During this lovely hot summer, it can be hard to imagine a riot at Tarbert Loch Fyne. But it is a fact. The beginnings of ring net fishing in Tarbert were violent. In September of 1859 (according to a report in the Glasgow Herald at the time) men were beaten, pushed off the quay, forced to escape from a shop by the back door and run to the hills.
The excerpt below is taken from articles in the Glasgow Herald.
Mon 12th September 1859
A week has scarcely fled since we chronicled the fact that the Fishery Board had resolved to crush the trawl mode of taking herrings, printed notices announcing this determination having been at some time issued, purporting to be under their order and authority. We hailed the wisdom of such a universally called for step with much gratification, and hoped that strong and stern measures would be promptly taken to enforce and maintain the orders of the Board, and congratulate all upon the happy termination of this public question. But events which have since taken place show how miserably we have been mistaken. No force has been put upon the waters, and trawling is openly carried on with as perfect impunity as herefore. The Jackdaw, the only force on the waters, it is believed, is flying principally about the upper part of Lochfyne, where, there being no trawlers, her presence is of no earthly use. Tarbert is the trawlers hive where we think the ‘Daw would be much more serviceable and more advantageously employed than roosting up amongst the peaceable fishermen in the upper parts of Loch Fyne. On Tuesday last some drift-net herring smacks from Strachur and Port Bannatyne, probably relying on the Board having done something more than merely issuing the printed notification, anchored in Tarbert harbour. Five of the Lochfynehead crew went ashore, where they were but a short time, when the trawlers speedily collected in great numbers, shoved two of them over the quay, and left them to sink or swim; but fortunately they reached their boats. A third was mercilessly beaten, and the remaining two, were in a shop nearby, purchasing some necessaries, found the door literally besieged by about 100 of these scoundrels, shouting, swearing and threatening to deprive them of their lives. The two poor fellows were concealed in a room, where they remained for some time, but the crowd outside got so savage and uproarious that the shopkeeper became alarmed lest the house would be pulled down about his ears. They made the escape buy a back door, and were off some distance before they were observed, when they were pursued to the hills, but not overtaken. The trawlers then proceeded out to the harbour with their skiffs in overwhelming numbers, and ordered the smacks off under a threat of cutting their cables. They lifted the anchors, and towed them out to the open sea, where they left them to shift for themselves, one of the smacks having only a boy onboard. The authorities are of course busy investigating the affair, and we hope these cowardly fellows will receive the punishment their conduct deserves.
It is truly lamentable that such doings should be allowed to continue one day longer, when the fishery board could, by serious and active measures, sweep away that abominable trawl system, and all the misery and wretchedness following in its wake. Something is wrong, which must be remedied; and if the trawl is not immediately annihilated, we may make up our minds to become quite familiar with riot, bloodshed, and perhaps something worse. If any of the acting officials who may have hitherto shown favour and giving encouragement ti the trawlers find it rather disagreeable and unpleasant to turn tail and meet them in open hostility, they ought to be removed to some other part of the coast to do duty, and their places filled up by others who would have no delicacy on that scope enforcing the law.
We do not think the issuing of these bills by the Fishery Board, the effect of which appears not worth the paper they are printed on, is calculated to impart dignity to their edicts, and ensure respect and obedience to the proclamations and commands. The procurator of police, assisted by two policemen, was there with warrants to apprehend some of the ringleaders, but as they declined to go Voluntarily to Inverary, and stated that they would resist compulsion, it was deemed more prudent not to vindicate the law.
The Trust wishes to thank Ian Mckintyre of Tarbert for making available this transcription.