Second Shetland Truck System Report

Author: William Guthrie

Faroe Fishing.

The cod fishing in smacks, chiefly on the banks near the Faroe
Islands, has become an important branch of commerce in
Shetland, In 1871 it employed 63 smacks, whose total tonnage was 2809 tons. They carried 816 men.’ The produce of the fishing 1871, an unsuccessful year, was 370,597 fish, weighing
14,337 cwt. dry. In addition to these vessels belonging to Shetland owners, five curers in Shetland purchased at a fixed price the fish of 21 English smacks (tonnage, 680; men, 210), being 200,042
fish, weighing 5097 cwt. dry. The whole cure from the Shetland
Faroe fishing was thus 19,434 cwt. In 1867 the Shetland smacks,
61 in number, weighing 2326 tons, and carrying 699 men, brought home 399,148 fish, or 14,031 cwt. In that year 24 English smacks
(tonnage, 960; men, 222) sold to curers in Shetland 175,125 fish,
or 6280 cwt.; making the total cure in Shetland in that year 21,301

In the Faroe fishery the smacks always belong to the curer or merchant. A written contract is made with the men, generally in
December. They agree to join the vessel on a day fixed, or to be fixed, in March, and to prosecute the fishing until the middle of
August, on the coasts of Faroe, or other places in the North Sea,
exerting themselves to make a successful fishing. If any person fails in the performance of his duty, his fee is to be reduced. The owners become bound to cure the fish, which the men split and salt on board as soon as caught. The owners sell the fish, when cured, for the benefit of all concerned. From the proceeds are deducted the expense of curing and of bait, together with a commission of five per cent. in some cases, for management and sale, allowances to master and mate, and score money, <i.e.> 6d. or
9d. per score of sizeable fish, to be divided among the crew according to the number caught by each man. The net proceeds after these deductions are equally divided between the owners and the crew, the crew accepting their half in full of wages and provisions, except 1 lb. of biscuit <per diem> provided by the owners. The share to be taken by each man, whether a full share or a half share, 2-3, 7-12 share, or whatever it may be, is written opposite the signature of each man. The men are bound, if the master or owners see fit, to leave Faroe for Iceland before the 30th
August ’to endeavour for a late voyage’ to go and fish for wages and victuals on a scale annexed to the agreement. These stipulations, with some others for the protection of the vessel, are usually in the agreement; but one owner uses a much shorter form,
which will be found in the Evidence.

[L.F.U. Garriock, 12,414; T.M.Adie, 5726; J. Walker, 15,941,
15,957; W. Pole, 5956; W. Robertson, 13,603.]

The vessel is fitted out ready for sea by the owners; salt and curing materials are put on board at the joint expense; but the men provide themselves with lines and hooks, and all provisions except bread. These they always buy at the owner’s shop, and they are entered in their private accounts. It is unnecessary to analyze the evidence as to the custom of dealing with the merchant-owner for provisions, etc. for the family, which is exactly similar to the custom already described as prevailing among the ling fishermen.
Some of that evidence has already been noticed, and the chief passages are noted on the margin. Some of the evidence led me to think that the proportion of out-takes to earnings is less in the
Faroe fishing than the ling fishing, and this theory was confirmed by several obvious considerations. The men are often young men without families or with small families, and they sometimes live at such distances from the merchant’s shop as to make it inconvenient to resort thither constantly. Moreover, in years of average success, the earnings of the Faroe fishing are larger than those of the ling fishing, and the men therefore are generally more independent. It follows from the nature of the employment, that they are also upon the whole a more active and energetic class of men than those exclusively engaged in the ling fishery.

[C. Sinclair, 1157; J. Johnston, 12,232; W.B.M. Harrison, 15,720;
P. Garriock, 15,212; M. Johnston, 7868; J. Pottinger, 13,592; W.
Blance, 6099; P. Blance, 8521, (supra p. 15) W. Pole, 5956.]

It appears, notwithstanding, both from the statements of witnesses and the returns, that a very considerable proportion, not less than in the ling fishery, of the earnings of Faroe fishermen is paid in
’out-takes.’ Mr. Lewis Garriock, one of the leading merchants,

’The fishermen’s proportion is paid to each of them in cash,
under deduction of any provisions and articles of clothing for themselves, and provisions, etc., supplied to their families during the season, so far as they have supplied themselves from us; but they are under no obligation to take such advance from us, and can, if they choose, buy their articles from any shopkeeper, either for cash (which many of them have spare) or on credit. A few of the men can do without advances, having spare money; but the fishing could not be carried on if we were not to supply them,
especially as regards the lads in their first and second year.’

’In years when the fishing is not remunerative advances merchants making these lose heavily in bad debts.’

’I have gone carefully over the accounts with the crews of two smacks, and produce an abstract of the men’s accounts, which shows that, as respects one of them in 1870, we accounted to them for £427,19s. 2d., of which they had from us for lines, hooks, and provisions on board, £71, 7s. 9d.; clothing, and supplies of meal,
etc., to their families, £114, 14s. 5d.; and in cash, £239, 17s. The other crew, in 1870, had, in lines, hooks, and provisions, £81, 7s.
11d.; goods, £129, 0s. 8d.; and in cash, £374, 13s. 6d. The same crew, in 1871, in lines, provisions, etc., £63, 3s. 4d.; goods, £67,
7s.; cash, £198, 9s. 7d. Looking at the last two years, as regards our fishermen in smacks, it appears they have had considerably more than half their gross shares paid them in cash .’

’We would, as merchants, greatly prefer a cash system, payment being made upon the fish being delivered, the same as we do to
English smacks fishing-for us at a contract price-and we derive about one-third of our cure from this source. But I believe were such a mode attempted, it would lead to fixed wages, and would end in loss to both men and owners and a great falling off in this branch of the fishery.’

I have already mentioned that some attempts have been made to hold tenants or their sons bound to engage in their landlords’ or tacksmen’s smacks for this fishing; but it rather appears that these attempts have not always been successful. [See pp. 7, 15]

The men have not come forward to complain of this. The only grievance which some of them have stated is, that they do not see the bills of sale, and that they are therefore not satisfied that they are fairly treated in settling.

[M. Johnston, 7868; P. Blance, 8531; J. Pottinger, 13, 658.]


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Chicago: William Guthrie, "Faroe Fishing.," Second Shetland Truck System Report, trans. D’Anvers, N. (Nancy Bell), D. 1933 in Second Shetland Truck System Report Original Sources, accessed January 31, 2023,

MLA: Guthrie, William. "Faroe Fishing." Second Shetland Truck System Report, translted by D’Anvers, N. (Nancy Bell), D. 1933, in Second Shetland Truck System Report, Original Sources. 31 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Guthrie, W, 'Faroe Fishing.' in Second Shetland Truck System Report, trans. . cited in , Second Shetland Truck System Report. Original Sources, retrieved 31 January 2023, from