Cockle boats crop

Chester Courant and Advertiser 2nd September 1903


Thomas Matthews, a well-known Parkgate fisherman, left Parkgate by the noon tide on Mondav upon a trawling expedition, which unfortunateiy for him, has resulted in the total loss of his fine trawling boat, her sails, nets, and other gear. He was accompanied by Joseph Smith, another fisherman, and took with him as passengers Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Sleddon of the Chester Hotel and his little daughter, aged six whom he had engaged to land at Rhyl before setting out to trawl. Matthews’ punt was taken in tow, and to this fact the two fishermen probably owe their lives. After a pleasant trip, the two passengers were landed at Rhvl about 4 p.m. and after obtaining some refreshment Matthews and his companion entered the boat with the intention of putting out and setting the trawl. A strong gale sprang up, however, and one of the roughest tides ever seen at Rhyl tossed the 8-ton trawler about like a straw. The two men now concentrated all their efforts upon trying to save the little vessel, which comprised Matthews s little fortune and sole means of gaining a livelihood. He is a steady and thoroughly experienced fisherman, having been born to the occupation previously followed by his father; and Smith was as much at home in the management of a boat. The elements, however were too much for them, and, after struggling in the blinding rain and darkness and in imminent peril of losing their lives until about 10 o’clock, they reluctantly entered the punt and escape to the shore. Nothing could be seen of the boat during the night, but about 4.15 next morning they found that it had been battered to pieces and that not only the boat but the whole of the fishing- gear were irretrievably lost, The men reached Parkgate by rail in a thoroughly exhausted condition. And at the time of writing (Thursday) Matthews is suffering from exhaustion and is confined to bed.


…Many good people are imbued with the idea that the life of the Dee fisherman is made up of beer and skittles, or rather beer and shrimps, in unequal proportions, the nut-brown beverage largely predominating. They imagine that, like a greatly magnified butterfly, our fisherman spreads the gossamer wings of his little bat que to the sunshine only, and that in the intervals of singing songs with a strong Dibdin flavour he cruises to- and fro, scooping up the ready-boiled shrimps to tempt the jaded appetites and to cry sesame to the plethoric purses of unwary visitors. When the wind blows, reflect these wiseacres, to such an extent as to cause the fishing boat’ to rock, the happy mariner folds his pinions like the tired angels of Killarney and, seeking his favourite pub, grows meditative over his toddy and puffs reflective whiffs from his well-moistened clay, while he watches the rising gale through the chattering panes of the inn casement and sheltering under the lees of buildings, or with Arcadian-like simplicity borrowing his brother fisherman’s nets, is supposed to make up the sum of his existence.

If one of these complacent philosophers could have taken a watch with fishermen Matthews and Smith off the Cambrian beach on Monday night his ideas would have undergone a startling change, and he would scarcely have known whether he stood upon his head or upon his heels. The probabilities are, in fact, that he would have stood upon both in as many minutes, for as the darkness and rain blotted out the surroundings the gale and tide rose until they tossed the trawler from wave to wave like a shuttlecock. At one moment it would rear on end like an affrighted steed, and the captain had to hold on like grim death to avoid falling upon his crew of one, and the next moment the crew, named Smith, shot up in the air in its turn, and “looked down” upon the captain in the most mutinous manner possible. Ever and anon, as the boat was raised aloft, the water suddenly banished from beneath its hull, and brought it down on the stones with a resounding bang that made the heavy stone ballast shoot up from the bottom of the boat as if loosed from a catapult, while the teeth of the men rattled and the timbers seemed to be rending asunder. This game of pitch-and-toss, with intervals of pounding, lasted from about six o’clock until ten a clock, and during the interval several Rhyl fishermen told the pair that they would certainly be drowned if they did not leave the boat. They, however, stuck gamely to “the ship,’ Matthews because it represented the whole of his capital, stock-in-trade, and tools, and Smith through sheer pluck and sympathy. A little distance away lay a flat, also in sore straits, with one hand lashed to the mast and the other member of the crew bound to the tiller. There could only be one end to the struggle which was being waged with the Park- gate boat, however. It was rapidly filling with water, and at the last moment, and just in the nick of time, the two men betook themselves to the punt and came ashore. Never more will the saucy “Sarah Ann,” called, by the way, after the skipper’s wife, shew a clean pair of heels to the little fishing fleet on the way to and from the fishing ground, or, gay with bunting, act as flag boat at the Regatta, as she did only last Saturday, for in the morning only the hopelessly battered wreck remained.

Matthews’s loss is estimated at over £50, and towards this he may receive a few pounds from the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society. The case appears to be a peculiarly suitable one for outside assistance. It has been suggested that a Dee Boat Club, on the popular tontine system, might be formed, with a working committee to watch that the members did not work off the worn-out boats on the society; but there is a deplorable lack of organisation among the fishermen. Each man fights for his own hand, and no sooner will the approaching mussel season open than the suicidal policy of rapidly cutting down the prices against each other be in full swing.

see Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners Royal Benevolent Society and the Parkgate Fishermen