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Sea Fish and Shellfish

The Human Cost of Fish

Deep-sea fishing was a dangerous occupation as, for much of the 19th century, the men working out of the harbours of Northumberland and Berwickshire risked being swamped in their open-decked, sailing keel-boats.

The worst loss of life among our local fishing communities took place on 14th October 1881, which came to be known as “Black Friday”.

After several days of being confined to port because of bad weather, boats from Eyemouth and other Berwickshire villages took advantage of a calm morning to go to sea. However, about midday, a hurricane blew up that devastated the East coast. The fishing fleet ran for home. but many vessels foundered in the mountainous seas. Families watched helpless from the shore as some of the boats were smashed to pieces on the rocks when they tried to enter Eyemouth harbour.

189 men and boys were lost, leaving 93 widows and 267 fatherless children. 129 were from Eyemouth, one third of the fleet, 24 from Burnmouth, 11 from Cove and 3 from Coldingham.

Two days after the disaster struck, just as the memorial service was being held in Eyemouth Parish Kirk, the 'Ariel Gazelle', an Eyemouth boat that was feared lost, limped into the harbour. Its crew were safe, having ridden out the storm at sea.

Extracts from contemporary newspapers relating to the human cost of fish in Victorian times