Birth of the Hull Fishing Fleet


400 - 500
300 - 400
200 - 300
100 - 200
20 -30
0 - 10
1887 1903

Smacks by Year

The rise in smacks which were registered at Hull from 1841 of which there was 1 rose untill it peaked in the latter 1880`s, smacks would then start a downward spiral as they were replaced by the new steam trawler, although the chart above gives an indication of the number of smacks registered at Hull, there were many smacks, especially in the early years that just visited the port for seasonal fishing and were not included in the totals. Of 152 vessels insured by The Brixham fishing club in 1863, 41 of them where permanantly fishing from Hull and some where no doubt seasonal visitors.

From the offset of the fishing smacks arrival in Hull they were an unwelcome addition to the waterfront, the many merchants who berthed their vessels in the dock or at the quay frowned upon the fishermen and did little to accomodate them. The fishermen where seen as a nuisance, leaving their smelly baskets and equipment on the quay sides and as the number of vessels grew so did the problems of dock space and unloading. The arrival and permanent settling of the fishermen and their families also proved problematic regarding the housing of such a large influx of people over the next few decades. These early settlers to Hull had to find available accomodation close to the docks and this was centred around the highly populated old town area of Myton. Many fishing families took up rooms in local lodging houses around the old town, the census of 1851 and 1861 showing the fishing families of large sizes occupying one room of a house, that would be occupied by several fishing families. Almost all the fishing families lived in these inadequate cramped conditions of the narrow streets and backstreets of the old town, the area was a notoriously squalid place due to overcrowding. Sanitary conditions were poor with open sewers, unpaved streets and no lighting. The area was the haunt of many a sailor who would visit the numerous alehouses, or brothels which were imbedded in the Myton community. Soon after the arrival of the first fishermen settlers there would be a colossal outbreak of cholera in Hull which resulted in Hull having the highest death rate in the country. The first person to die from cholera in Hull was in July 1849 and was a South Myton resident, there were over 600 further cases alone in Myton.Even after an estimated 8,000 - 10,000 people left the town over 1,834 died which accounted for 1 in 43 of the total population. In one day alone 43 bodies where interned in a mass dug grave. By 1854 the development of the Hessle Road area would begin due to the passing of the Kingston Upon Hull Improvement Act. New better housing was to be built to the West of the Myton District, the area would enable the re-housing of the many fishing familes that had colonised Hull and over the comming decades become the heart of fishing industry.

Although the Hull to Selby railway was opened in1840 there was no provision or forethought into the conveyance of fish landed at Hull to the industrial centre towns like leeds, fish would still be conveyed by fish-vans and cart for sometime to come.

Hull Dock Company then allocated space in the Humber Dock for the fishing smacks and eventually a shed was used enabling the smacks to unload and sell the fish, after the market in London "Billingsgate" was painted on the shed. Very quickly after these provisions for the fishing smacks had been made the dock became heavily congested, as only four smacks were able to unload at the appropriate quay and several vessels at a time would be left in the roads awaiting the tide and could not enter the dock. Because of these problems and an increase in dock dues, by 1858 five Hull smacks had been encouraged to move to Grimsby which offered adequate berthing and landing fascilities at cheaper rates for the smacks, these five vessels would be the onset of Grimsby becoming one of the largest fishing ports, Grimsby been a little closer to the mouth of the Humber and the fishing grounds was also advantageous. James Sweeney with two smacks and John Cooke with one smack where two of the first owners who moved to Grimsby from Hull but other disgruntled owners soon followed. It would be a further ten years before better facilities would be offered to the Hull men and this came with the opening of the purpose built West Dock in 1869 ( Laterly renamed Albert Dock ). West Dock which was built for the fishing fleet afforded purpose built stores, icehouses, and fish market but again in just over a decade the dock would become outgrown by the expansion of the fleet and in 1880 the decision was taken by the Dock Company to convert a dock built for the coal export trade, which had not expanded to expectation into a home for the fishing fleet. All the buildings erected for the coal trade were demolished and new ones erected for the fishing industry. St Andrews Dock as it was to be called after the patron saint of fishermen was opened on 24 Sept 1883 and became the home of the Hull fleet for almost 100 years. St Andrews Dock was further extended in 1897 adding to it`s initial building cost 0f £414.707 the dock now afforded slipways for the trawlers to be repaired.


There are very little records that remain of this early era of the fishing industry, but as the success of the fishing smacks grew, almost from the first early days so did the tragic losses of both vessels and men. One of the earliest recorded smacks to be lost while Hull registered and owned by a Cornish man, was the Smack PLEDGE , which sunk in 1849, she was owned by Richard Vivian.


In 1850 several smacks where persumed missing in a gale one later turned up in Scarborough leaving six vessels that foundered in some way, this was probably the first of many large losses the Industry was to face in future years. The loss of these smacks resulted in leaving thirteen widows and 25 orphaned children.


Date of Death
. . . . . . . .
LEE WILLIAM . Smack Petrel . . 19 Jan 1851 Vessel foundered on the Silver Pits
. . . . . . . .

When a smack was lost at this early time there were no provisions in place for any dependant family members, and in most cases the vessel or men upon them were the sole scource of income, this would lead many a family or orphan to the workhouse. Especially as most of the fisher folk had migrated from Ramsgate and Brixham and their immediate family had been left in their home ports. In many cases 3 generations of the same family would be lost on one single smack, and with the success the North Sea brought these pioneering men, it would bring far greater grief to the women and children of the fishing community. From the offset vessels were insured and could be replaced, the far greater importance of life, carried little, inadequate or no insurance a fact which would change little over the comming decades.