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STEAM TRAWLERS

For many decades the sailing smacks had proved to be a good seaworthy vessels of which the fishermen were reluctent to change, they regarded steam trawlers as dirty, ugly monstrosities that would not catch on. If it was down to the sea going qualities alone the sailing smack would have exsisted far beyond that of its demise. However no matter how seaworthy or how well built the sailing smacks where they had one major disadvantage, if there was no wind the vessel was unproductive and laid dormant, losing both fishing and travelling time, and on many occasions smacks remained like this for several days at a time. Steam Carriers had been used to collect fish from the sailing smacks since their introduction in Hull in 1866, laterly many sailing smacks were fitted with steam capstans, so it was not that the fishermen could not see the advantages and benefits of the steam vessels, but more commonly the huge expenses these vessels incurred. Costing around three times the amount of a smack the initial outlay was far beyond that affordable by the average skipper or fisherman. There was also the increased payments for extra crewmen, including those skilled as engineers, there was also the expense of coal for the vessel and costly maintenance. It would soon be seen that the prosperous skippers of the sailing smacks could no longer compete in such ventures, and ownership of steam vessels would only be afforded by the very wealthy or those that took up partnerships. In the early years there were several wooden and iron sailing smacks which were converted to steam vessels, but this elliviated the costs little. While steam power brought with it many advantages it was also the start of the mass capitalization of the fishing industry as amalgamations and fishing companies were formed.

The first purpose built steam trawler:

It is difficult to place an exact date time and vessel when identifying the first purpose built steam trawler without laying down certain criteria, if we take the Zodiac b: 1882 in Hull for Grimsby owners and take this as our model vessel, where there any vessels built previously with the same specifications ?. Whilst there is no doubt vessels had been built prior to this and had been installed with steam engines to power them did they have the same attributes. The first experiments to build a steam trawler where begun in the 1850`s and whilst there where many attempts to build a steam fishing vessel they mostly where unsuccesful. It would also seem that many of the earlier attempts where made on fishing boats of smaller dimensions than the trawler we know of the 1880`s.

Paddle steamers had been around since 1814 but as the need for them dwindled many were laid up by the mid 1870`s. The North Shields fishermen employed these paddle tugs to tow the sailing smacks out to sea when there was little or no wind, eventually the sailing smacks while waiting for favourable conditions started to shoot their trawls while under tow from the paddle tugs. In 1877 William Purdy of North Shields bought and equipped his paddle tug the MESSENGER with a full set of trawling gear at a cost of £13. 30s, and after his first voyage of 24 hrs on the 01 Nov 1877 he landed a catch which sold for £7.10s and was able to fish quite succesfully in this manner. Several other paddle tug owners then employed their craft in the same manner and fishermen soon bought the older paddle tugs for fishing, that same winter 43 paddle tugs were employed fishing at N Shields, but this trend mainly occured in the far North East ports, although 2 vessels of this type were purchased for use in Scarborough. The first been the DANDY aptly registered as SH1 which was followed the same day by the TUSKAR but these vessels would not be truly classed as steam trawlers as they had been adapted from other uses. The Scarborough paddle trawlers would land their catches at Hull.

Steam Carriers: The next major change would come in 1866 when steam carriers capable of carrying 3,900 boxes of iced fish started to replace the sailing cutters, Hulls first steam carriers would arrive in 1865 and were the Lord Albert Paget and the Wellesley these vessels enabling the fleets catches to be carried back to the markets in almost any weather. The steam carriers Hallett and Frost would join the Hull fleet a year later in 1866.

Scarborough having brought the Brixham men north in the early 1800`s was still pioneering its own fishing industry and it is possible that it is to Scarborough we must credit the first purpose built screw propulsion steam trawler the PIONEER was built for James Sellers and others of Scarborough. Again Scarborough would play an instrumental role in the trials and adaptation of the otter trawl, which were carried out aboard the smack Triumph. Hulls first Purpose built screw propulsion steam vessel for the Hull fleet was the IRRAWADDY H1479 built in 1885 by Cook Welton & Gemmell for George Beeching & Thomas Kelsall Hull , Although the ARIEL H1473 was built for Charles Hellyer of Hull and started her career as a sailing smack earlier, she was then lengthened and converted to a steam trawler in July 1888, she was also renamed " OBERON H1473. The first screw steam trawler built in Hull was the ZODIAC built by Earles shipbuilders in Dec 1882 at a cost of £3.500 for the Grimsby and North Sea Steam Fishing Co Ltd. There were to be many improvements in both safety and conditions with the new steam vessels. But none of the future advances in communication, radar, Gps, and vessel structure, that would enhance safety over the next 100 years, could prevent the terrible losses the industry was to face. No vessel afloat can combat the adverse weather that many Hull trawlers perished in. Mechanical failure, freak weather and even crew error, will continue to be contributing factors in the loss of vessels and fishermen the world over today, as it has contributed in the past.

We have seen the increase in both the size and the numbers of the sailing smacks over the previous three decades up to the 1880`s , these larger vessels enabled the smackmen to venture further afield looking for new fishing grounds, a feat that was not common or happily undertaken in the earlier smaller smacks of the 1850`s and 60`s. The depletion of the closest grounds had already started by 1880 and the impact of the steam trawler could only make the situation worsen as each new steam trawler increased the catching capacity of a sailing smack fourfold. With the increase in the size and numbers of the sailing smacks, both fleets as well as the single boaters would now be found fishing the length and breadth of the North Sea, from the east coast ports to Heligoland on the German, Holland Coast and as far North as the Shetland Isles. Soon the smacks would be replaced by the steam vessels, enabling far larger catches in weather conditions that were rather too harsh or too moderate for a smack to operate in. There had been several comments published by this time to the effect that while there was an ocean there would be fish, As we know, concerns of overfishing were aired as early as the 16th centuary but to the many distant water men and the owners of these vessels, fish would always be plentiful and there for the taking. A realisation of the truth was bore out by the concerns of the inshore fishermen that found it harder and harder to make their living ,as the sea bed was gradually been swept clean. Over the next 100 years the emphasis was on larger faster vessels, and whether through ignorance or disregard trawler owners gave little thought to or did nothing to preserve fish stocks, which as we now know, not only resulted in depleting the fishing grounds, but to the demise of the fishing industry in Hull.

The Steam Trawler

LYCURGUS H93 Built 1890

To the modern trawlers that we all know these first vessels were very primative but still had far more advantages in comfort and safety than the sailing smack they also on average landed 3 to 4 times the catch that the largest of smacks landed. As with the Lycurgus above all these early vessels carried a complete set of sails and could be powered both by steam propulsion and wind, a great asset as it was not unknown for later vessels to run out of coal , and then have to start burning their deckboards to gain a head of steam and arrive in port safely. We can see also the open bridge which is to the rear of the funnel, this left the people on watch open to the elements and often heavy swells and spray would wash right over the bridge, one advantage of this set up was the crew had a clear view of the trawl warp and net as it was shot and hauled. Another disadvantage was that the funnel restricted the view of the steering helmsman, which probably contributed to the many collisions. The addition of moving the bridge forward or including a closed bridge as with the Edward Robson seen below seems to have been only a matter of cost rather than technology. With the addition of mechanical steering, steam winches and capstans the tasks of hauling the trawl was still very arduous and one of the most dangerous times aboard a trawler, but the new steam equipment alleviated the manual labour somewhat. Although cramped the crew now had specific sleeping quarters and could retire to their bunks for the well deserved little rest they would get. There was now the means of drying wet clothing, and better cooking facilities, all afforded by the steam vessels, as the sole stove that was aboard the sailing smacks was made redundant. The occurence of loss of vessels due to harsh weather, was to reduce with the new steam vessels but having a deeper draft than the sailing smack there were far more incidents of stranding. With the larger of these new steam trawlers it was also found that they could be used in a dual role and several were used as fish carriers, taking the catch daily from the fleet to either Hull or London. The average crew of a Hull Steam Trawler of the time was nine which included a skipper, mate, bosun, chief engineer, second engineer, cook, trimmer, and two deckhands. We can see by the Prome below that this initial basic design was soon changed and the bridge placed forward of the funnel, but the open bridge remained in most cases for a few years but was inclusive of a canvass skirt to give some protection against the elements. As previously mentioned it was probably a matter of cost that stopped some vessels having a closed bridge, as the Edward Robson built 8 years previous to the Prome below included the closed bridge.

PROME H88 Built 1897
EDWARD ROBSON Built 1889

 

The Great Northern Steam Ship Fishing Company of Hull which was formed in 1880 had their first purpose built steam carrier built in 1882 at Earles Shipbuilders which was the EASTWARD H1324 she was 135.4 ft x 22.0 ft and 235 Gross Tons 144 Net tons and 60 Hp. This would be the first vessel of a vast fleet of steam trawlers the company would own in future years as the Gt Northern Boxing Fleet . George Beeching & Thomas Kelsall, along with Christopher Pickering and Samuel L Haldane, Robert & Charles Hellyer, Francis & Thomas Ross, and Richard Simpson were all partnerships that would purchase several vessels and see the birth of the famous company names such as Kelsall Brothers & Beeching, Pickering & Haldane Steam Trawling Co Ltd, Hellyer Brothers Trawlers Ltd, F & T Ross Ltd, the Humber Steam Trawling Co and the Hull Steam Fishing and Ice Co Ltd.

As soon as the success and the potential of the steam trawler had been realised the new steam vessels gradually started to replace the sailing smacks,and in a span of less than twenty years sailing trawlers would be obsolete at the port of Hull, but it would not be untill the mid 1930`s that we would see an end to the boxing system. As we have seen the discovery of the Silver Pits and the arrival of the railway made the success of the fishing industry in Hull possible, probably one without the other, and the result would have been marginal. The same seems to have occured with the arrival of the steam trawler as these first vessels used the beam trawl which had been employed in the smacks previously and was towed by a single rope, the invention of the otter trawl which had two ropes ( warps ) would again contribute to the success of these new steam trawlers. As with the sailing smacks the majority of steam trawlers were employed in the boxing fleets, but there were several that would go single boating. These vessels would venture into uncharted waters with no communication and only a compass and the stars as navigation, it was the sheer nerve and bearing of the skipper that would see the vessel through as they searched for new fishing grounds far from home, the vessels only limitation was the amount of coal they could carry ( about 230 - 250 tons required for a trip to Iceland ) also the time they could preserve the fish they caught influenced the distance they travelled and the time they spent at sea. By the 1890`s Hull vessels had reached the south coast of Iceland a distance of over 1,000 miles, they became regular visitors to the area. The RICHARD SIMPSON H91 was the first Hull trawler to be lost off the south coast of Iceland on 11 May 1899, by the end of the centuary these adventurers had ventured into the White Sea and beyond becomming true distant water fishermen

.As with the sailing smack the steam trawler would also see it`s losses, the first Hull steam vessel to be lost was the ADVENTURE H1500, which was lost 8th Feb 1889 in a North Sea storm. On 22nd Dec 1894 the Great Northern Boxing fleet was caught in a North Sea storm, several smacks were lost, Vigilant, Sportsman, Londesborough, John Sims, Excel, Romantic, and Mary Grace, also lost were several Hull steam trawlers, EXPRESS H237, ENERGY H218, ECONOMY H221, CITY OF BIRMINGHAM H162, ENGLAND H255 AND STAGHOUND H85 with the total loss of 106 Hull men. When we think of trawler losses we visualise far off distant waters with ferocious weather but there have been many Hull steam trawlers lost a few hours steaming time from home, mostly by collision or grounding.

By 1893 the Hull steam vessels visiting Iceland had paid little regard to the Icelandic inshore fishermen, often causing damage or total loss of their fishing gear, these new visitng trawlers had a great impact on the living of the Icelandic fisherman, So in 1893 the the Danish Governing Body over Iceland imposed a 13 mile limit to the waters around Iceland which was then policed and patrolled by the Danish gunboats. Many a Hull skipper would fall foul of the Gunboat captains as skullduggery was present on both sides, trawlers sneaking into the 13 mile limit at the dead of night, and gunboat captains that would place a vessel fishing outside the limit in Icelandic waters under arrest. This first Cod War would last till 1899 and see many incidents on both sides. There were many allegations of Kangaroo courts been held aboard the Danish Gunboats where Hull skippers would not receive legal representation or even understand the proceedings. Excessive fines and imprisonment were often impossed by these courts, with the confiscation of all catches and trawl gear in most cases. Such an incident took place with the Hull Trawler ROYALIST H428 early in 1900 when she was deemed to be fishing in Icelandic waters a magistrate was taken out to the vessel by small boat, the skipper is alleged to have deliberatley upset the boat resulting in the loss of life, other accounts state the boat became entagled as the ROYALIST tried to move out of Icelandic waters. The skipper and mate of the vessel would later receive imprisonment for the act. Within the first decade of the 20th centuary Germany, Iceland, Norway and Russia had all arrested a British trawler for illegal fishing. Mar 1922 Bosun King of the Hull trawler James Johnson having fallen foul of the Russians for a second time, as he had been arrested on the Hull trawler St Hubert a year earlier for illegaly fishing in Russian Territorial waters, was told on his release that if he ever returned he would be shot.