One Week In Göteborg



It’s been a great week in Göteborg – Eva-Britt has been the most fabulous host, Göteborg is a great town and of course the islands are amazing. not to mention to wealth of information that has been obtained – awaiting translation, of course.

The great lump of amber I am holding is wonderful bit if treasure form Nils Eriksson’s past, one brought up in a net from the bottom of the Baltic. Nils was one of several stops, including visiting Sven-Olof Larsson on the island of Hönö, a very much clear-minded gentleman in his 90’s. Another useful visit (complete with a free book) was with Lennart Bornmalm, who has contributed to several book about the fishing community of Bornhuslan. Last but not least, a visit to Stig-Rune Yngvesson – son of my primary patent applicant, Yngve Bernhardsson. A wealth of information and a handful of documents – prefect and of course a welcome conclusion to a week in Göteborg!

L - R: Stig-Rune Yngvesson, Daniel Börjesson and myself

L – R: Stig-Rune Yngvesson, Daniel Börjesson and myself





New Year

Well, I’m back… from a truly uneventful Christmas. I headed back to Blighty only to have some computer hiccups at the end of December, leaving me less one computer for about 10 days or so. So I haven’t really done much in the way of work – unless you count scanning the useful books out my dad’s collection. Soviet Merchant Ships, How To Make & Set Nets, and of course the FAO Catalogue of Fishing Gear Designs here I come…

How To Make & Set Nets

How To Make & Set Nets

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?

Modern Fishing Gear of the World, Vol I

My book of choice this week has been Modern Fishing Gear of the World, Volume I, a collection of papers written by scientists and innovators in fisheries technology. The book came about through the FOA, as it was a conference in 1957 when all the writers met up and discussed, well, modern fishing gear. It sold out, and my (father’s) version is a third reprind from 1981.

This sizeable tome was first published in 1959 – and, as Hilmar Kristjonsson points out in his introduction, technology in the 20th century develops faster (and bigger) than all the centuries before it. So what was so new and important, that the first of 3 big books talking about fishing will be published? Hilmar goes on to talk about the 3 main technological leaps: mechanisation, echo sounding and synthetic fibres, which together have changed fishing as we know it. But it not just technology that makes the difference – the intent is also a key factor. The drive to create and try new things in a thorough and scientific way changes everything; the need to understand every aspect and variable of fishing, from fish behaviour to physics.

Like most good books, it pays off to read the introduction – Hilmar here starts off with a few facts. Fish production in in 1957 is almost 30 million metric tonnes; a “few years ago” it considered absurd that any more than 25 million metric tonnes would be possible. As of 2010, total global production was 148.5 million tonnes. Needless to say, things have changed and developed a lot more since 1957.

These books are invaluable to me because it does something important to the whole PhD concept: documentation. It’s not that I don’t have any faith in first hand accounts – rather, I am going to rely on them. But what I need is dated, pinned down fact that I can easily read, quote and reference. Which is why I have acquired my father’s copy and absconded with it over to Esbjerg. Not to worry , though. I’ll sure to bring it back – eventually!

Trawling and the Local Press (1899)

I know I forgot to post last week, but it turned out that we were a little busy… The fieldschool ended early, so we upped sticks from sunny Bagenkop and made our way back to Esbjerg – a day of packing, cleaning and travelling. On returning I found a room full of spiders and a to-do list a yard long – starting with a spring/summer clean. Having recuperated from this oh-so-arduous week, I have just begun exploring newspaper archives. This though had not occurred to me before Chris Vening, my lone commenter, brought it up in reference to some of the more bizarre patent applications I described earlier in the year.

I started with the first article that came in my search, the earliest that popped up, from the Newcastle Courant, October 4th 1899. Entitled “A Northumberland Trawling Trip”, a rather quaint piece that begins with the popular superstition about the use of the word ‘pig’ on boats (very bad luck, it appears). I am sure that someone, somewhere, has compiled all the superstitions – I’m guessing it isn’t a short work…

The author, Mr Alexander Meek, MSc, goes on to describe the beam trawl, a 22 foot wooden beam with curved iron shoes at either end. The steam trawler is out for an experiment, it seems, and Mr Meek is apparently delighted when the juvenile fish are thrown back and swim away “none the worse for their journey aboard the trawler”. The experiment consists of dragging small nets form the beam and on the surface, made of ‘a muslin-like material, called “wireino”’. An iron hoop keeps the open, and the catch made is of interest to all. The catch is designated to specimen status, and kept in bottles to await further study.

The whole experiment is to be subject to statistical and biological study, or as the author notes, for ‘the naturalist’ department – a term sadly out of use, I think. The author views the whole experience with a romantic air, being rather taken in with the whole trip, often describing the whole affair in somewhat poetic terms. But his is clearly an enthusiastic supporter of trawling and trawlers, having clearly enjoyed his experience.

I won’t post the article itself (it’s a pay-per-view service), but the link is here.

I’ll admit I spent a lot of my day not doing trawling stuff, but total stationing. I and my two lovely instructors spent an afternoon the total station and a 3D modelling software used a lot in archaeology, called Rhino. Massimiliano is the lovely lad with the locks, while Alex, being Belgian, is naturally referred to as Tintin.

The ultimate is to reproduce the anchor, in 3D. The total station is accurate in recording points to the millimeter; it can also be used to reference in objects with GPS so we not only know exactly what something looks like, but also where it is (or was – all rather important to archaeology, when so many things are so easily lost or destroyed). Data like this can be used for many things – one of things the Maritime Archaeology students learn here is how to use it to calculate hydrostatics and other important boaty-type stuff. I’m no good at hydrostatics, so I use it to get a really good 3D sense of an object – or ship construction – that I would otherwise assess from complex 2D media, like photographs, drawings and measurements. The students, when not tutoring their elders, have been working their way through the museum’s collection of 19th and 20th century fishing vessels, recording them for posterity. Next project for me? An actual boat, or even some lovely trawl doors…

A Few Good Books

I have, for the last three months or so, been steadily reading through a succession of not particularly useful, yet interesting, books about fishing. A good few have been dismissed as soon as I have seen the contents page – sometimes the ambiguous title gives little indication of what lies within…

Here are a few of the more interesting, if only faintly relevant ones:

 – The North Atlantic Fisheries: Supply, Marketing and Consumption, 1560-1990.

A collection of essays covering a wide geographic range, from Newfoundland to Spain. my favourite articles are the ones “Fish promotion in the Netherlands, c. 1690-1983” and “Creating a demand: the marketing activities of the  German fishing industry, c.1880-1990”. Another good one is “Concentration or disintegration? Vessel ownership, fish wholesaling and processing in the British trawl fisher, 1850-1939 “. They are all rather academic (as they should be, I suppose) but have lovely pictures – the marketing articles have great pictures of industry posters from the early 20th century, as well as following the changes and progression of the industry. And if you fancy a change from fishing industry, there’s a nice piece about fish consumption – aboard the 17th century Swedish warships.

The North Atlantic Fisheries: Markets and Modernisation.

This collection of essays is much like those above; covering a wide geographic range and dates. Not really relevant for the pelagic stuff, but some interesting ones. The one that was most relevant was “The impact of steam vessels on Britain’s distant water fisheries before 1914” – the changeover from sail to steam is one I find fascinating. “Modernizing the fishing: regional fisheries policy in northern Norway, 1945-1970” charts the changes and development of the industry post WW2, dealing with a rough period in European history with clarity and logic.

A History of Fishing

A really nice little book, albeit a tad out of date. Not too academic, but very much written by people who know their stuff, and covers the simple stuff simply and the more complicated stuff logically. Covers the early stuff (pre-history), the medieval stuff before giving half the book over to the 20th century and the progression from sail to steam. When the book starts into the modern stuff, it lays out statistics and the explores the development of the modern fishing industry by nation. A very useful book, I found.

A Guide to Fishing Boats and their Gear.

Published in 1968, this little gem isn’t too up to date but it is rather lovely. there are numerous hand drawings to accompany this guide to different boats, ships and fishing techniques. It is a lovely little book, and although it is of little use i am loathe to return it to the library.

So these are a few from the pile. Although they are not particularly relevant, I found them interesting and they certainly broadened my knowledge somewhat!

What the Internet Thinks it Knows…

As I sit here playing on the internet, it occurs to me that it has been a long time since I played with Ngram viewer.

But first, what is Ngram and what does it do? Well, its a Google thing. Not being one for computers, I know that it is a bit like a search engine in that Google searches all the online texts that it can – every scanned book, ancient and modern.

You tell it what words or phrases you want to look for, then it presents you with a graph which shows the occurrence of every mention of that word or phrase throughout a particular time period – AD1800-2000 is the default, but it can be extended back further. If you put in more than one search word, Ngram will plot the results together for a proper comparison.

I originally used it, purely for fun, while avoiding an  enormous stack of papers that was required reading in order to write two pages on the Iberian-Atlantic shipbuilding tradition AD1400-1700. Needless to say, at the time I was inputting search terms like ‘treenail’, ‘rising wood’ and ‘futtock’ and other obscure historical shipbuilding terms. I could see the earliest texts that mentioned those words, and their frequency; ‘futtock’ was used with great frequency in the 1760’s, far more than at any other time. Not surprising, really – a lot of naval and nautical books and seaman’s guides were written during that time period. Treenail has a small spike in the 1810’s – although why I have no idea why.

But this time, I stray online with a different vocabulary – commercial fishing, anyone? So here goes…

‘Trawl door’ and ‘otter board’ are two phrases for the same thing, more or less. So which is more popular throughout the last century? Well, it would appear that ‘otter board’ is the clear favourite, with consistently more mentions from 1870 onward. ‘Trawl door’ seems to appears only from 1935 onwards.

‘Beam trawl’, ‘otter trawl’ and ‘bottom trawl’ is another gem; here the words ‘otter trawl’ and ‘midwater have some serious spikes. ‘Bottom trawl’ is the least mentioned – barely present from the 1880’s onwards before gaining a little popularity from 1960. ‘Beam trawl’, surprisingly, appears to gain popularity over the decades. I’m putting that one down to historical interest and research. ‘Otter trawl’ is very popular in the 1930’s and then the 1950’s – although I’m sure that is no surprise.

My favourite is the word ‘pelagic’ versus the word ‘midwater’. ‘Midwater’ has a small yet dedicated occurrence, but ‘pelagic’ is a winner, with this word being far more popular from the 1820’s onwards. Spikes in popularity can be seen in the 1900’s, 1940’s and the 1980’s. It’s nice to see that my research subject seems to be on the up and up!

*Note: Ngram only looks through stuff that is on the internet. The other problem is terms that cross over- searching ‘ship’ will also give you all the results for toys, space ships, naval vessels and so on. Picking obscure or extremely specific terms makes the difference. It also picks up on usage that is relevant, but isn’t – like history books.