View Full Version : Over the Ord back on the road

02-Mar-14, 11:34
End of golden era at herring port as the once plentiful silver darlings swim away

It’s a wee while since I posted an Over the Ord item but I make no apology for that. I’m no longer tied to deadlines and if you can’t come and go as you please, when you’re retired – when can you?
However, during a reorganisation of our attic, I came across some more of the files compiled by my late father, John Hot News Donaldson, who was responsible for taking the family out of herring and into news through his freelance news agency in Wick - founded way back in the 1930s - and maybe for the good.
Browsing through dad’s files, again illustrates that his tentacles of coverage was by no means limited to the borders of Caithness but far beyond, in fact to anywhere he found stories that could be winkled out, aided and abetted by his vast army of contacts.
One of the cutting that caught my eye, must have been a poignant story for him to write, as it dealt with a business close to his heart and that of his father, James Donaldson, fishcurer, Wick, among many others who would never have imagined the day would come with the demise of the town’s booming herring industry.
The story appeared in the News of the World, "from our own correspondent, Wick; August 8, 1937". Under a three-deck heading, the layout style of that time, here is the piece he filed.
This is the most tragic herring port on the Scottish coast and thousands of the inhabitants are facing what is virtually financial disaster.
In June, the herring fishing suddenly, and mysteriously, collapsed and now five successive weeks have passed without any herring being landed.
Never before, even in the memory of the oldest inhabitants, have the quays and herring market been so completely deserted in the months of July and August when in the past, the bustle of boats landing thousands of crans of herring has brought prosperity to the town. Figures reveal even more starkly than words, the terrible collapse of Wick’s position as the leading herring fishing port.
Usually at this time, there is a fleet of from 200 to 300 drifters using the harbour. Today, there is not one. To date this season, only 7,726 crans of herring valued at 10,994 have been landed. This is less than a tenth of the catch in a normal season. This has had, and during the coming winter will continue to have, serious repercussions on the town which depends almost wholly on the success of the herring industry.
And, while harbour revenue decreases, the number of unemployed rises to new levels. Shopkeepers have had their poorest season on record. So, too have the carting contractors who transport the herring from the quays to the curing yards. The Highland herring girls, who this season have spent most of their time walking about the streets knitting, in order to stave off the boredom of idleness, have suffered very heavily. Normally, these skilful packers and gutters of herring, leave for home early in September with good earnings... this year they will lucky if they take anything home at all.
This unhappy state of affairs centres around the mysterious disappearance of the herring from Wick’s fishing grounds towards the end of June. Boats fished from Wick night, after night, only to haul blank. Disappointed, they left to fish at other ports. Occasionally, a drifter on passage from Stornoway to Lerwick, tried its luck, only to have its nets torn by shoals of dogfish which are the enemy of the herring.
During recent weeks there have been days when not a single herring drifter entered Wick Harbour. Even fishcurers, tired of maintaining staff at considerable expense without any return, have been compelled to desert Wick for other ports such as South Shields and the Isle of Man where herring are still to be got. In fact, ironically enough, Wick’s misfortunes have brought prosperity to the ports of Peel and Port St Mary, on the Isle of Man, where Wick curers have transferred their staffs and where good catches are being landed.
Everyone in Wick is convinced that the town is facing a hard winter and, unless something unforeseen happens, the town will rapidly become of the most hopeless of the distressing areas.
My dad, of course, had a special insight into the herring fishing, working as he did in his father’s business while on holiday from university. It was on one of those visits home, that he got bitten by the newspaper bug. But that’s another story.

Calf among herd of deer
(Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, January 4, 1938)

AFTER disappearing one winter’s night, three months ago, a Caithness calf turned up alive the other day... among a herd of deer.
During September, a lorry laod of cattle belonging to Mr Donald Mackay, butcher Lybster, was being transported to his farm at Smerlie. Among the cattle was a weaned black-polled calf, five months old, which broke loose and, jumping from the lorry, disappeared into the darkness.
Inquiries failed to reveal any trace of the missing calf which was given up as lost. A week ago, however, the keeper at Latheronwheel, who was out with a party shooting hares, noticed something odd about a herd of deer which had come down from the hills. Among the herd was a black-polled calf and when the deer, frightened by the approach of the man, ran away, the calf accompanied them.
Mr Mackay was naturally surprised when told the reappearance of the missing calf. A few days later a band of men went out and succeeded in isolating the calf from the deer and surrounding it in a marsh. Despite the fact that the calf had spent three months in the hills and lived through the severe, December, snowstorm, it was in fairly good condition.
It is, however, still wild and has to be kept in close captivity. More surprising still is the fact that the deer should have tolerated the presence of the stranger.

"The Calder brothers come amongst you with an excellent character" New newspaper owners are given a warm welcome at Banff

CAITHNESS has spawned a veritable shoal of journalists over the years. I'm not sure why this should be but would hazard a guess that curiosity about what was going on around them and a compulsion for finding out, might have been the initial drivers.
With the exception of my father, myself, and my brother, most of the aspiring reporters served their time on their local newspapers where they got a grounding second-to-
none, tackling everything from the mundane task of culling items from back issues of their journals and the bread and butter councils and courts to major stories.
Strangely, enough the Caithness scribes, with the odd exception, never owned a newspaper.
Being a journalist is not a pre-requisite for ownership and recently a former Groat typesetter Cliffie Ironside - from the hot metal production days - now retired and living in his native Banff, sent me a cutting about former owners of the Banffshire weekly, The Banffshire Journal, who had Caithness links.
The item appeared in George Clark's Portsoy Past & Present slot, who edited the research notes of Findlay Pirie which referred to a forerunner paper in that area, the Banffshire Reporter. Its founder, Thomas Anderson died in 1888 only four years after he sold the paper to the Calder brothers, George and Marcus who were born in Wick in the 1850s and purchased the paper on June 10, 1884.
George and his family emigrated soon after, leaving Marcus in full control.
Marcus married three times. The first wedding was to Isabella Flett from Wick; she died in Portsoy in 1893, at the tender age of 33. Marriage No 2 was to Georgina Edward who died in 1913, aged 55. Marcus returned to Wick for his final choice of a wife, marrying Isabella McIvor, in the town in 1923. She outlived him comfortably dying in 1946 at the ripe old age of 82, Marcus himself passing on in 1932.
At a banquet held in Portsoy in 1814 to mark the retirement of the original owner of the Reporter, Thomas Anderson and the transfer of the business to the Calder brothers, Anderson gave them a glowing reference.
He said: "The Calder brothers come amongst you with an excellent character and under superior conditions because they have both served their apprenticeships and they know the business. It will be some time before they get as much experiences as I have, but it will all come to them in due course. Now, I bequeath to you as a legacy and I hope that you will learn to discover that there is more gold to be got out of printers' ink than in either Mexico or California."

Next Ord...moonshining in Caithness and the house in the Wick area where "spirits" once lived.