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…


Trawl Doors Before Trawl Doors

Before trawl doors there were, well, no trawl doors. History tells us that commercial fishing went kind of from the beam trawl to otter trawl. That’s not to say that all the other methods aren’t important, but my focus – being pelagic – does have trawl doors as the keystone in the whole arrangement. So trawl doors is what I have to look at. If you’ve perused some of my previous posts, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking I have trawl doors on the brain. this, of course, is my excuse for bringing you three more examples from the archive. These three represent something different, though. These three are all early attempts to keep the mouth of a trawl open without beams – and without doors.

The earliest patent is GB189730188, dating from 1897. Here, messers Lewis Levi and George Cartwright, Brass Finisher and Hotel Keeper respectively and both of Hull, clearly think otter boards are a waste of time. Their intention is to do away with both beams and otter boards, by way of a a watertight tube that runs around the mouth of the trawl. The idea is that by using “hydraulic pressure, air pressure or the like” to inflate this tube with either air or a liquid the mouth of the net stays open. What the patent doesn’t explain particularly well is how this is meant to be weighted or protected from the rigours of the seabed…

GB189730188 - the hydraulic tube mouth opener...

One patent that bemused me no end is this one: US649581, dating to 1900. An American patent, this one appears to be a rigid frame, which will hold the mouth of the net open. The inventor, John G Landman, a resident of Brooklyn, New York, states that the purpose of his invention is the “provision of a simple, cheap and effective spreading-frame”. His object, as such, is economy and simplicity.

US649581, the net-spreading frame from Brooklyn, New York

Last but not least, I find myself gazing at a British patent whose applicant hails from Japan: GB102554. Dating to 1916, this patent professes that it “relates to otter boards and the like for steam trawling apparatus of the type where the rear ends of the otter boards or the like are attached to the head and foot ropes of the trawler net….” I would quote more, but the rest of the sentence runs on for another paragraph or so. The long and the short of it is that the otter board is not a board but an arrangement of canvas covered ‘ribs’.

GB102554, the alternative otter board, comprising mainly of canvas and 'ribs' of metal.

What caught my eye was the name and nationality of the inventor – “Tsunejiro Shirato, of Misakino-machi, City of Shimonoseki, Empire of Japan, Engineer…” Certainly not the phrasing we would expect in more modern, PC-stricken documents. But it’s certainly interesting to consider what and why Shirato felt the need to patent his invention all the way in Britain, why he didn’t do so in the USA and the research/experimentation that he conducted that resulted in his belief in his invention.

Otter Boards & Little Wheels…

Well, let’s not kid around  – this PhD malarky consists of a lot of boring stuff and a decent amount of technical stuff, all interspersed with the very interesting and bloomin’ weird. and that’s just the application paperwork…

Well, I am still in patent limbo – and as a result have come to embrace it. As a result, i am going to post up some of the more interesting and bizarre of the applications I have come across. the three I am looking at right now are the earliest patents available for otter boards, picked not because of their date, but because of their specific peculiarity: wheels. Yes, they have wheels. Back in the day there are numerous and varied patents for otter boards, several of which predate these – but these are special. these have wheels.

And not just any wheels: Samuel Ling and William Robbens’ 1899 patent is wonderful in its simplicity. two small casters are attached to the bottom edge of the boards – “to facilitate the use of the boards”. these two, both smack owners from Lowestoft, also the the time to explain that the the current invention can be expanded – that four casters can be attached, “so as to support the board in an upright position”.

(Patent number GB189907260)

Another gem from this archive is also form 1899. Two residents from Hull – an engineer and a boilermaker – Henry Ramsden Mortell and Alexander Robb made their otter board that is more or less a wheel. this wheel can be fitted to the centre of an otter board, should one feel traditional, but the wheel is the story here. A lot of thought clearly went in to the design, as the primary concern is not just the spread of the trawl but also potential resistance and weight. the goal here, it states, is to prevent excess fuel consumption as well as wear and tear on engines and equipment. Their idea may have been verging on daft, but they had serious motivation and a clear goal.

(Patent number GB189915702)

The last in this series is not particularly spectacular or challenging; another 1899 patent with casters on the brain. This one, by Thomas Frederick Adamson and Edward Clarke, Ship’s Store Merchant and Engineer respectively, both of South Shields, made the simplest one I’ve seen yet. These little casters are fitted to the bottom edge of the otter board. they slot in aways and angled, so as not to impede the angle of the otter board to the boat. A simple idea, neatly expressed. Just a shame it would all never really work…

(Patent number GB189924174)

Before I scurry off to do some real work, I have a big thank you to announce to Victor and Linda Strange of TorNet, in Iceland. They have made a much appreciated contribution to my study and ongoing research!

Tthe Boilermaker, the Minister and the Gentleman

So here I am, still wading through patents – and covering two aspects of research at the same time. By focusing on the earliest patents, from 1880 to 1910, I am covering both the very early pelagic-related inventions and the vast number of ideas put to paper regarding all commercial fishing technology, thus exploring the background and lead up to what is now the commercial fishing industry. On the research side, I have now a small database with nearly 140 entries – and with only a 7 more decades to go…

And they are an interesting bunch, the earliest patent applicants; at first I was only looking at the actual inventions and their potential relevance. As I started the database (to track dates, names and nationality) I found myself adding a few new fields, some relevant, others just out of interest. Addresses – that is to say, place of residence of the applicants – revealed some obvious trends, like the high amount of applicants from Aberdeen, Hull, Grimsby and Gravesend. Osgodsby in Yorkshire had a lone representative, John Phillips, who made several patents regarding kites in the 1950’s and the The Boston Deep Sea Fishing and Ice Company Ltd of Boston, Lincolnshire made a patent in 1899 for circular (and thus rotating) trawl boards. It would be curious diversion, to find out more about them. Most applicants, however, are individuals, not companies.

In the earlier patents profession is a required field, which I also put into my database. This is less relevant but rather more interesting, such as James Pearson, resident of London, who made two patents in the late 1890’s – both for trawl nets. One of these patents, made with William Wood, is for “wing inflators”, a complex and rather odd-looking contraption than can be best described as a variation on trawl doors. the patent itself is interesting – and even more so when detailed reading tells us that James Pearson is a Minister of the Presbyterian Church of England and William Wood an Advertising Agent. These two are not alone in their seemingly irrelevant professions; Adam Scott in 1895 is stated as a Chemical Engineer, George Irvin in 1899 is simply listed as “Gentleman”, Harry Kyle in 1900 as a Doctor of Science, while the 1897 patent of Lewis Levi and George Cartwright are listed resepctively as Brass finisher and Hotel Keeper.

With these patents mentioned above I find myself trying to see whether these are real, serious applications to furthering technology, or some potentially rather odd people with too much free time on the hands and access to public transport. Given the detail, the overlap in basic ideas and principles, it unlikely that they are crackpot inventors. Nevertheless a lot more research is needed to make sure I don’t overlook a hidden historical gem just because the inventor has listed himself as simply “Manufacturer”, without elaboration as to exactly what it is he is inventing. And I do men he, of course. So far, only the men have made any patents. Not that I have any issue with that – it will just make the first female to do so a more intriguing character to investigate.

Profession on these patents isn’t just about the unusual or seemingly irrelevant; it also tells me a lot about the other applicants. Invention in the fishing industry was clearly one in which a lot of people were interested and involved in. Inventors range from Ships Captain, Smack Owner and Engineers to Naval Architect, Joiners, Blacksmiths and Fish Merchants. A good few Ships Husbands and Boat and Ship Builders crop up, along with a lone Master Mariner, Rope Maker and a Boilermaker. All of these patents are filed by so many trades in and surrounding the fishing industry of the time – but only one of these so far is content to describe himself as a Fisherman. Frederick Myroft of Grimsby patented in 1902 what I can best describe as a trawl board for the headline of a net. While many are also content to describe themselves as Owners or Captains,  towards the end of the 1910’s this becomes Steam Trawler Owner or Steam Trawler Captain – something of greater relevance to my study, as the mechanisation of ships and equipments made pelagic trawling a lot easier (to say the least).

I could waffle on for a lot more about what these patents say, not just in inventions but the people and society who made them. But I have a 7 more decades of reading to do – and the 40’s and 50’s are going to be very interesting indeed!