Yngve Bernhardsson

Patent no. GB598097

Patent no. GB598097

I took me a long time to realise that this was the oldest patent I had for a functioning pelagic trawl –  I had misfiled it under headline floats, for some silly reason. But the niggling feeling that I was missing a piece and my Dad’s recollection of the first pelagic pair trawl had been Swedish got me to searching my database again – and up popped Yngve Bernhardsson. According to his patent, filed September 20th 1945, he was a Swedish national living on Fotö, near Göteborg in Sweden.

His patent is a short affair, 3 pages, with less than 1 and a half given over to explanation. For your pleasure I include his diagrams. He describes his trawl as having a ‘substantially rectangular mouth’, ‘tow-lines fastened at each corner of the mouth’ and that the two towing vessels ‘should be at a distance form each other that the mouth will be strained in a horizontal direction’. There is a complex affair of float and weights, which are interlinked and depicted in the diagram – apparently with some adjustable features to vary the size of the mouth. where I fell down was the lack of specificity – he, or rather the agency no doubt translating and typing up – does not mention at what depth the gear is to be deployed, or even any measurements. No doubt this is why it got filed under floats and bottom trawls.

On the upside, now I get to go through every patent and double check their classification… And that Bernhardsson beats Larsen by two months with the patents that I have at hand.

Herring Busses – The Dutch Pre-Industrial Fishing Fleet

The herring buss (haring buis, if you feel authentic) is an example of fishing a monumental scale before the invention of machinery. The busses, although somewhat small (probably about 20m) and well proportioned, being designed as both nippy and spacious. Unfortunately all there remains of the herring buss are drawings and descriptions – not a single example survives. At least, none that are known or have been identified – a shame, when history tells us that the Dutch herring fleet was several hundred vessels strong.

Herring busses utilised drift nets (gill nets) and moved with the herring – they started in Shetland and moved their way down to Yarmouth and Lowestoft over the course of the year. This was a pattern that continue largely uninterrupted for several centuries, from the 1600’s right up to the mid 19th century. This fleet developed and evolved over the centuries, with both ships and trade changing with the times. At its peak, this fleet was so large and well organised that no one else had a chance to operate on the same scale.

The buss itself became a kind of factory ship – herring caught, salted and packed on each vessel, with the final product then handed off to other, smaller ships which would journey to and from the mainland while the busses remained at sea for the season. The British tried to get in the herring action but never had the capital to make any impact on Dutch activities. Plenty of  diatribes and fist-shaking was to be had, right up until the issue of money and resources was mentioned. As a naval nation, Britain preferred warships to busses. Still, this leaves us with the wonderfully titled The Herring-Busses Trade: Expressed in Sundry Particulars, both for the building of Buses, making of deepe Sea-Nets, and other appurttenances, also the right curing of the Herring for Forreine Vent. Written by Simon Smith, ‘Agent for the Royall-Fishing’, and published in 1641, we can see how early on the Dutch dominated this fishery. there is one example of a English herring buss here: English Herring Buss c.1750 although it a century later and made according to the specifications laid down be a Swedish shipwright, Fredrick af Chapman.

But why Dutch herring? One word: quality. The salted herring provided by the Dutch was considered the best, and in early modern Europe this was an important consideration when purchasing your salted herring. and why was this? Another singe word: Christianity. Meat was an expensive resource at any times, but even the richest had to abstain on fridays, during Lent and feast days. In that time, that was a hefty chuck of the year that there was no meat. Fish, one the other had, was acceptable – but did not keep well on the long journey from the coast to inland towns, so had to be preserved. The sheer volume produced by the Dutch and its good quality led to the Dutch dominating and relying on the herring for a huge part of their economy for several centuries – so its true what they say – Amsterdam is built on herring bones!

Haring Buis - Wikipedia Commons

Haring Buis – Wikipedia Commons

Amsterdam ISBSA

Since last monday I have been in Amsterdam, the city built on herring bones and reclaimed land. I was attending the week-long ISBSA conference – The International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology. One of the great things about maritime archaeology is the sheer variety and scope of this field, with topics varying from an in-depth study of a single Roman barge from 60AD, found in France, to an annual project scanning to seabed of the Zuiderzee to understand the dangerous and swiftly changing tidal channels.

Although I didn’t get much work done PhD wise, succeeding only in catching a cold, I did get a few ideas for future projects and presentations of my own. One interesting project – a student’s master thesis – was about the Dutch watership, a wooden vessel that was in use from around 1600 to about 1800. It was a trawler of sorts then, with a well inside to keep a live catch. It was a popular vessel and got bigger as Amsterdam expanded and the population needed a larger food supply. Later on it was also used as a tug, before being abandoned in favour of other vessel types. Later on in the week I saw a lecture on the seabed survey that was/is being conducted in the Baltic, along where the new pipe line will run. It was interesting to note the number of shipwrecks that were discovered, as well as the suspected shipwrecks and the dis-articulated timbers that litter the seabed.

It got me to thinking less about ships and more about ship gear, as I now wonder how much gear is lying on the bottom, not just the ships themselves. Trawling is almost invisible in archaeology because the gear does not survive – or at least, that is the assumption. But how many of the random, loose timbers that are picked up, dismissed and disposed of are actually a key part of our maritime heritage? I’m sure the maritime historians – and archaeologists – would be very happy to find a 17th century beam from a beam trawl, or a pair of wooden doors from the 1880’s. The net might not survive, but it’s not impossible – rope and organic matter like fabric, leather, hemp and plant material can be found on shipwrecks of all ages, it’s just a matter of their environment and recognising what has been found…

Fish, Chips & Railways

Fish and chips are now a immovable fixture of British cuisine – but how many people know that the origins of this national dish lie with the establishment of the railways?

Back in the 1830’s, when the railways first sprang up over the UK, fish was not a commodity available to the everyday person on the street – and if it was available, it was far from cheap. But it took over a decade for the connection between fishermen and inland cities to be made – at first fish was seen as a luxury item and was charged high carriage rates. It wasn’t until 1841, when Captain James Law RN decided it was time to bring fresh fish into Manchester. his shop was an instant success, with stock selling out within hours of arriving – the local population had never had a steady, affordable supply of fresh fish.

Railways were still less than helpful with carriage rates and liability insurances, the matter was eventually settled legally in 1855, a battle started by Captain Law. Suddenly fish was plentiful and cheap in inland cities, which had an unsurprisingly large poor consumer base  – including the large influx of Irish immigrants who came to Britain in the wake of the 1845 Potato Famine. Fish was central to the diet of the Catholic Irish immigrants, as Catholicism forbids eating meat on fridays.

Another side effect of the railway network transporting fish was the reduction of fishermen throwing previously unsaleable fish back before landing. Now there was a consumer base that would by this – and although easy transportation had lowered the cost of fish, the quantity of fish increased hugely.

And fish and chips? It’s known that fish-frying was established by 1861 and started in London, with the fryers buying leftover end-of-day stock from fishmongers. Fryers worked on the street, selling from painted trays lined with old newspapers and with salt on hand. The tray and a regular supply of fried fish was bought with a small sum, while sales would bring the seller an eventual return and profit. Fish and chip shops were established in 1876 – chips appeared in the 1860’s, although the exact circumstances that brought fried fish and chips is still a bit of a mystery and to some rather controversial. It’s believed that their popularity stems from working women relying on a quick ready-made meals for their families, as well as the Jewish population of the UK. Jewish families aren’t allowed to do anything that can be considered work between sundown on friday to saturday evening – including cooking. As a result, fried fish was bought and could be kept for the saturday meal without breaking any rules. Of course, this has never been proven. Either way, fish and chips has been and continues to be a Delicious and affordable source of fast food in the UK – after all, what little town doesn’t have a chippy?

Euronete, Portugal – Thanks

A big thank you from me to Euronete, Portugal, who has been very kind in supporting this ongoing research with a handy donation. I’m lacking a corporate logo, so here are some balloons instead:

Unfortunately I have not been very well (I always seem to  get the summer-autumn lurgy) but I shall be back this week, after a flying visit to Langeland tomorrow. Posts shall resume sometime this week!

Gods and Fishermen

Last week I discussed some superstitions and what they tell us about human behavior, as discussed by Rob van Ginkel in his book Coastal Cultures. Of course, these were those superstitions that continued by Christian fishing communities. So I got curious and decided to look at non-Christian superstitions and religions in regards to fishing. Naturally I turned to a copy of Andres von Brandt’s Fish Catching Methods of the World. So here are a few as described by the author, and a few other sources:

Ebisu is a god who protects fishermen, workingmen and luck, as well as one of the seven gods of happiness or fortune. The Japanese Shinto religion contains the idea that all living things have souls and to kill a fish, a  living thing, brings guilt onto the fisherman. Rituals are therefore performed to apologise to the fish, and to prevent insult to any gods or ghosts. This explains the need for a shrine in Tokyo’s fish market dedicated to crayfish killed by the local restaurants. This is seen elsewhere in Japan, like the island of Saiko-to, where a ritual is performed on behalf of the souls of whales killed by whalers – a ritual observed every year since 1679. Here is a statue of Ebisu.

A statue of Ebisu in Kesennuma, Japan. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Sub-Saharan Africa
With a long history and many different and varied population groups, lumping Africa into one short entry is a rather unfair, so I shall no doubt expand on it a later time. But some rituals and ideas are generalised over large areas, such as the idea that women cannot be on boats. For some, they cannot even be near fishing equipment. This is sometimes extended to not having sex at all during the manufacture of fishing equipment or during fishing. As a result, all rituals concerning fishing are male-only affairs, with different rituals for different types of gear. Other traditions survive, like the placing of rams’ or goats’ horns in the bow of a boat, or the placing of bottles filled with liquids.

There are numerous African traditions that have (unsurprisingly) made their way to the Americas. In Brazil, the city of Salvador (province of Bahia) celebrate the goddess Lemanja (or Yemanja). In February and December there are celebrations in her honour, In February it is customary to leave gifts for the goddess, which are collected by fishermen with baskets and taken out to sea. Gifts are feminine in nature, including items like lipstick, mirrors and combs. The two celebrations are on exactly the same two days as the celebrations of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes – the Catholic Our Lady of Seafaring. They are public holidays too, recognising both the African deity and the Catholic. Here’s a brief description.

Offerings to Yemanja during the Salvador festival. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Eyes (Oculi)
Eyes appear all over- they are common in the Mediterranean. They can be painted or carved on either side of the bow. the history of this goes back a long way – the Ancient Egyptians pained eyes in their boats. The eye for them was a representation of the god Horus, who lost an eye battling another god. The eye that was gouged out was recovered offered to the gods, hence becoming a symbol of protection, renewal and also sacrifice. The Romans and Ancient Greeks adopted this from the Egyptians, still using it today.  Muslim fishermen do not paint an eye, although Turkish boats are said to, out of tradition. Since Christianity the eye is meant to protect against the evil eye. In China and the Near East eyes are painted on as they were believed to be able to see their way across the sea and to find fish.

Eye of Horus. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Blood and Animals
Eyes are not the only body part to be influential; the smashing of a bottle of wine or champagne is thought to derive from a traditional animal sacrifice on board a ship. A cock or rooster was the traditional  sacrifice, although in many counties it had to be black. The blood from the sacrifice had to be painted on the boat to ensure the best results. A practice from the English Middle Ages was to put the head of a bull on the bow, something which was done by some Portuguese fishermen up until the 19th century. A red towel on a modern Turkish fishing boat is a modern derivation of an older ritual of slaughtering a ram, the skin of which was hung from the bow to show that they had fulfilled their superstitious obligations.

A figurehead is one way to protect you ship. As time went on, they became more symbolic, representing status and identity rather than protection or luck. This one is on HMS Warrior.

There are many and varied religions and no doubt just as many superstitions to go with it – and no doubt I shall find more and collect them together for another post. To finish up, here’s a link to a lovely little statue of a Polynesian fishing deity in the British Museum.

P-I-G… and other animals

Last week I started reading a very interesting book called Coastal Cultures, by Rob van Ginkel. It’s a book that studies the anthropology of fishermen in northern Europe, which is to say it uses a lot of long complicated sentences to describe the why of things. It is a very good book, overcoming my dislike of the theoretical side of archaeology and anthropology. The bit I particularly liked was the chapter on superstition and taboos in fishing. To say that fishermen have many superstitions is like saying there are fish in the sea; there are a great many of them and they come in a great many forms.

Mr van Ginkel analyses these superstitions by looking at the form they take – he has three different categories. The first are words that cannot be said, the second things that should not be seen and the third things you should no do. He also discusses why superstitions exist – not the direct origin, but superstition in general. There are no sure conclusions, but the ideas discussed are fairly common sense: trawling is bloomin’ dangerous and superstitious behaviour is a way for the individual to control his fate, that if the ship he’s on and that of his community and livelihood. Now that trawling is safer that it was 100 years ago, and certainly a 1000 years ago, superstitions hang on partly for the same reasons as before, and through habit. After all, you wouldn’t want any bad luck by breaking with tradition.

After this comes in the debate as to why some things are the focus of superstition. words like pig, sheep, hare, rabbit, fox, rat, mouse, dog, cat, raven, seal, otter and (for some as yet unknown reason) salmon, are all not to be spoken – and most of these are not limited to one place. Most of these taboo words appear in most places in Europe, from Estonia to the Hebrides. One interesting aspect is the growth of stories that explain superstition, like one from Britanny about a cat which curses a fisherman – so cats become unlucky. One possible explanation is all these animals are the forms which witches could take – making these superstitions medieval at least. But there are many theories – some less common sense that others.

The bit on women and priests does discuss some ideas which I consider to slightly far fetched – though am neither a man or a fisherman, so I can’t really judge whether fishermen consider meeting a woman on their way to their boats bad luck because the boat is also a woman and represents a form of fertility, holding fish in the hold and providing nourishment. Much like women, the sea/boat is somewhat unpredictable… Priests are seen as outsiders, not understanding the local ways and perhaps disrupting the natural order. This is further amplified because they don’t do any hard work, unlike wives or children, who in the past would have been an indispensable labour force.

In the end, superstitions and taboos are part of what makes us human, and reflect very clearly how dangerous and uncertain our lives once were. You think your superstitions are outdated and weird? Well, I love them! They are a huge and humanising part of our past, and to let them go would be a shame. Of course, I would hope there are some sensibilities about it – I for one wouldn’t want to miss out a boat trip because the skipper said I was unlucky (I’m not… just very, very seasick!).

Not unlucky – just very, very daft.