43756: Cromore Fisher Girls

Herring gutting was a valuable seasonal source of employment for the girls and women of the fishing villages of the Scottish Islands and round the Scottish coast during the 20 years or so, the period ending with the outbreak of the Second World War.

Other than domestic and craft work in their own communities, there was very little work available to women in the islands and other remote communities in the 19th century and even in the first half of the 20th century, and therefore, although the work of herring gutting entailed long hours of very hard and dirty work for a low wage, the work was appreciated and, because of the companionship and the team work the cheerful girls looked forward to the opening of each fishing season.

Highland and Island women were used to hard work and they cheerfully gave a good account of themselves when they were at the fishing. For that reason they were popular with their employers and the other workers involved in the herring trade.

Thousands of Hebridean herring girl gutters travelled every season, summer and winter, particularly from the 1840s onwards to most if not all the main Scottish and English herring fishing ports, such as Lerwick, Stronsay in the Northern Isles, Wick, Fraserburgh, Peterhead, etc. as well as the Irish, Isle of Man and English fishing ports. In autumn there was the English East Anglia herring fishing based mainly on Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

From time to time the fishing community in Lochs were shattered by the news of an accidental drowning at sea, sometimes involving several people from the same family, wages earners and heads of families, leaving a number of fatherless children.

On one occasion in the 1890s it was the news of the passing of three young herring fish gutters from Cromore that cast a gloom over the whole community. The living conditions for the fishing gutters left much to be desired.

Mary Macleod, 22 years, Daughter of Murdo "Beag" Macleod, 9 Cromore
Margaret (Peggy) Mackenzie, 23 years, daughter of "Coinneach Dhomhnuill, 5 Cromore
Mary Mackenzie, 24 years, sister of Margaret (above)

These three young girls contracted measles at Wick and sadly all three girls died and were buried there because it was not considered possible to bring the remains home to Cromore for burial at that time.

Also Kenneth Mackenzie, "Sen" aged about 20 years, a brother of the two Mackenzie girls above, contracted measles at the fishing in Fraserburgh in the same year, 1890 and died there. In that way three members of the family of Kenneth Mackenzie 5 Cromore passed away at the East Coast Fishing in 1890.

There was another Kenneth in the same family "Coinneach Beag" who was a missionary. He was born after his late brother. Also there was a second Margaret or Peggy, born in 1878, she was the wife of John Mackay, 7 Calbost, "Caoran".

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