The Cellardyke Echo – 27/6/24 – Issue 448


THE LATE MR ROBERT PRATT.—Early on Monday morning, before the rest of the town had awaked from their slumbers, an old man passed calmly and almost imperceptibly to his long rest, who deserves more than the usual brief obituary notice. We refer to Mr Robert Pratt, sailmaker, whose death will call up many old remembrances to his numerous friends and acquaintances in all the towns along the coast. Mr Pratt’s early life was a more than usually adventurous one, and the following particulars, for which we are indebted to the kindness of his brother, Mr John Pratt, himself an old whaler, will perhaps not be unacceptable to our readers. He was born in 1789, and at the early age of eleven years he went to serve in the ” Prince of Wales” excise cutter, commanded by Captain Henderson, whose tombstone may be seen on the east aide of Anstruther Church. At that time the duties of the cutter, which cruised about the Firth, were more arduous than fall to their lot now, smuggling going on at every suitable place with great activity. After being four years on board the cutter, Mr Pratt went to Dundee, from which port he sailed on board the ” Mary Ann,” to Greenland to the whale fishing. On returning to Dundee, and thinking to escape the numerous press-gangs which then infested the country, he went to Leith, where he got in as mate of the smack ” Hope,” a trader between Leith and London. His efforts to escape being impressed, however, proved unsuccessful, for he was seized and had to join the ” Ardent” guardship, lying in Leith. He was taken on a Friday, and on the Monday his brother Alex, who had been on his second voyage, singularly enough was brought face to face with him, having been taken out of his ship by the press-gang at the Hynds near Arbroath, and conveyed to the guard-ship. While on board the “Ardent,” Robert was rated boatswain’s mate, and also managed to get married to a woman belonging to St Andrews. Three weeks after being impressed, he succeeded in making his escape from the ship, by jumping on to the rigging of the ferry boat crossing to Burntisland. On getting to the shore, he made his way inland as quickly as possible, and travelling round by Kellie Law, arrived in Cellardyke on a Sunday night. After this he went to St Andrews, from which port he sailed to London, where he was again pressed while going up the river, and taken on board the Thetis. He did not remain long, however, for five weeks after being impressed, along with a companion also belonging to Cellardyke, named Thomas Watson, the frigate being about a mile and a half off Greenwich, he dropped into the sea through the hawse-hole, and attempted to swim ashore. Pratt managed to get near enough the shore to touch the ground with his feet, but he had just succeeded in getting a foothold when he heard his companion, who was some distance behind him, exclaim, ” Oh, Lord God, have mercy on me!” and turning round, saw him sink. To have attempted to rescue Watson in his exhausted state would have been madness, and therefore he wended his sorrowful way to the land, where he fell in with a company of sweeps. Gathering a large quantity of sticks, they quickly lighted a fire, at which he got his clothes dried, he having tied them round his neck before leaving the ship. At Greenwich, he got into a whaler, and made another voyage to Greenland. After coming home, he joined the transport service, and was in the ” True Love,” carrying troops from Flushen, for about five years. Leaving this, he went to Shields, and got into a brig going to Falmouth with coals. On the voyage, they were captured by a French vessel, and taken to France, where they were confined in a prison. Mr Pratt often related this portion of his history to his friends, graphically describing the sufferings and hardships which he, along with his companions, underwent while confined there. After being five or six weeks in prison, they managed to punch out the iron bolts in the windows by means of a small marlinspike which had escaped the vigilant search of their captors, and Mr Pratt and 18 others got out by the window, by tying their blankets together, and dropping to the ground. Their prison, however, was situated far from the shore, and before they could get out of the country they had to travel a long distance without food or the means to procure it with. Travelling all night, Mr Pratt lay all day, covering himself with snow to prevent discovery. To procure food, he took the mother of pearl buttons which were on his coat, and sold them to the villagers for food. After these were all gone, he cut off his hair, which at that time was worn very long, and with the money obtained from this, and any food which he could obtain on the way, he supported himself till he arrived at the sea coast. He was not long there before he was fortunate enough to get away in an English vessel. Shortly after arriving in Britain, he went away to the whale fishing, and made no less than 37 voyages in succession to the Greenland whale fishing. On his last voyage he was struck by a whale, and so much hurt that every bone in his body seemed broken. He was brought home, and during all the next winter was laid up by the injuries he had received. After this he settled down in Cellardyke, and having been learnt by his father, along with the rest of his brothers, to sew – a very necessary accomplishment to a sailor he began sailmaking, and continued up till last year at that work. About the New Year, his strength began to fail him, and he had to take to his bed, from which time he was gradually sunk, till on Monday morning, as stated above, he breathed his last, at the age of 81. Mr Pratt was a quiet, sober man, and was much respected by all who knew him. He was well known along the coast, and also in Dundee and Aberdeen, from having sailed so often from these ports.

Last week Messrs Sharp & Murray of Cellardyke purchased by private bargain the fishcuring premises situated at the east end of East Green Street, lately belonging to Mr Walter Ireland at the price of a little over £600. The erection of these premises a few years ago, cost, we believe, about £1200.


THE TELEGRAPH.—The arrangements for supplying the inhabitants of the East of Fife with telegraphic facilities are being rapidly carried out, and in a short time the wires will be in all the Post Offices in the district. In addition to the wire which has been in operation here for a considerable time, a new wire has lately been erected between St Monance and Anstruther, which is to be extended to Cellardyke and Crail. The head office for the district is Anstruther, where all messages for any of the neighbouring towns are first transmitted through the direct wire, and then forwarded to their destinations by the other wire.

WARNING TO PERSONS KEEPING DOGS WITHOUT LICENCES. —A Justice of Peace Court was held here on Wednesday. William Murray, Esq., Provost Todd, and Bailie Darsie on the bench, and John Smith, Esq., acting as assessor. After the disposal of two or three small debt cases, Wm. Pattie, carter, Cellardyke, was charged at the instance of Mr William Webber Sparke, officer of Excise, with keeping a dog without a licence, whereby he was liable in a penalty of £5. He pled guilty awl was fined in the mitigated penalty of 25s. James Watson, fishcurer, Cellardyke, pled guilty to a similar charge, stating that he had inadvertently neglected to take out the licence and was fined 25s. James Salter (Carstairs), fisherman, Cellardyke, was fined 25s for the same offence. In the cases of David Brown and Thomas Tarvit, fishermen, Cellardyke, who did not appear personally, the service of the summons was sworn to, and no defence being set up, a fine of 25s each was inflicted. At the instance of Mr Stephen Youden, officer of Excise, West Anstruther, Alexander Watson, fisherman, Cellardyke, was charged with the same offence. Mr Sparke, who appeared fur the Crown, said in this case the defendant had been keeping a dog for two years and five months without a licence, and he submitted that a heavier fine ought to be inflicted. Watson having admitted the charge, their Honours sentenced him to pay a fine of 35s. The fines were all paid.

The ship “Adriatic’ Capt. Webster (a native of Cellardyke), has just arrived at Leith from Quebec, having made the voyage in twenty-three days less two hours, being the quickest passage between these ports this season.


Skipper George Smith, of Cellardyke—landed what is believed the best take of fish on the east coast of Scotland. It consisted of upwards of 100 splendid halibut, with several fine turbot, or the famous ‘bannock fluke,’ and about thirty-six score of fine cod, besides many ling and skate ; and with her noble freight, the large boat had all the appearance of a creer gunwale deep with herrings, This princely ‘shot’ was discharged at Cellardyke, and when spread out on the bulwark the singular sight attracted much curiosity and attention, and more than one old grey- beard was heard to wonder over it as ‘ the biggest tak’ he had ever seen .’ It was purchased at £25; but in Lent, or at a time when ‘mother sea’ was less fruitful, it might have had a value of nearly £100

CELLARDYKE. THE BOAT STANCES AT THE HARBOUR.—A question has arisen as to the proprietorship of the vacant ground in front of the harbour. For several years hack, the tacksmen of the tiends have let the ground for boat stances, and have realised a rental of £12 to £15 a year from it. In reading over the charter of the burgh, however, Provost Martin found that the harbour and all the vacant ground belonged to the town, while from the minutes it was discovered that it had been let fur fishcuring premises by the Ballies in office before the disfranchisement of the burgh, and afterwards by the Managers. There would therefore seem to be little doubt that the ground belongs to the burgh, and that revenue derived from it ought to go into the town’s funds. It may be a consideration whether the money thus obtained should not be expended on the harbour, but this part of the question will doubtless be satisfactorily settled at the first meeting of the Town Council, at which the matter is to come up.

DEATH OF THE OLDEST FISHER IN FIFE. On Friday morning last, Mr Robert Anderson died at Cellardyke in the 87th year of his age, and who, there is reason to believe, was the oldest fisher in Fife. Natives of Cellardyke have wandered far by sea and shore, but old Robert has died in the bed where he was born; still it is at once curious and instructive to look back on the experiences of such a life, and mark the changes with which it is more or less associated.

When only fourteen years of age he lost his father, who perished by a melancholy accident at the entrance of Cellardyke harbour, when only one of the crew of eight was saved This sad accident conveys a suggestive idea of the perils of the old fishers when seeking shelter in the rugged creek of “Skimfie,” where in the olden times many a distracted fisher wife has seen a husband or son perish at her feet. Even when moored under the lee of the stone pier, the boats were only saved by being dragged upon the street which occasionally was done at all times and seasons; and perhaps there are greybeards yet who can remember the thundering noise one Sabbath forenoon at the church door of Kilrenny, as the little rascal voices shouted high above the solemn cadence of the psalm —”Come awa’, men, jist the noo ; the boats are gaun to spunks—come awa’, come awa’.”

But there were other dangers besides the storm or their rock-girt creek which used to strike terror to the hearts of the old fishers of Skinfasthaven. When old Robert was a boy every mouth was full of the exploits of Paul Jones or the notorious Captain Fall, who attacked, with his pirate ship the towns of Arbroath and Dunbar, and stole every sheep from the Isle of May; but these things had happened a few years before he was born, though in his time the French privateers watched, like a cat for a mouse, for Scottish fishing boats, in the hope that once captured, the crews might be bribed to serve as pilots in Napoleon’s famous scheme of invasion ; but to encounter a British Cruiser in these “pressing” times was only like going “from the frying pan into the fire”

The then Parliamenter, Sir John Anstruther, took a great interest in his constituents, and in this way the fishermen were freely provided with ”protection papers;”’ but even with this safeguard, Cellardyke has often been besieged by the ruffianly pressgang, who, in the dead of night, would burst into the houses, and, heedless of the screams of terrified wives and children, would, cutlass and pistol in hand, and  with the most savage oaths and threats on their lips, search for their victims. However, the gang had usually to go away as they came, as a daring leap from a window, or a quick retreat to the  secret hiding place. with which in these troubled times every old house in Cellardyke, like an ancient  castle, was, or is provided, kept the hardy fishers out of their clutches. It is a matter, however, for honest pride for the inhabitants of Cellardyke, when the appeal was made to them, the seafaring community rose as one man to strengthen the “wooden walls of England;” and in particular it was the ready service of the fishermen that enabled the British Government to execute so successfully the seizure of the Danish fleet.

But time has done as much for the comfort as for the security and safety of the fishers of Fife. Sixty years there were only seventeen white fishing boats belonging to the town—the biggest being scarcely thirty feet long, and unprovided with cabins, or decks, or even with fires ; and yet without any of these elements, or rather essentials of comfort, the hardy fathers braved the storms of the Bell Rock in the dead of winter, or even fished for herrings at Caithness or the Orkney Islands. Burntisland now-a-days is only heard of as a great ferry or watering-place, but seventy years ago or 80 it was the greatest herring emporium in all Scotland. Old Robert would be sailing his child’s boat by the beach when an old main-sail, which which was being washed in the offing of Aberdour, drew up some herrings from the teaming sea. This lucky discovery was not lost on the of the fishers of the East Neuk, for in a few years it became the most profitable part of their calling, and the success of the fishing may be gathered from the fact that for the year 1802, nearly 15,000 pickled, and 12,000 red herring barrels were cured at Burntisland.

Old Robert lived to see as many changes in the fishing tackle as in the size and outfit of the boat, and even without his own vocation his recollection was no less significant of progress of the times; in particular he could well recall the alarm caused on the coast of Fife one autumn morning, fifty-seven years ago, by the appearance of the first steamer in the Firth, which everybody supposed to be a ship on fire. But let for a moment at more particular changes.

The present church of Kilrenny, so far as architecture goes, is as dull and common place as any old Seceding meeting house, but while in his “teens ” this worthy octogenarian well knew the brave old basilican church with its double row of massive Norman arches, and doubtless behind one of the ponderous piers of those very arches has made love signals to some blooming maiden, in those days joyous and happy as a lark in the spring time, through long years ago past before him amongst the peers in the old church-yard. His memory could also carry him back to a time since which five ministers have filled the pulpit of Kilrenny church, and in this way he has heard from his own lips the elegant and metaphysical sermons of William Beat, and as a matter of course he would be still more familiar with his successor, James Forrester, who is remembered for nothing so much as his big wig and long sermons, and to him they were as yesterday. The unobtrusive Joseph Duncan, with his one grand theme of Nabal and evil of worldly riches; the eloquent and impassioned James Brown, and the mild and fatherly hearted George Dickson, who, but a few months ago, preceded him to the place appointed for all living.  It was truly interesting to hear this worthy old. man recall the many and varied incidents of his long life, and hear his quaint and pithy remarks on the customs of modern times; but though a shrewd and keen observer he had a large and sunny heart, and retained his cheerfulness if not a juvenescence of spirits to his last. He was well known and deservedly respected, and the name of old Robert Anderson will be long and kindly remembered in the East Neuk.


The Herring Fleet of 1873 According to the preparations now so actively begun, the present season will see the largest herring fleet ever sent afloat from the East of Fife. Cellardyke promises to contribute about 175 of the finest and largest boats to the Scottish herring squadron, and Pittenweem can muster over 50, while Monance, in that true spirit of progress which distinguishes her, soon will be able, if required, to send 105—making a total for the three stations of 335 first-class boats.

Besides our own hardy sons of St Peter, about a thousand men are required for the herring boats of Cellardyke, Pittenweem, and St Monance. Not a few of our Fife labourers and tradesmen are to be found so employed, but the large proportion of the men are Highlanders and Islesmen, with a good sprinkling of the sons of St Patrick, who, to use a rather favourite saying, “like to tak’ sea hold for the benefit of health and the purse.” In these days, however, of high wages, some may doubt the prudence of leaving work on shore for risk on the sea ; but then, on the other hand, the prospects of the herring fishery were never so encouraging, and halfdealsmen especially had never the same chance of success as at the present time. ” Och, its blessed release from the slow murther of the factory,” exclaimed an Irishman rejoicing one day in the fresh sea breeze, while many cautious Highlandman will tell you he buttons his pocket on the nine or ten sovereigns, or perhaps more, he may have earned by the season, ” It’s just a Godsend for the rent and the cauld winter,” and apart from mere gain we know many a decent and intelligent villager worn to the bone by the toil and sweat of the summer field or crushed and cramped by unhealthy labour, who has recruited for years both his strength and spirits ” by six weeks at the drave.” Under these circumstances, and with every expectation of abundant season from the immense shoals descried at sea, there is little doubt that a sufficient number of men will be though it is very much to be hoped that all that purpose to ” reap the harvest the ‘ sea” will, the season is early, be soon the ground, and thus prevent any chance of delay and disappointment in filling up the berths.


FOR SALE, Smack GEORGES, of Cellardyke ; carries 25 to 30 tons. Would be answerable for a Fishing Smack or other purposes Ha new spars, sails &c – Apply to John Robertson. Ardgowan Buildings, Greenock.

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