In the long established fishing communities such as that of Brixham and Barking young boys were employed on smacks, but they mostly followed a family tradition and were weaned on a life at sea from an early age, they would become converse with the ways of a fishermans life and the perils and dangers that befell upon them, well before they ever set foot aboard a vessel. I would persume at this early stage before indentures and the extreme demand for crewmen, that if a boy was not able to adapt to the life, or found that life aboard a sailing smack was not for him, there was very little pressure for him to stay, other than that of the means of providing for himself, skippers knew a boy who was not at ease and could not cope would eventually cost them money in lost earnings, as well as increasing the already heavy work load for the remaining crew members. . Boy`s who did take to the life, found it in their own interest to work hard and learn the skills required of them, as the whole crew of a smack would share any profit made. The boys would live and be looked after in their own fishing communities and would be given every opportunity to learn and progress as seamen under the watchfull eye of their skipper, in many cases of who`m would be his father, sibling or other relative. At this time although the work was hard for the boys, smacks did not remain at sea for any length of time, mostly 2 days, so that they could get the fish they had caught back to the markets in prime condition, this would change in future years after the introduction of ice, smacks would spend upto 14 days at a time at sea, and with the introduction of the boxing system smack would spend from 8 upto 12 weeks at sea, of which these smacks would return and remain in port for only a week before their next long trip. A smack belonging to the boxing fleet could spend upto 40 weeks a year at sea in later years. When the fishing smacks began arriving at Hull they normally had a full compliment of willing crewmen that came with the vessel, often of the same family , but in places like Hull that had never seen a sizeable fishing community, prior to the arrival of the smacks, there was little supply of willing persons to man these ever increasing vessels. As the fishing industry throughout the United Kingdom grew and more and more vessels where been built, so the demand for apprenticed boys as crewmen and the need to keep them increased. By the late 1860`s over half the employed persons in the Hull fishing industry were apprentice`s.

It would become the normal practise for both the cook and fourth hand to be apprenticed on Hull smacks and it would not be unknown for some smacks to carry three apprentice`s. With the introduction of the indenture for apprentices, when signed it bound the apprentice for a period of seven years or untill the boy was of the age of 21, boys from the age of 11 have been found apprenticed on Hull vessels. It takes several readings of the Indenture below which was used from 1855 onwards, before you understand and obtain the implication of it, imagine a 14 year old boy who through no fault of his own, had not received the opportunity to learn to read, then having to understand sign and abide by the indenture, of which it has been proved, many boys did not fully understand the indenture and were not properly informed of the consequences of signing such an indenture. There were many alleged cases of underhand tactics been employed when enticing boys to sign indentures. The indenture was signed in most cases before the now apprenticed youth, stepped foot aboard a fishing vessel, giving them that had no soul for it, no other choice but to serve the term of the indenture. when an apprentice finished his indentured time, he would be promoted to the next highest grade or he had the opportunity at this time to leave the fishing industry.

Note : There was a seperate similar Indenture used for boys who were in a orphanage or workhouse.

As stated by the indenture the welfare of the apprentice was only the responsibility of the master when the apprentice was at sea, when some of the apprentice`s were ashore they were neither payed, fed or housed but given an allowance for lodgings and were left to fend for themselve`s, eventually we would see two types of apprentice the outhouse and the inhouse apprentice.



This Indenture made the ........... day of .................................... 18............. between ........................................................

aged........................... years,.............................. a native of ......................................................., in the county of ................................................, of the first part, ......................................................of......................................................, in the county of ...................................of the other part, and ......................................of ..........................................................in the county of................................of the third part , WITNESSETH, That the said ............................................................................, hereby volunatarily binds himself Apprentice unto the said ......................................, his Executors, Administrators, and Assigns, for the term of .......................................years from the date hereof: And the said Apprentice hereby convents that, during such time, he, the said Apprentice, will faithfully serve his said Master, his Executors, Administrators, and Assigns and obey his and their lawful commands, and keep his and their secrets, and will when required, give to him and them true accounts of his or their goods and money which may be committed to the charge, or come into the hands , of the said Apprentice ; and will, in case the said Apprentice enters Her Majesty`s Service during the said term, duly account for and pay, or cause, to be paid, to his said Master, his Executors, Administrators, and Assigns, all such Wages, Prize Money, and other Monies as may become payable to the said Apprentice for such service ; and that the said Apprentice will not, during the said term, do any damage to his said Master, his Executors, Administrators, and Assigns, nor will he consent to any such damage being done by others, but will if possible , prevent the same and give warning thereof ; and will not embezzle or waste the goods of his Master, his Executors, Administrators, and Assigns, nor give or lend the same to others without his or their licence, ; nor absent himself from his or their service without leave ; nor frequent Taverns or Alehouses, unless upon his or their buisness ; nor play at Unlawful Games: In CONSIDERATION WHEREOF, the said Master hereby convents with the said Apprentice, that during the said term he, the said Master, his Executors, Administrators, and Assigns, will and shall use all proper means to teach the said Apprentice or cause him to be taught the business of a Fisherman Seaman and provide the said Apprentice with sufficient Meat, Drink, Lodgings, Medicine, and Medical and Surgical Assistance, during the time of his being at sea only, and pay to the said Apprentice the sum of £.........................., in manner following ; ( that is to say ,) for each consecutive week of the first year.

The said Apprentice providing for himself all sea-bedding, wearing apparel, and necessaries ( except such as are herein-before specially agreed to be provided by the said Master) : AND IT IS HEREBY AGREED that if, at any time during the said term, the said Master, his Executors, Administrators, and Assigns, provide any necessary apparel, or sea-bedding for the said Apprentice , he and they may deduct any sums properly expended thereon by him or them from the sums so agreed to be paid to the said Apprentice as aforesaid : And for the performance of the agreements herein contained, each of them, the said............................... and ............................................. doth hereby bind himself , his Heirs, Executors, and Administrators unto the other of them, his Executors, and Administrators, in the penal sum of £10 ; and for the performance of the covenants on the part of the said Apprentice herein contained , the said............................................. as surety, doth hereby bind himself, his Heirs, Executors, Administrators, unto the said .................... ................. his Executors, Administrators, in the penal sum of £............................: provided, that not withstanding the penal stipulations herein contained any Justice or Justices of the Peace may exercise such Jurisdiction in respect of the said Apprentice as he or they might have exerciced if no such stipulations had been herein contained

In Witness whereof, the said parties have hereunto set their hands and seals, the day and year above written,

Signed, sealed and delivered, in the presence of

(L . S ) ................................................................................................................( Master

(L . S ) ................................................................................................................(Apprentice).

(L . S ) .............................. NONE .....................................................................( Surety ).


Note .- this Indenture must be executed in duplicate, both copies must be taken to the Registrar General of Seaman ; or if in the Outports to some Shipping Master ; one copy will then be retained, and recorded and the other returned to the Master with the necessary indorsement.


This Indenture was sanctioned by the Board of Trade May 1855 ( In Pursuance of 17 & 18 Vict. c. 104. )

if there is a Surety his name is to be inserted here: but a Surety is not essential. If there is not one, the part relating to him should be struck out.


It was the Hull MP William Wilberforce who had campaigned and was so influentual in the abolition of slavery in other quarters at the start of the centuary , and yet a form of such treatment and slavery was been employed not only in the whole of the British fishing industry but in his home town. Of which there was little knowledge of these apprentice`s by the general public, young boys were been enticed and bound to a life at sea, suffering hardship, misery and abuse for several long years. This practise and the conditions the boys endured would only come into the public light, when an event of great consequence such as a number of deaths or gross ill-treatment was published in the local press. The boys were supplying what grew to be a huge demand for a cheap labour scource aboard the Hull sailing smacks. There is no doubt that there was no glamour, adventure or reprieve for a boy, who had been indentured to a life in the North Sea smacks. While working in one of the most hostile environments, conditions at best were primative, uncomfortable, and repetitious, the work was hard and at times relentless, the dangers where numerous. To add to these unbearing conditions many unfortunate apprentice`s would be ill-treated and ill-used by their own crewmen. We read reports that state the situations of abuse and ill-treatment were isolated and rare ( mostly unheeded or unreported). And while there was very little true admission of the extent of ill treatment aboard Hull smacks, the sheer number of boys that reported ill treatement, and saw little or no action taken, would only be reflected in the numbers commited to the gaol. The fisher lads who had been imprisoned often made the statement, that they would sooner suffer gaol and hard labour than go back to sea aboard a North Sea smack. There was a silence that was born within the fishing community, As allegations of ill- treatment fell on death ears or a master refuted such claims and the matter was soon droped. Complaints of conditions at sea, harsh working practises, would all be muffled, accepted as part of the vocation, a hard life lived by hard tough men, this silence would continue throughout the industrys lifespan as these men of pride and loyalty to their own, suffered the failings of others.

Veteran seamen who had served their time on the whaling ships of Hull, or on the many merchant vessels, found the transition to the trawling smacks, a very unpleasant experience, and signed off as soon as the vessel reached port, there were seamen and there were fishermen a breed far apart. This experience must have been tenfold for an uninitiated young boy who had never seen the sea, let alone been afloat. As most of these boys had limited literacy skills they could neither read or understand the indenture, many made a mark as they were unable to sign their own name, it is even shown that some apprentice`s were unaware of their own age. For many of the boys that found they could not take to the life, or just fell foul of a bad smack crew and found the whole experience too much to bear, there was no visible way out of their indenture and there were many cases of reported suicide from Hull smacks, possibly some of them fisher lads who would rather die than fullfil their time aboard the smacks, there were numerous cases of fisher lads who had tried to scuttle their own vessels or prevented the smack from sailing in some way, so as they did not have to return to sea. The only other option to the apprentice`s was that of desertion but an apprentice who had run away was quickly apprehended and brought back to the vessel. As the owner, skipper, mate, ships husband, or consignee, had the power to arrest and detain upto 24 hrs without warrant or assistance from the police any such apprentice. But the police also often sought them out and returned them to the vessel. The apprentice would then be placed in front of the magistrate for desertion, of which there were two forms : The most serious charge was that of neglecting or refusing to join ship without reasonable cause ( mostly running away ) punishable by imprisonment of upto 12 weeks with hard labour, and Absence without leave ( not arriving at the vessel in time to sail ect ) punishable by imprisonment of upto 10 weeks with hard labour, in most cases as magistrates had some interest in the industry and several where smack owners, they would commit the apprentice to gaol and he would serve a prison sentence before been returned to his master and the sea. Hull magistrates sent over 216 apprentices to jail in 1876, mostly for desertion.

As the supply of boys willing to go to sea on a fishing smack soon dried up in Hull, apprentice`s were enticed from all over the country, and from all walks of life to man the ever increasing number of smacks, boys from institutions such as orphanages, workhouses, reformatories and the gaol, would provide a cheap large workforce for the Hull smacks. Some of these boys had been long forgotten and were eagerly passed on to the fishing fleet by the guardians of these establishments, again many of these guardians would have underhand dealings regarding the supply of boys with owners and skippers. In a four year period between 1875 and 1879 out of all apprentice`s on Hull smacks only 17% were from Hull, 4% from the surrounding villages and Holderness and the other 79% had been recruited from the major cities like London, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield. Whilst the majority of the skippers treated the apprentice`s well, they could not alleviate the dangers, the hard toil, the living conditions, or the long working times required of the boys, but they ensured the apprentice`s well being as best they could. There would be a minority of skippers and crewmen amongst most fishing fleets, that for reasons unknown had the venom of the devil within them, and would expell this venom upon the young apprentice`s, it is by the nature of such a buisness that these various crimes, of murder, assault, beatings, and even rape, could go undetected, and unpunished. several victims were undoubtedly murdered before any such allegations could be made, as it would be in the case of William Papper a 14 year old boy murdered on the Hull smack RISING SUN , this case would bring the attrocities suffered by many fisher lads to the attention of the general public in 1882, but there had been many suspect deaths and ill treatment reocorded in the almost 40 years of the Hull fishing industry. Another factor that would aid these crimes was that there was no obligation for a skipper to report the death of a person who was lost or died at sea to the Police or to the Board of Trade unless the vessel was also a casualty. Whether those that commited these ill acts to the apprentices where just evil by mind or taking out their own anguish on the boys we will never know.

Apprentice`s were the only members of the crew that would receive a fixed weekly wage in latter years while at sea and would not get a share of the profit from the trip, some skippers would let the fisher lads sell the stocker fish, all fish caught was classed in two categories prime, such as cod, turbot, halibut, sole and offal fish, that had been caught and would not sell at the market, Dabs, Gunnards, Whiting, Skate, Roker this would give the fisher lads the opportunity to earn a few extra shillings selling the offal fish, but even this would be withdrawn as merchants found they too could make profit from it.

Newspaper Article 06 Mar 1873

Fisher Lads

Fisher Lads At Hull and Grimsby . At the last meeting of the Holborn Board of Guardians, Mr Hill ( Chairman ) reported with regard to statements made as to the treatment of the boys apprenticed to the smackowners of Great Grimsby and Hull that the boys on shore had been very closely questioned by him without any one else been present. their statements were to the effect that they were kindly treated, and had plenty of food and pocket money and the proceeds of the stock fish. he examined their sleeping accommodation and found the bedding and clothing very satisfactory. he visited the fish market and made inquiries which satisfied him that the lads were well treated. there was a evening school, and some of them had money in the savings-bank. As to the statement that 500 fisher lads were sent to prison, in the course of the year and taken in chains through the streets, he had obtained information from the superintendant of police that 259 were proceeded against; of this number 102 were admonished and discharged, leaving 157 to be dealt with by magistrates; of these 19, charged with felony, were sent to prison and the remainder , accused of disorder and drinkenness, were fined or discharged. he understoood that the treatment of the lads by the smack owners wives was kind and motherly. The report was seconded and adopted with a vote of thanks to Mr Hill. yesterday at the police court the subject was referred to by Mr Travis, the stipendary magistrate. he observed that, however philanthropic people might be inclined to view condition of these lads, very mistaken ideas were entertained on the subject by well intentioned persons who had never been in a court in their lives. he had heared thousands of cases of disobedience and he confessed sympathies were at one time on the part of the boys. Now he believed the balance of good was decidedly on the side of the smack owners. He was always ready to assist the lads if he found they were ill-treated ; but they inflicted the most severe injury upon their masters in a careless and wilful manner. In a case before him a lad had entered into a contract with a good master, who was ready to make a man of him provided he would do that which was right. But after one or two voyages he ran away, and was found at leicester. Mr Travis expressed a hope that people would hear both sides of the question before comming to a conclusion on the statements which had been put forth in reference to the condition of these lads. Tonight Mr Seely M. P will move for an inquiry into the subject in the House of Commons and we trust it may result in the expultion of Hull and Grimsby from the charges that have been made against them.


Hull Times 09 Jan 1875

Thomas Rosier fishing smack apprentice was charged by his Master Mr William Leyman with refusing to go to sea on Saturday morning last. The prisoner alleged that his master told him to go ashore on New Years Eve as he was not wanted, he was ordered 30 days imprisonment


Town Hall, Hull
August 30, 1878

Right Honourable Sir
Permit me to call your attention to the mode which appears to be adopted at this port by some owners of fishing smacks for obtaining apprentices, and which, if I am correctly informed, is sanctioned by "Act of Parliament" and the "Board of Trade."
I can perhaps best bring the system under your notice by stating a case that I have become acquainted with during the last week.
A woman named Ann DAWSON, whose husband left her 10 years ago with a family of four children, which, with a little parochial assistance and very hard work, she has been able to maintain. Her younger son, now 14 years of age, got acquainted with some fisher boys, and by them was introduced to the owner of a smack, named BEEDHAM, living in Hull, who, without the knowledge or consent of his mother, took him to the Shipping Office, and had him bound apprentice for five years. It is not known that the lad had ever before been on board a fishing smack, or had any knowledge of the duties.
After the first voyage he was tired of the sea, and wanted to be liberated, but his new master and mistress went with a policeman to his mother's house, and the poor boy was again taken on board and sent to sea.
I have seen Mr. CORLASS, the "superintendent of the Shipping Office" who states, "the transaction is a perfectly legal one, the boy could and did bind himself. Sometimes he (Mr CORLASS) inquires of boys if they have the consent of their parents, but this is not at all necessary."
This mode of procedure certainly goes far to solve the problem why so many fisherman's apprentices are nearly half their time in prison. I consider it no better than a system of kidnapping, which must end disastrously to the boy.
As chairman of the "Sculcoates Board of Guardians" I frequently sign indentures for boys to go to sea, but never until they have made one or two voyages, and within this last year we have passed a resolution "that a boy shall not be bound to sea before he has had three month's trial;" the result of this care on the part of the guardians is that our union boys rarely, if ever, appear before the magistrates for misconduct.
The system that I have described is so utterly bad, and in every way un-English, that I have ventured to call your attention to it. I cannot believe that the Board of Trade would legalise English boys being thus entrapped. I should be glad if you would order the indentures in this case to be cancelled, if after inquiry you find my statements are substantiated.
I would further most respectfully suggest for the consideration of your honourable bord that in future the consent of the parent or guardian of the boy be obtained, and become a party to the indenture; if this cannot be done, that under no circumstances should a boy be bound until he has made one or two voyages to sea.
The case in question is creating a sensation in the neighbourhood. Very few people even in this shipping town had any idea that such a mode of securing apprentices was possible in this country.
As the chief magistrate, I have thought it my duty to lay these facts before you.
I have, &c.
(Signed) Robert WALLER, Mayor

To the Right Hon.
Sir C. B. Addreley, M.P., K.C.M.G.,
President of the Board of Trade
Whitehall, London, S. W.


Outhouse Apprentice`s

As previously seen the masters of apprentice`s who had signed indentures, were only bound to look after their welfare while they were at sea, and in some cases even this care was minimalistic or non exsistent. Due to the vast amount of waiffs and strays that had been enticed into apprentiship, skippers became less reluctent to have them in their own homes, and once the smack had reached the dock the apprentice would be given money by his master in latter years upto 14s a week, to find his own lodgings and take care of himself, we can only imagine the fate that was awaiting a fisher lad of 14 or 15 who had landed with money in his pocket from £3 to £5 in some cases, There were all manner of people awaiting to relieve him of his hard earned shillings. From lodging house keepers of whom some charged 4d a night, to alehouses and prostitutes, after been enticed into the brothels and alehouses the fisher lad would quickly be relieved of his money and in many cases left in a drunken stupor, without a roof over his head or a farthing remaining, he would then spend the rest of his shore time sleeping in the streets. There was also the teenage waiffs and strays of Hull that did not posses the qualities to go to sea or to earn a living, who would befriend the fisher lads as they landed knowing they would receive a share of his money, as they would be plied with free drink in the alehouse. It is with little wonder that this lifestyle would bring with it trouble and quite often these lads who just wanted to have a good time after weeks of hard toil at sea, fell foul of the law. I am sure there were many apprentice`s that would rather have given up the sea and their life as a fisherman, but the alternative of been unskilled, unhoused, and unemployed seemed a far worse fate. The ale must have temporarily relieved some of the sufferings that befell upon these fisher lads, and although the life of a fisherman was hazardous to all, it was exceptionally so for the apprentice`s, every task been carried out aboard a smack brought its own dangers to the unwarey apprentice, from a swinging boom which could knock a lad over the side, or the task of filling a bucket full of water from the sea, which was to be tossed over the side, but had to be tied so as it was not lost, the unwarey lad that would secure the rope to his own arm, and find himself pulled into the sea, as the fast running tide was far stronger than his own strength. In heavy weather and high sea`s these lads clung to whatever part of the vessel they could for hours at a time, as wave after wave swamped the decks each one capable of taking a man over the side. The many dangers that could befall fisher lads that scrambled around a dimly lit deck in the dead of night, or who had just awoke from a hours sleep, after previously working for long periods, it is with little wonder that these lads wanted to enjoy their short stay ashore and where lively in doing so, as it may well have been their last chance. But the unknowing population, and the well to do of Hull had not been subjected to these strange rituals of the hard living fisher lads and frowned upon their antic`s. The fisher lads and men did not conform to the norm and were branded as unruly, an undeserving label that would follow all fishermen throughout the fishing industries lifespan.

Inhouse Apprentice`s

Inhouse Apprentice`s were probably a little better off both at sea and on shore, and some had families close to Hull that were dependant upon their earnings, they would return home at the end of a trip, at least these lads had a home and someone to watch out for them, that would not lead them astray or rob them. Many skippers took the apprentice`s into their own homes and provided them with lodgings, food, and clothing and took care of their general wellbeing, taking expenses from their wages. many of these apprentice`s were groomed by the skippers as the next generation of mate`s and skippers. They would be taught the craft of seamanship well and lived a far more sociable life to the outdoor lads, many attended the church and lived comfortable lives while ashore. if the skipper could not accommodate the apprentice he would find a suitable lodging house for him,.

There were many apprentice`s that luckily survived the perils of been a fisher lad and went on to skipper their own vessels as well as becomming owners of them, but unfortunately there were far more that did not survive, or went to the ruin of the copers, ( Sailing vesssels selling liquour), alehouses, brothels or such. Approximately 1 lad in 20 was lost or received an incapacitating injury for life in the fishing industry, and he was 10 times more likely to perish than a boy working in the mines. A unique and attractive feature of the Hull fishing industry was that no matter where a boy came from if he had the mind to do so and worked hard he could not only become a skipper or owner in future years but also retire from the sea and enjoy great wealth.

The 1881 census for my own Gt Gt Grandfather shows he had 2 inhouse apprentice`s living with him, that would have worked aboard his smack.

WILLIAM B PETHERBRIDGE 35 Tadman St Hull 1881 Census
Petherbridge William B Head M Male 36 Ramsgate Kent Fisherman
Petherbridge Ellen Wife M Female 33 York England
Petherbridge Ann Eliz. Daur U Female 13 Hull York England  
Petherbridge Mary Jane Daur   Female 11 Hull York England Scholar
Petherbridge Beatrice E Daur   Female 9 Hull York England Scholar
Petherbridge Prothesa Daur   Female 6 Hull York England Scholar
Petherbridge Thomas W Son   Male 3 Hull York England  
Petherbridge George V Son   Male 1 Hull York England  
Wolf Walter Hy Appren U Male 21 Sheffield Fisherman
Ward Frederick W Appren U Male 18 Hull England Fisherman


The Apprentice`s Work

Almost all apprentice`s started their life at sea as the cook and general dogs body, his tasks although numerous were mainly that of providing food and the cleaning, tidying of the vessel, he would also do all the mundane everyday tasks which had to be carried out aboard a smack of which the fishing crew had little time to complete, such as coiling ropes, and bring up sails ect. With many of the apprentice`s they had received little aquaintance with the cooking of food and every aspect of their role was firstly trial and error and limited not only by the provisions on board but their own inventiveness. Although to the hard working fishermen almost anything edible would be greatly received and demolished with little ceremony. There is only so much you can do with salted beef and fish, even in a modern day kitchen, so it is with remarkable praise that the army of apprentie`s from eleven years old, toiled day and night to keep the fleets fed. While cooking was difficult aboard a smack in the best of conditions, it became impossible in very heavy weather as the vessel shook and rolled as it met the oncoming seas. On many occasions the crews having little sustenance for several days at a time. The tea pot been the soul of any smack and on the stove whenever possible, there was whenever the conditions warranted a fresh brew available day or night.

Law Changes

It would not be untill 1880 that any kind of reprieve was granted to the smack apprentice,s and even then the changes were met with objection by the owners and masters of the sailing smacks, for almost 35 years they had obtained a free hand regarding the employment and treatment of the apprentice`s. But repeals of the 1854 Merchant Shipping Act 246 that where made in 1880 under the Payment of Wages Act, this would see the abolishion of the law that owners, skippers and such could arrest and hold without warrant any deserter. for failure to or neglecting to join his ship. Also repealed was the power of imprisonment for desertion, No longer could a runaway apprentice be held without warrant or arrested and brought back to the smack or courts, skippers and owners now had to wait untill a warrant was issued and the case was heared in court, The only punishment now available for a deserter was the forfeiture of any belongings the apprentice had left aboard the vessel and the forfeiture of any money owed. This punishment was of little consequence to an apprentice who had just received his wage and had little personal effects, and probably to most apprentice`s a small price to pay for their freedom. A law which was not repealed and left in place and still punishable by imprisonment, was that of wilfull disobedience to lawful commands and continuing to disobey, a law which could cover a vast range of offence`s. Once the apprentice`s became aware of the changes to the 1854 act they found they could now abscond with impunity, disregarding any signed indentures. The Owners and Skippers found by the time they had requested and received a warrant, the apprentice was normally long gone, so the whole process became a futile arrangement, and due to the time and the expense, owners soon gave up trying to procure a warrant, even against their strongest cases. Apprentice`s finding this immunity against punishment would now desert their smacks as they were moving through the lock gates or stand on the quay side as the vessel was due to sail and refuse to go aboard. Another law introduced in the 1880 Payment of Wages Act that was unclear and would be used by the apprentice to get out of their indentures, was that they now had the right to give by notice to the skipper or owner, 48 hours previous to the time he should be aboard, their intention to absent themselve`s from their ship or duty. If this was done there would be no forfeiture by the courts of belongings or wages. Apprentice`s would give this 48hrs notice to their skipper as the vessel was at sea and probably on her way home, this would mean that the apprentice once landed was under no legal obligation to return to the vessel.

Casual Labour

In 1880 shortly after the repeals in the 1854 Merchant Shipping Act , it was found that with every Hull apprentice that adhered to his indenture or service 3 did not, this left a large demand for crewmen to man the smacks , anyone who could be encouraged to join a smack, was employed on a per trip basis, this would mark the begining of all fishermen been classed as casual labour in future years. There was a notable increase in the rise of accidents and the loss of life amongst these untrained casual workers. It is also after this time that some of the worst cases of ill treatment would be brought to the attention of the general public, as we know relationships between skippers and crew had been strained since the introduction of the repeals. Apprentices that had in one way or another left the fishing industry and had prematurely ended their indentures by refusing to go to sea, Had such an impact on the fishing industry that a parlimentary report was commissioned on 26 Aug 1882 to look into ways of improving relationships between Owners, Skippers and Crewmen, and find the reason why fisher lads broke their engagements and failed to go to sea.


Parlimetary Report 1883

A Committee appointed under a minute of the Board of Trade

To inquire into and report whether any and what Legislation is desirable with a view to placing relations between the Owners, Masters, and Crews of Fishing Vessels on a more satisfactory basis.


"WHEREAS it has been represented to the Board of Trade that, in consequence of questions and difficulties that have arisen, and in consequence of cases of cruelty to boys on fishing vessels that have been brought to light, it is desirable that inquiry should be made into the general regulations and customs under which the fishery trade is worked at the present time.

"And, whereas the Board of Trade have caused to be drafted for consideration with a view to their introduction into Parliament, certain clauses by which it is proposed to deal with questions that have been raised with respect to the definition of fishing vessels employed in different trades, the advisability of various certificates of masters and mates, the special agreements desirable in certain cases, and the conditions under which indentures of apprentices and agreements with boys should be entered into in the fishing trade.

" Now therefore I hereby nominate Charles Morgan Norwood, Esq., M.P. ., Edward Birkbeck, Esq., M.P., Edward Heneage, Esq., M.P., his Worship the Mayor of Hull, and Thomas Gray, Esq., to be committee to visit, either together or in sub-committees, such of the centres of the fishing trade as they may think desirable, to take such evidence as they may think necessary , and to report to me -

"(1.) Whether the draft clauses already referred to are sufficient; or whether they need any, and if so, what modification .

"(2.) Upon the causes of the numerous desertions that are reported to have taken place among the crews of fishing vessels, and to suggest any remedies for the inconvenience alleged to have been suffered in consequence of the abolition of arrest without warrant, and of imprisonment for breach of contract.

"The committee will consider and report on any practical suggestions for obviating this inconvenience which is likely to be most serious at the commencement of the new system, and before employers and employed have settled down to new conditions; but they will be good enough to consider themselves as precluded from entertaining any proposals for reverting to the old system which has been condemned by Parliament, and which Her Majesty`s Government are unwilling, under any circumstances, to re-establish."

26 Aug 1882 ( Signed ) JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN, President of the Board of Trade.


The committee submitted their report and stated attempts to ascertain why fisher lads broke their engagements and failed to go to sea had not been wholly successful. The committee stated that they had formed the opinion that they did not think the fisher lads had an avertion to the hardships and risks of a seafaring life, except in the case of some young weakly lads. they stated that the evidence points more to feelings of insubordination and as as a result of habits been aquired by evil associates.

The many apprentices that gave evidence seemed to be well cohersed by their masters as what to say when called by the committee, but we must remember that these apprentices were called after the majority of the dissatisfied fisher lads had either run away or had prematurely finished their indentures, as a result of the 1880 Payment of Wages Act changes. The apprentices that had remained fishing were possibly the fisher lads that had been well cared for and well taught by their skippers, and would only speak highly of them. Two of the apprentices called as witnesses had only been involved in the industry for several months and were released by the committee because they had not been fishing long enough to give an accurate account of the life. As to the question of ill- treatment although it did crop up in several of the witness statements, it was neither pressed or expanded upon, there had been two murders of fisher lads in recent years but neither case or the circumstances surrounding them were brought into question.

There are several piece from witness statement of the 1883 inquiry that relate to things I wish to show so will do so here but will not include the whole article or statement.

Mr James Campbell Chief Constable of Hull Examined.

Questions relating to deaths at sea:

774. When deaths occur at sea on board smacks are they reported to you ? - Yes Sir, information is given to the local police station either by the Captain or Owner.

775. You have a statement, I believe showing the number of deaths reported ? - Yes Sir.

776 Hands in statement. ( return of fisher lads lost at sea , reference to numbers 783 )

777. What is the course you persue when you receive this notification ? - We make an entry in the occurrence book of the report made by the captain, and the matter drops if the friends do not interpose

778. Have you ever taken any steps to inquire into the cause of death ? - Not hitherto and I believe there is no power of any authority in the town to do so.

779 The causes of death given in the return vary very much ? - Yes it does.

780. Now I understand these causes of death are those given to you and you have no means of judging of their accurracy ? - Quite so.

781 ( Mr Gray ) That is given to you under the Births and Deaths Act , is it not ? - I do not know. ( The means of judging the accurracy of a death )

782. ( Chairman ) I persume it is done voluntarily ? - I am not aware of any regulation or means of compelling them to do it.

783. It appears that the number of deaths has increased. In 1878 there were 13 in 1879 there were 10 whilst in 1882 there were 22. Can you account for that at all ? - I cannot.

Note: these are only the deaths reported to the police, there are many more that were not reported. But as you can see the police had never ivestigated a loss at sea and did not believe they were impelled to do so.

Questions relating to fisher lads:

787.What is the general condition of these lads and what is their moral conduct ? - We have had considerable trouble with them at times, especially on Sunday nights.

788 Are they well fed and fairly dressed ? - Yes.

788a Especially the apprentice class ? - Yes so far as I have observed

789 What are their morals ? - There are a great number of well conducted lads.

791 Do you agree with Mr Webster that the fact of their having a considerable amount of money is a scource of crime ? - I think to a great extent.

793. Do they give you much trouble in the town ? - Latterly I think there is an improvement, we have not so many in custody for disorderly conduct; but they are rather more wild on Sunday Evenings.

794. Now we have learned that Mr Gray went to one of these courts where these girls live. Is there much of that sort of thing going on ? - I am bound to say there are a great number of lads who frequent these houses.

795. Are there many women of that class? - Yes Sir, in the neighbourhood of Waterhouse Lane especially, but they are a distinct class by themselves.

796. I suppose the authorities do what they can to stop it ? - We frequently prosecute for selling drink, and we frequently prosecute the occupiers for keeping brothels.

806. As a rule do you find the lads and fishermen are worse conducted than other classes of the community ? - As a whole do you mean Sir.

807. Yes ? - Well I don not think so, on the whole, take them all together and I do not think they are any worse. We have great trouble with other lads.

808. The real trouble is the amount of money they have and the way the women get hold of them and take them into houses which you named ? - I said the Waterhouse Lane District Sir.

810 I gather from your evidence that the fisher lads are no worse and no better than other lads, but they dissipate because of the exceptional opportunities they have ? - As a rule, they assemble in large numbers on Sundays than other lads; during the week we have complaints from other neighbourhoods that the fisher lads do not frequent.

William Elliot Acting Inspector of Hull Police Examined

814 We want to know about these lads and their habits and temptations, what can you say about them ? - They are very good lads sir, some of them but some are very bad.

815 Are they well taken care of ? - Some of them, sir.

816 Well fed and clothed ? - Yes some of them.

817 Now about the indentured lads ? - Some of them are well cared for, but some are boarded out; a widow woman will take care of them, and she has no proper control over them; they are let to run the streets at night and get into brothels, young boys about 16. They sell drink in many of these places, and they get drunk; some get in a very bad state when they are there.

828 Do lads often complain to you ? - Yes Sir, they do come sometimes.

829 What do they say ? - That they have been kicked and knocked about.

830 Do they complain of the food ? - Not generally.

831 Of the work they are set to do ? - Sometimes when we have had them in custody.

832 And they are rope`s ended ? Yes Sir.

883 Is that frequent ? - Not lately they used to complain terribly at one time. ( possibly meaning prior to the 1880 changes )

840 You are aware that there is a great discrepancy between the number of boys prosecuted in Hull and those prosecuted in Grimsby ? - No Sir, I know the last case I had to do with, the two boys belonged to Mr Butt, I took them in charge, the master ordered them onboard and they refused to got, and we had to carry them all the way. they kicked and fought all the way. They said that rather than go to sea they would scuttle the ship. I said if you do not go to sea you will have to go to prison. He then took them to the shipping office and cancelled their indentures, and said that he would not be bothered with them. They said the skipper knocked them about.

814 By whom do they generally complain of been knocked about ? - they genrally complain of the skipper and second hand

853 I believe some skippers are very good, kind men and have behaved well to the boys they get ? Yes I believe so.

854 Is ill-treatment the rule or the exception ? - I do not believe it is the rule , there are some badly done to and some well cared for.

855 But the cases of cruelty are the smaller number ? - Yes sir.



In the best of conditions the life of a North sea smackman was not a pleasant one, but as the industry grew and the emphasise changed from earning a living to earning a profit, the supply of willing boys who wished to go to sea as fishermen was quickly exhausted. As a new breed of fisher lad evolved ( the apprentice ) , skippers and owners held a far greater control over them, in most cases having no family or superior to answer to, from the offset the treatment of many of these boys declined, having no rights, or freedoms other than that granted by their masters. While me must take stock and accept that apart from the hardships of the sea many apprentice`s were well treated, they made the best they could of the difficult life and prospered in doing so, but lest we forget at the same time the evil, sufferings and injustice inflicted upon many fisher lads. Some masters adopting the system of greed and profit with impunity, of which the comfort, safety, and the well being of the fisher lads themselves were at best neglected. No goodwill or better conditions could have saved the many apprentice`s lost while working in this extreme environment of a North Sea smack, but better controls and a system of action and recourse for the apprentice that would be introduced after 1883 would have elliviated if not abolished ill doings from the offset.