Monday, 23 April 2012

The Dutch connection at Stornoway

Chapter IX of the Crofter's Commission Report into the social conditions of the crofters of the Isle of Lewis, 1902, deals with fishery. It explains how commercial herring fishery was set up at Stornoway in the 17th century, with the encouragement of the Dutch. 

In the reign of Charles I. strenuous efforts were made to establish a Hebridean fishing industry, and in 1633 several noblemen formed themselves into an association for that purpose. They were honoured by the patronage of the King and encouraged by His Majesty’s bounty. Two Royal fishing stations were set up in the Long Island—one at Lochmaddy, and the other on the Sound of Harris. By this time [...] Lord Seaforth had acquired the Island of Lewis, and as soon as his authority there was established, he began to rear up a sort of independent Principality. In contravention of the laws and privileges of Royal Burghs he introduced into Stornoway a number of Dutch fishermen in order to prosecute the fishing industry there.

In 1629 the Commissioners of Royal Burghs complained to the Privy Council of Lord Seaforth’s conduct in the matter. They alleged that he “ draiv in hither ane number of strangers who daylie resorts to and fra Holland to the Lewes and continent next adjacent” [that is the mainland of Ross, where the Mackenzie influence was predominant] “ and hes caused them be answered of all such commoditeis as these bounds affords, as namelie with fishes and beeves quhilkis with the hyde and tallow, with manie utheris commoditeis, they transport to Holland.” The Council sustained the views contended for by the Burghs and decided against Lord Seaforth. In 1632 the King wrote to the Privy Council concerning the “great wrongis done by strangers inhabiting the Lewis and repairing thereto in trading and fisching against the laws of that our Kingdom.”

Special reference was made to Lord Seaforth’s conduct in the matter ; and eventually His Majesty commanded the Council “that yow give ordour to the inhabitouris of the yles not to suffer any stranger to trade or fisch within the same ; using your best and readiest endeavours that the whole fisching be reserved for the use of the natives and subjects who are frie of the Societie of new erected by us, whereby thay may be encouraged to sett forward in so great and hopefull a work, whereof we are pleased to tak upon us the protection.” (Collectanea de Rebus Albinicis, pp. 105-6.)

After this some of the Dutchmen were sent away ; but several Dutch families settled in Stornoway and remained there until the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and Holland in 1653. They were then expelled, but their example, according to Knox, had a good effect on the natives, who from thenceforward have done more in the way of fishing and traffic than all the other parts of the West Highlands. [A Tour through the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebride Isles, in MDCCLXXXVI, by John Knox.]

1 comment:

  1. Hi just wondered if you had any evidence for the use of the Dutch language in Stornoway during the seventeenth century as I'm writing a book on the Dutch language in Britain. Any details would be gratefully appreciated at Thanks, Chris Joby