Children of the Sea
Peter Aitchison Add to basket
|Subject: Scottish History
Illus: b/w plate section
Approx 200 pages
ISBN: 1 86232 240 6
"One of the most enthralling Scottish books I have ever read" Scottish artist John Bellany
Click here to see full reviews
If 189 fishermen drowned in a storm today it would be called a tragedy of unparalleled proportions. Yet the story of the east coast fishing disaster of 1881, when exactly that number of men were killed in a single afternoon is all but unknown to history. The vast majority came from Eyemouth on the Berwickshire coast, where ninety widows and almost three hundred children were left behind in penury.
The trauma of the event, and the despair that it caused is more than worth the telling. But beyond the grim toll of the sea lies an even more remarkable story. Using a mass of previously untouched sources Peter Aitchison uncovers the link between Britain's worst fishing disaster and the liability of the Eyemouth fishermen - alone in Scotland - to pay a tenth of their earnings to the Church of Scotland. While other, less advantaged, ports won massive grants to improve their facilities, the Berwickshire men were distracted in a twenty year battle with the Kirk and the State. The fishermen won, but the victory was pyhrric. But for the "tithe" dispute Eyemouth harbour could have been made safe and the carnage of 14 1881 would have been much less. It might never have happened at all.
This book is a sweeping canvas of tragedy and romance, of courage and defiance, of hope and of death. It traces a line from the Reformation, through the manic era of witch burnings on the beach, of men forced to fight for King, Covenant and Pretender and a community that grew rich from the colourful exploits of eighteenth century smuggling. Above all it is a story of a town that came to depend on the precarious bounty of the ocean and of a people increasingly at war with both the civil and religious establishments. The fishermen fought their case in the courts and on the streets. They took their cause to the wider public in printed tracts and pamphlets and some men were jailed for their principles.
Children of the Sea has already been widely praised. John Home-Robertson MSP, who's forebears as lairds of the town battled with Peter Aitchison's ancestors, has written the foreword and says "This is a major landmark in Scottish social history, and more than that it is an excellent read". The former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend John Miller says "Here is an event which must not be forgotten and this book tells the story very well. ..By its political power the Church contributed to the Disaster which well- nigh annihilated Eyemouth". The renowned Scottish artist John Bellany, who draws much of his inspiration from fishing has called Children of the Sea "One of the most enthralling Scottish books I have ever read".
This is no arid litany of dates, facts and statistics. It is the true story of a people who lived through some of the darkest periods in Scottish history and who survived a tragedy that would be hard to comprehend today.
Peter Aitchison was born and brought up in Eyemouth. He works as a news producer with the BBC in Glasgow, is former editor of Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland and BBC TV's Newsnight Scotland. He is married with three young children.