Peel.
To-day the average is about 100l.
In the year referred to we had 3 net factories
employing over 100 women, and 100 men were also
employed at trades connected with fishing.
To-day we have one net factory employing about
9 women, and the tradesmen have declined to 30.
At that time 300 of our fishermen were members
of the Royal Naval Reserve.
To-day about 30 men are attached to that force.
We were the pioneers of the mackerel fishing of
the South West Coast of Ireland in 1860, and again
the pioneers of the herring fishing at the Shetland
Islands in 1883.
To-day we have 20 boats at the mackerel fishing
and 2 at the Shetland fishing.
About fifteen years ago when steam supplanted
sail our fleet became almost useless and we have been
going down ever since.
Since 1907 we have built at Peel 17 first-class
fishing boats for the Congested Boards of Ireland, at a
cost of 6,000l., but only 5 for ourselves.
During the last twenty years the entrance to Peel
Harbour has shallowed by three to four feet; the
entrance to the harbour is not what it should he.
There are many things responsible for the decline
of the fishing. I think the introduction of steam one of
the main points; we had not the capital to build steam
drifters; the Scotch and Irish fishermen were in the
same predicament as the Manx, but the banks and
Congested Boards came to the rescue and furnished
the necessary capital. If the Tynwald Court had done
its duty we would probably be one of the most prosperous
fishing towns per population in the British Isles.
Manx banks do not advance money on fishing
From Ireland there are through rates. The cost of
sending a box of fish from County Kerry to Manchester
is 2s. 6d.; to Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield, 3s. 6d.,
less a rebate of 3d. per box on three-ton lots. In
Ireland they have also the advantage of a frequency of
boats and trains.
The cost of sending a box of fish from Peel to
Liverpool is 2s. 8d. and to Manchester 4s.
The exportation of fresh fish from the Island to the
English markets was not likely to be taken up by
anyone who had a knowledge of the trade.
To have steam carriers would be very expensive;
what the fishermen would like is a curing station.
It is not for want of fish so much as want of markets,
and with regard to curing it requires considerable
capital, as the boats want payment weekly, and the curer
may probably be out of his money -until October or
There should be something done by the Government
to help the industry the same as they helped farming
and the Board of Advertising.
In 1895 his Excellency Sir West Ridgeway inquired
into the state of the fishing, and granted 250l. as a
subsidy to be used in the best way suggested by a
small committee of boat-owners and fishermen.
A station in the Killey Begs, County Donegal, was
opened; we went there in August of the same year and
fished until the end of October, but the scheme did
not prove successful, hence no further trial was made;
that is the only time in the history of the Island for
sixty years that anything has been done for the fishing
The period I refer to when I went to the fishing
twenty years ago many of the fishermen lived on the
country and held small crofts, which was a subsidy to
the precarious earnings at the fishing; at present there
are few crofters: the fishermen have drifted to the
I am a supporter of the Reform Petition in its
entirety, and think that with a prudent Legislature,
guided by a far-seeing Governor, might build better
fishing boats, equip curing stations, and drain tracks
of waste land and otherwise establish Manx labour.
A loyal Manxman,
Thomxs H. LEECE.