BRIXHAM AND THE MIGRATION
Whilst the main subject matter of the site is the fishing industry of Hull in the overall development and relationship of Britain and it`s fisheries, Hull as a fishing port was a fairly modern evolution of the fishery. So we must venture to the south coast ports of Brixham, Barking and such other stations which have fished our waters in the various forms for many a century to gain an insite into the arrival of the trawling industry in Hull.
Brixham lying in the southern corner of Torbay was not afforded a natural harbour like it`s surrounding ports of Dartmouth, Plymouth and Falmouth but had the advantage of been shielded from the south westerly winds and gales, it was also offered protection from the wind from the north - east , south by west , south south east, allowing smacks to enter and leave in almost any wind direction. Originally the harbour had only a walled quay untill twelve Brixham men and their wives bought the harbour from the Lord of the manor in 1759 becoming the quay " Lords and Ladies" in 1795 an eastern Quay was built and 1799 saw an act passed to build the new pier.
The Brixham fishermen had fished the South coast waters and the north sea by drift net for many years before the start of the 19th centuary and have supposedly been recorded as having sea going fishing vessels as far back as the Spanish Armada days in the 16th centuary, although this has not been conclusively verified. With Barking also in contention it is impossible to define the birthplace of beam trawling, although the needle sways slightly towards Brixham, as the Barking fisheries seemed to be more concentrated on the Cod line fishing and became extremely productive and prospered with the introduction and use of welled smacks.
Fishing had been known in Brixham long before trawling and as early as 1635 Dutch fishermen had paid £30,000 to King Charles to fish in UK waters for Herring and Brixham was often visited. Trawling was most likely been done by vessels in the small bays and sheltered places with shaol water around the coast, long before it was attempted in the open sea. by the turn of the 18th Centuary trawling had been and was carried out for sometime at Brixham although the vessels and the nets where far smaller than those of the smacks of the migrating fishermen of the 1840`s. The vessels known as cutters had been improved from the open boat and where now decked and had an approximate length of about 30ft, these vessels would slowly increase in size over the next fifty years. There where approximately seven sea going fishing vessels at Brixham by the 1780`s. It was around this time the first vessels from Torbay visited the east coast and 3 vessels where known to have fished to the west of Dungeness. Brixhams fishery was localised up-to this point and fish would be sold close to the town or as far as the fish hawkers could travel, the fish was therefore an affordable food scource to almost all. As vessels ventured further to the East and the West new species of white fish where often landed at Brixham and markets for these landings opened up in places like Bath, London, Salisbury and Bristol. All the fish been conveyed by coach at this time, As these new markets provided a higher demand than supply for much of the fish caught price`s rose and the cheap localised fish around Brixham diminished some-what.
A steady rise of smacks leaving Brixham began and after the summer fishing season vessels would leave in October for the grounds near Dover and return to Brixham at christmas or as many did, stay on till early June. As the price of conveyancing for fish to the markets at Brixham increased, more and more vessels would leave to be closer to the East Coast grounds and direct conveyance to London. By 1823 a total of 70 smacks left Brixham for winter fishing leaving about 20 smacks at Brixham. A similar trend also occured to the West in places like the Bristol Channel,and Irish waters.
Brixham smacks had started to visit Dover as early as 1780`s and for several reasons more and more smacks used Ramsgate as their station, this was due to the better harbour and localised facilities, Dover harbour afforded strong tides, sand banks, high winds and danger of collisions with the cross channel packets. These pioneering fishermen took their vessels and would fish from these ports during the winter months returning to Brixham for the summer as the weather became too warm to transport fish by coach and wagon to London in prime condition.
Fishing from the East Coast ports such as Dover and Ramsgate the Brixham fishermen found they could get fine prices for the prime fresh fish such as soles and turbot, which was quickly transported to the London gentry who were amongst the few that could afford such delights. As new markets and the demand for fresh prime fish rose the fishermen started to venture further north and east in their search for new fishing grounds and grounds as far as the Dutch coast had soon been discovered, the vessels returning to markets of ports such as Harwich, Lowestoft and Gt Yarmouth. Up untill the 1830`s these pioneers where the modern equivalent of commutors each season returning to their home port of Brixham, few had settled permanently at the other ports they fished.
By 1833 there where 112 trawlers registered at Brixham but few remained to fish there, many of them would venture to the North Sea ports,and places as far as Hartlepool, Durham and Sunderland had been fished by the Brixham men prior to 1833. A change in the insurance of vessels would eventually allow the smackmen to bring their families and furniture along with them. We can see by the census that many Brixham smackmen where actually lodgers and boarders in many of the towns they visited, but these where temporary visits as the smackmen still returned to Brixham in these early days. we would see all this change and up-to the end of the fishing era in Hull, men of Brixham heritage would still be found on the many vessels fishing the White Sea, Barents Sea, Bear Island, and Newfoundland grounds.
There is no doubt that there was no glamour attached to been a fisherman in these early days of fishing, it was a hard hazardous life which at best provided a living, as the original smackmen fished the coast of the British Isles. There was no inviting adventure or dreams of riches, fishing was a necessity for the communities that lived around our coast, which provided a cheap food scource and an income for the smacksmen. Invariably most smacks of the early era would consist of several family members, who all shared the profits and scratched their livings from the sea. Such was the composition of these crews that if a vessel was lost, generations of a single family could be lost. With several male members of one family been on the same vessel of which was also possibly their only asset, there would be no prospect of help from relatives and the future of any widows and orphans was bleak. There was very little money made from fishing and there was certainly very little if any available relief for those who found themselves in such circumstances. In almost all cases in these early days vessels where inevitably insured but men where not. As fishing in most ports like Brixham was seasonal and mainly that of the summer months, fishermen needed to make enough to provide for their families needs during the winter months. In some cases fishermen would been known to spend the winter crewing sailing barques and cutters around our coasts.