Cheshire Observer – Saturday 24 November 1888
THE SHIPWRECKED FISHERMEN AND MARINERS’ SOCIETY AND THE DEE FISHERMEN.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION.
On Saturday evening a representative gathering of fishermen, residents, and gentlemen interested in -the welfare of the families engaged in the Parkgate fishing industries was held in the Parkgate National Schoolroom, to consider a memorandum which has been issued by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society, and which threatens the interests of the local members of the society. If the new rule or the new interpretation of the old rules— it did not clearly appear which it was— be enforced, the Dee fishermen in common with the fishermen of other rivers or harbours are practically excluded from participation in the benefits of a society to whose funds they have long — over half a century in some cases — contributed. The ” boat club,” as the society is locally termed, has long been looked upon as a remarkably safe institution, which met the claims made upon it in a prompt and honourable manner, and which was worthy in every respect to be entrusted with the savings of those whose thrifty habits had impelled them to prepare for the proverbial “rainy day.” Many, therefore, were the expressions of dissatisfaction from the assembled fishermen as they gathered from the proceedings, that when their little crafts were damaged by the elements they could no longer look to the ” boat club “for assistance, and that their bard-earned premiums were to be disposed of in a fashion that was certainly not contemplated either by themselves or by the honorary supporters of the society. In short, after meeting the special necessities of the Dee and other estuaries and harbours for a long series of years, the society suddenly announces that the rules debar all those who ply their avocations in “port, harbour, or river” from participating in the benefits except by a special concession, while those who fish in the open sea- must be “on board” at the time of the disaster to make themselves eligible for a grant from the society. This latter unreasonable condition elicited an apt, if somewhat vague, comment from one of the fishermen present. ” Would any captain stop on board,” he exclaimed, ” if he could get ashore ?” — viz., if a man’s boat, and consequently his life, was in danger, is it at all likely that he would sacrifice the latter in order to comply with one of the rules of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society ? Another point that was felt to be very objectionable was that the present action of the society in refusing to acknowledge the ” right” of the Parkgate fishermen to a portion of the funds in cases of disaster, placed the men in the demoralising position of persons who could only be assisted as a matter of charity, whereas their contributions to the funds dearly entitled them to the graduated scale of benefit included in the rules.
Mr T. Comber, J.P., presided at the meeting, and among others present were Mr U. V. Corbett, Rev W. F. Barrett (hon agent), Revs Canon Gleadowe, J. Lyon, and J. Towert, Hon H. Holbrook (Dee Conservator), Messrs R. Haigh and W. P. Richardson (members of the Local Board), C. Carter, T. Jones, J. O. Young, — Bowers, W. Gamon, T. Kirkpatriok ; fishermen : J. Busbell, J. Bushell, jun., Ben Higgins, W. a.mpion, J. Campion, W. Milner, T. Matthews, Bedson, Roscoe, Brierley, C. Cunningham, J. Mealor, W. Mealor, &c.
The Rev W. Barrett, who acts as honorary agent for the society, explained the object of the meeting by quoting some correspondence which had passed between Mr W. R. Buck, the secretary of the society, and himself. It appears that in September last Mr Barrett communicated with the society in reference to a claim which had arisen at Parkgate, and Mr Buck wrote as follows : — “Under the provision of the society’s Rule 11. the cases ordinarily allowable are those of loss or damage by shipwreck, storm, or accidents of the sea, of fishing boats when on the sea (not in port, harbour, or river), in bona fide pursuit of their calling with the owners on board.” Mr Barrett then wrote asking for further explanation, and received the following reply : —
My Dear Sir, — I have now the gratification of communicating to you our committee’s views in regard to your recent letter respecting bearing of our Relief Regulations upon members so situated as those in your district in regard to accidents to fishing boats. The committee wish me in the first instance to point out to you, more especially, that it is to be borne in mind that the loss of boats is not by any means the only, nor even the chief, casualty in respect of which the society’s relief is available (vide enclosed handbill), and that, seeing that there must be exceptions to every rule, the committee will always be ready to consider, on its merits, any case of loss duly coming under the ” stress of weather” and “charitable” clauses, the one meeting our scope and functions as a shipwreck society and the other as a benevolent organization.
I am, in conclusion, to thank you for the kind expression of your ideas, and for the care you have been so good as to exercise relative to the ” carelessness ” cases referred to, and I remain, my dear sir, very truly yours,
(Signed) W. R. Buck, Secretary.
Mr Barrett then wrote again as follows : —
Parkgate, October 31st, 1888.
Dear Sir, — I thank you for your letter received last Saturday week. Before calling a meeting of the Park- pate and Neston members of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society, I will ask you to be kind enough to let me know at your earliest convenience whether I am to tell the members decisively that in future they cannot expect to have their claims met except as it were out of charity. L am sorry to trouble you further, but the question is of great importance to our men. The interpretation lately put upon Rule 11, would, if literally insisted on, make the society useless to them, for I do not think any of them would remain members if they knew that compensation was to be granted to them not as a matter of course, but out of charity. They are well aware that the subscriptions of the members do not meet the expenses of the society, but they would feel that they were entitled to compensation according to scale. Shall I be able to tell them that? I should like the committee to understand that?
I — Few of our men go outside the estuary of the Dee.
ll. — ln none of the accidents in respect to which compensation has been claimed and allowed has the owner ever been on board.
lII. — All the accidents here have happened while the boats were at their moorings.
IV. — The anchorage is very much exposed, there being no shelter of any kind.
V — The boats are all open boats.
VI. — There is a committee consisting of three of the most experienced fishermen and myself to see that advantage is not taken of the society.
I sincerely hope that the society will decide to continue to give compensation to the Parkgate and Neston fishermen on the same, scale as before, and to let them feel that they are entitled to compensation according to that scale. Some of them have been paying their subscriptions regularly for thirty or forty years, and two or three of the oldest members have paid more money than they received. We all feel much indebted to the society for the liberal and consistent help which it has given in the past, and I personally would thank you for the unfailing courtesy with which you have answered my communications. —
l remain, yours very truly,
W. F. Barrett, Hon. Agent, Parkgate.
W. R. Buck, Esq., Secretary, Shipwrecked Fisher-men and Mariners’ Society, London.
P.S. — I thought of asking you whether the estuary of the Dee on which Parkgate stands would be considered a port, harbour, or river, but it is of little use to discuss that question as long as you have in your reading of Rule 11. the words ” with the owners on board.”
(Copy of reply from Mr. Buck)
The Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society, Central Office, Sailors’ Home Chambers, Dock-street, London, E., November 6th, 1888.
Dear Sir, — Your further letter respecting the boat question and our membership relations in your district has been duly laid before the Committee of Management, who, in once more thanking you for all the kindly interest manifested in the society’s operations, wish me to refer you very specially to the allusion in my previous communication as to the boat relief being but one minor portion of the advantages available for members.
I am also to point out to you that the boat relief memo, is really but a following out of the scope of the society’s objects, which are manifestly intended to cover cases of ‘ship wreck, storm, and other accidents of the sea,” and aid those directly liable to such in their avocations. Any instance of the kind, where shown to be unavoidable after all due precautions, or case of certified distress, as already explained, will never lack the utmost consideration at the committee’s hands. But the society was never intended to make good recurrent damages to boats not actually in use as a mere matter of course ; and if the impossibility of undertaking to do so is to outweigh all other beneficial considerations of the society membership, the committee, with however much regret, feel that they can only leave members to act as they may themselves deem best in enrolment or re-enrolment.—l remain, my dear sir, very truly yours,
W. R. Buck, Sec. ‘
Mr Barrett explained to the meeting that from the years 1882 to 1887 inclusive the society had paid the sum of £114 in the district and had received from the local members during that period the sum of £47 17s, while special offertories to the amount of £14 l1s had in addition been paid into the funds, so that the actual amount found for them by the society during six years was £52.
Mr Comber, quoting from the printed rules of the society, laid that one of its objects was to assist among others the fishermen who subscribed to its funds. Subscribers who contributed 3s per annum were entitled in case of damage to their boats to sums ranging from £1.10- to £6, according to the term of membership. The society now issued a memorandum excluding the fishermen who followed their calling in “ports, harbours, and rivers,” and he believed that the society had no power to make such a regulation without the consent of the subscribers. When two persons made a contract the laws of England would not allow one party to withdraw from it without the consent of the other, and he was of opinion that the action of the society was quite illegal and thee that they had no power to take any such step without the consent nit the persons interested. Mr Barrett had offered a mild remonstrance to the new interpretation of the rule, but he (Mr Comber) thought the society had no right legally or morally to act as they had done, and that some firm step should be taken in the matter.
The Rev J. Towert said he had formerly taken some interest in the working of the Society, when the Rev A. S. Grenfell was hon. agent, and a good many claims had arisen in connection with boats being damaged at their anchorage. The society had afforded relief without any demur, and it seemed rather late in the day to put a new interpretation upon the rules, especially as the fishermen had been taught to look upon it as a kind of insurance society. –
Mr R. Haigh agreed with the previous speakers. The fishermen had trusted to the rules, and it seemed a great injustice that any attempt should be made to interfere with their rights.
Mr J. Bushell, a fisherman, said he had subscribed to the society under the old rules for 50 years.
Canon Gleadowe thought it was distinctly a breach of contract, and that the matter should be again brought before the society.
Mr Comber remarked that the sting of Mr Buck’s last letter was in the tail. It was an intimation that if they did not like the interpretation of Rule IL they could go elsewhere.
The Hon H. Holbrook expressed similar sentiments. He had always looked upon the society as a kind of insurance society, and he should feel it his duty to bring the matter before the fishermen at other fishing stations upon the river.
Finally Canon Gleadowe proposed that a sub-committee, consisting of Mr Comber, Mr Haigh, and Mr Barrett, be appointed to approach the society again about the matter. The Rev. J. Towert seconded, and the proposition was carried unanimously. On the motion of Mr U. V. Corbett the meeting afterwards passed a vote of thanks to the chairman for presiding, and to the Rev. W. P. Barrett for his labours in connection with the society.
Editorial comment in the same edition of the Cheshire Observer
The fishermen of Parkgate, and we suppose of the Dee estuary generally, seem to have been treated very cavalierly by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society recently. The latter may be regarded as a kind of insurance society of a philanthropic character, to which the fishermen have subscribed with the view of insuring their small craft against damages, and it would appear from what took place at a meeting on Saturday, and reported elsewhere in these columns, that the society, which has its headquarters in London, has, up to the present, honourably met its engagements. Now, how- ever, it repudiates its liability up to a certain point by imposing what are deemed to be impossible and impracticable conditions on the subscribers, and by construing a certain rule to mean that the society’s objects are manifestly intended to cover cases of ” shipwreck, storm and other accidents of the sea (not in port, harbour, or river), in bona fide pursuit of their calling, with the owners on board. Many old fishermen have subscribed or paid what they reckoned as good as insurance money for thirty, forty, and even in one case for fifty years, and the Society has of course accepted it; but because the business does not appear to be profitable — one can conceive of no other cause — the society seeks to draw a stringent cordon, so to speak, round these poor men, and to exclude them from at least a large portion of the benefit they had hoped to derive, and indeed have been deriving hitherto. The merits of the case appear to us to lie in a nutshell. If the society did not intend to succour the fishermen on the occasion of damage to their craft unless under the circumstances described, why did it continue to receive their payments or premiums? We confess it seems to us very like the case of an insurance society accepting premiums and when the hour of need came coolly turning round and telling the insurer that it is not responsible. It is idle for the Shipwrecked Fishermen end Mariners’ Society to make a reservation of an estuary as not being included in the term sea. One of the first meanings given by lexicographers is an ” arm of the sea “—as an estuary to all intents and purposes is bound to be— and not as some may think the ” month of a river.” The society, therefore, has the ground cut completely from under it in that respect; and falling back on the second contention, that the boat should be in bona file pursuit of the fisherman’s calling, ” with the owner on board,’- there, can be no hesitation in saying that it is equally perfectly absurd. The owner of a fishing boat may be incapacitated by illness, accident, or some other equally urgent cause for many weeks and even months, and his boat may be worked by his children or other relations, who are endeavouring as best they may to supply the place of the invalid; and if the craft should come to grief at such a crisis are we to understand that the society would desire to get rid of its liability on each a purely technical objection that the owner was not on board? We decline to believe that an honourable society would for a moment be actuated by any such idea. If the funds of the Shipwrecked fishermen and Mariners’ Society are low or exhausted — a point on which we are left totally in the dark — we feel sure that an appeal has only to me made to public philanthropy to supply any deficiency from which it may happen to be suffering.
One other feature is deserving of notice, if not of reprehension, in relation to the affair. The secretary (Mr W. R. Buck), in the course of the correspondence which has taken place on the subject, intimates that his society ” will always be ready to consider, on its merits, any case of loss duly coming under the ‘stress of weather’ and ‘ charitable ‘ clauses, the one meeting our scope and functions as a shipwreck society and the other as a benevolent organization.” Without putting too fine a point on it, this seems to come very near adding insult to injury. For though in its widest sense the society may be, and no doubt is, a benevolent society, the fishermen who have subscribed so many years to its funds naturally feel aggrieved and resent anything like the term charity being applied to their dealings with it.
It is gratifying to note that the matter has been well taken up and will not be allowed to rest, a small sub-committee of gentlemen having been appointed to again approach the society on the’ subject. We sincerely wish them ” God-speed,” and trust that the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society will see its way to abandon the hard and fast line it appears to have laid down in the new reading of Rule 11. We see well enough where the society wishes to draw the distinction in the scope of its operations, but surely the utmost limit should be allowed to poor men whose lives are of constant hardship, and, it may be added, in many cases of extreme poverty. It is sincerely to be hoped, therefore, that good counsels may prevail, and that the Dee Fishermen in the “arm of the sea ” called the estuary will continue to receive the consolation and support they have been accustomed to at the hands of this institution.