Second Shetland Truck System Report

Author: William Guthrie

Baltasound, Unst, January 19, 1872, James Harper, Examined.

10,384. You are a fisherman to Messrs. Spence & Co. at
Haroldswick?-Yes. I fish at Norwick, but the books are at

10,385. Have you a bit of land from Spence & Co?-Yes.

10,386. You pay your rent to them, and deal with them at their shop at Haroldswick?-Yes, I get all my goods there.

10,387. Do you deal anywhere else?-No.

10,388. Why?-For want of money.

10,389. How do you want money?-Because I don’t have it.

10,390. Have you had bad seasons?-I never was in debt before I
came to Spence. & Co.

10,391. How did you get into debt with them?-From bad seasons in the first place, and from overpriced goods. Meal is over-priced,
for one thing. My father has dealt twelve years with ready money;
and I have seen the advantage he has got by it, and what I have lost.

10,392. Who is your father?-William Harper: he is a fisherman too; he has been master of a boat for about forty years to Mr.

10,393. How do you know that the meal is over-priced which you get from Messrs. Spence’s shop?-The first meal I got from
Spence & Co. was one boll, when I began to fish for them four years ago. My father got one half of the sack, and I got the other: I
was charged 27s., and he was charged 24s. 6d.

10,394. Why was that?-I had nothing to give Spence & Co., but my father had ready money. That was in the spring before I
commenced to fish.

10,395. You did not settle for the meal until the end of the year?-

10,396. Consequently they were long in getting their money from you?-Yes.

10,397. Was it not quite fair that they should get little more for lying out of their money all that time?-Yes; but 2s. 6d. was too much to charge for interest. That was only on meal, but I could make more profit on groceries and soft goods too.

10,398. Have you anything more to say about the meal?-That is the only thing I can recollect about it.

10,399. Have you bought your meal in the same way ever since?-
Yes, until last year, when I had as much as could supply myself.

10,400. How many bolls had you to buy in the course of the year?-From 4 to 6.

10,401. Do you think you lost 2s. 6d. a boll on each of these?-I
have no doubt I did, for want of ready money.

10,402. What have you to say about the other things?-That was somewhat further back, but at any rate I have been out of pocket with Spence & Co. ever since commenced with them. I was a skipper where I was before, and got a skipper’s fee; but the fee which I got from Spence & Co. is not so much as I got formerly. I
fished for John Johnston for 11 years. For the first two years I was only a young fellow, and was to be paid according to my fishing.
After that, I got promise of £4 of skipper’s fee, and when he saw I
was getting on so well he always gave me £5 afterwards. Then I
was forced-at least I believed I was forced, although I know now that I was not-to go to Spence & Co. from John Johnston,
because he got his warning and could not keep me, but had to sell his boats or boat.

10,403. When was that?-In 1867 or 1868. He had two boats, and he sold the one I was fishing in.

10,404. How were you forced to leave him?-Because Spence &
Co. got a tack from Mr walker, and I and all the north parish understood that I had to leave my employer and go to them.

10,405. Were you not told that you were quite at liberty to fish either to Spence & Co. or to any other person?-I was never told that until I heard Mr. Sandison say it. I don’t think it was told in the north of the island; at least I was not told about it.

10,406. Were you ever told that you had to fish for Spence &
Co?-That was rather hinted at.

10,407. Who hinted it?-Mr. Mouat. I was rather hot-tempered,
and so was he, and when we were both hot he gave me a hint about that.

10,408. Was that in 1868?-I think so.

10,409. I suppose you conveyed the hint to a good number of others?-Yes. I sat down and wrote a letter to Mr. Walker, telling him what had been said; and I got an answer from him, saying I
was to work according to the rules I had in my lease, and that no one could interfere.

10,410. Is there anything more you have to say?-There is nothing particular; but I may say that there are a good many skippers here,
and a good many poor men, who will never be asked to come forward, and will never get the chance.

10,411. They may come forward if they like?-They don’t care about coming forward, and there are some of them whose stories are far worse than mine.

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Chicago: William Guthrie, "Baltasound, Unst, January 19, 1872, James Harper, Examined.," Second Shetland Truck System Report, trans. D’Anvers, N. (Nancy Bell), D. 1933 in Second Shetland Truck System Report Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2019,

MLA: Guthrie, William. "Baltasound, Unst, January 19, 1872, James Harper, Examined." Second Shetland Truck System Report, translted by D’Anvers, N. (Nancy Bell), D. 1933, in Second Shetland Truck System Report, Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Guthrie, W, 'Baltasound, Unst, January 19, 1872, James Harper, Examined.' in Second Shetland Truck System Report, trans. . cited in , Second Shetland Truck System Report. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2019, from