David Jones, Secretary to the Board
David T. Jones was the son of a colliery cashier 1 , and was born in 1866 in Gilfachgoch, a small Welsh mining community, in the County of Glamorgan 2 . He joined the Board as a clerk in 1887. In 1891 he was living as a lodger in a property in Nicolson Street in Edinburgh 3 . He became Chief Clerk in 1892, and was promoted to be Secretary to the Board in 1909. He married in 1903, and by 1911 he was living with his wife, three daughters and a servant in a flat in Merchiston 4 . A letter sent from Chemnitz to the “Board of Fishery of Scottland” (sic) is a good example of the kind of complaint which was sometimes received. In it the merchant describes how he had found a barrel which had been packed with good-sized fish in the top and the bottom, and small fish in the middle. As he said ‘by such an unfair businessstyle of course the Scottish herring will not enlarge his credit, and as we think it of interest for you, we inform you about this matter.’ 5 Mr. Skinner investigated the problem and was able to show that the problem was actually caused by a mistake on the part of the fishcurer 6 . Although the complaint is obviously written in rather broken English, it is interesting that the merchant was able to write such a letter which conveys his meaning clearly in a language which was foreign to him. There was clearly a willingness on the part of some Germans to communicate in English – indeed Mr. Skinner’s travels would not have been very effective if he had not found some English speakers, as he did not speak German. This shortcoming was pointed out in a letter in German from the Food Wholesalers’ Association in Berlin sent in November 1912. They wrote: ‘while we greatly appreciate Mr. Skinner’s work, we also regret that he is not able to assimilate any information because the vast majority of our members do not have a sufficient command of the English language to be able to discuss things with him.’ 7 They then go on to ask for the Board to send a German-speaker in future, or to arrange for Mr. Skinner to bring an interpreter with him -at his expense. Mr. Skinner’s internal response was rather defensive: ‘I could count on the fingers of one hand all the importers in Germany I called upon who were not able to converse with me in English. […] This demand […] appears to come from Chemnitz where nearly all the complaints about Scottish Crown branded herrings are hatched.’ Eventually Mr. Jones wrote a polite letter stating that in future Mr. Skinner would take an interpreter when necessary.
While on his travels Mr. Skinner would sometimes find that a fishery officer had genuinely been remiss in carrying out his duties: ‘I have no hesitation in saying that if these barrels had been thoroughly examined by the officer they would never been branded. It is very disagreeable to inspect branded herrings at any time in a bad condition, but to have to examine two barrels in the state I found these, bearing the double crown, is rather too much.’ 8 In such circumstances the report would be forwarded to the fishery officer concerned, asking for an explanation. As it seems unlikely that he would be able to remember in detail what had happened with a particular consignment, or to keep records in sufficient detail, his best approach was to apologise and to promise to do better in future 9 .
A more serious problem for the Board arose when, in the 1909 report Mr. Skinner complained that fishcurers had contracted to deliver herring to importers at a fixed price, and then failed to do so. He described how the importers had made contracts with buyers in the interior on the strength of the commitment, and had then been forced to buy on the open market in order to honour their commitments. A defensive letter from a number of prominent fishcurers was sent to the Board complaining that an isolated case had been represented as a general problem. This would clearly be harmful to the trade. They also objected to some comments Mr. Skinner had made on unbranded herrings and on under-salting. However another letter received shortly afterwards puts this in perspective: ‘all speak highly of the report with the exception of the trade mark firms.’ 10 The matter was referred to the full Fishery Board who replied that they had ‘full confidence in the impartiality and integrity of their inspector.’ 11 .This statement was not the end of the controversy, because the fishcurers then decided to ask Mr. John Sutherland, MP for Elgin Burghs to raise the matter with the Under Secretary for Scotland, Lord Pentland 12 . In August 1910 David Jones wrote to Lord Pentland stating that the Board did not think it advisable to weaken the position of the Inspector as the as the complaint had been ‘engineered by a few malcontents whose real object is to bring about the abolition of the crown brand and thus establish a monopoly by squeezing out the small curer.’ 13 .At about the same time, the fishery officers were asked to report on the habit of agreeing forward sales. Most of them indicated that the practice was widespread. Lord Pentland’s personal view was that the 1909 Report showed a ‘courageous and praiseworthy discharge of duty’, and his carefully worded response reflected this opinion.
By the time that this problem was resolved, another had arisen. Fortunately it did not have such serious implications for the Board. While on his annual visit to Stettin in 1910, Mr. Skinner had a heated argument with William Reid’s business partner, Frank Nicol. According to Mr. Skinner ‘in the course of conversation reference was made to the Crown brands, when in a loud and excited voice he cried ‘Oh the rotten stinking Crown brands.’ Apparently, despite his efforts to calm Mr Nicol down, the situation escalated until ‘rather than have any words with such an excited person I left his office and shall never enter it again.’ 14 Subsequently, David Jones wrote to Mr Nicol to complain about the ‘very offensive remarks regarding the Crown Brands’ and about the discourteous manner in which Mr. Skinner had been treated 15 . Mr. Nicol’s response was ‘only after Mr. Skinner became offensive in doubting the correctness of my remarks he was treated in such a manner which was due to him and there cannot be any doubt that Mr. Skinner deserved no respect at all.’ 16 On his return to Scotland, Mr. Skinner noted that ‘Nicol is one of the most spiteful traders who deal in Crown Brands on the Continent, and he entertains no respect for any of the officials who administer it.’ 17 David Jones then wrote again to William Reid stating that as their explanation of their treatment of Mr. Skinner was not considered satisfactory, they would no longer be directly supplied with the Board’s statistical statements 18 .
The chart of the production and export statistics Figure 4 and the relative importance charts for districts (Figure 10.1) and destinations (Figure 10.2) illustrate the development of the trade in the years before the war. Although the production statistics show the usual fluctuations which were to be expected given the uncertain nature of fishing, there is no doubt that the general trend was positive. Figure 5 gives a good overview of the development of the trade from 1851 to 1913. The relative importance charts for the fishing districts shows a number of interesting features. As previously mentioned, Leith became an entrepôt for herring exports to the continent. The most remarkable change is the growth in the importance of Shetland, in particular in Baltasound, where – for example - more than 300 fishing boats were operating in 1906 19 . It is interesting to note that one of the companies operating as fishcurers in Shetland was the Stettin firm of Sendler & Co 20 . Wick District had recovered from its decline, and the harbour facilities were being improved in the years immediately before the war 21 . Turning to the relative importance chart for the destinations, a noticeable change can be observed – the remarkable rise in export to Russian ports. This change can also be observed in Figure 13, where it can be seen that in 1912 exports to the Russian Empire exceeded those to the German Empire for the first time. In addition, many of the exports to Danzig and Königsberg were destined for Russian and Eastern European buyers 22 , and as railway networks expanded, it became possible for herring to be sold in distant locations. One example of this is given in a letter from the British Consulate in Odessa, describing how herring arrived from Königsberg by rail in a very good condition 23 .
John Skinner’s report of his first visit to St. Petersburg in 1908 gives a useful insight into the problems encountered in the trade with Russia. His report dealt with: ‘the St. Petersburg Market, the Bracking System, and the inadequate wharfage and warehousing accommodation.’ 24 The process of bracking was a form of quality control. The barrels of herring delivered were opened by coopers and their contents were inspected, after which they would be topped up with additional fish to ensure that they were well packed.According to Mr. Skinner, the filling of the barrels was essential to ensure that the herring would stand the railway journey to the interior as ‘with a slack-filled barrel the contents, after a long railway journey, would be reduced almost to pulp.’ The process seemed to be carried out efficiently, and they were able to process between four and five thousand barrels per day. Despite this speedy work, the environment was far from optimal: ‘As the bracking accommodation is limited and the barrels have to be put on end and space left for inspection, filling up, coopering and pickling the discharge of two cargoes simultaneously often causes delays. In a successful fishing season on the West Coast as many as ten to twelve steamers have been known to be waiting their turn, for weeks, to be discharged. Such delays were most damaging to the fish, particularly to deck cargoes in the burning sun, and the loss to the curers was most serious.’ The process of bracking in St. Petersburg was not obligatory, but the dealers felt that it was necessary. The main problem was the lack of better wharfage accommodation ‘for the speedy discharge of the herrings which, owing to their mild cure are really a perishable article’ but ‘no means could be found for improvements.’ It would appear that despite the logistical difficulties, the import duties, and the freight charges, the Russian market was profitable, and herring were being transported as far as Siberia. The import duties had originally been imposed in order to protect the trade in herring from the Caspian, but according to Mr. Skinner in his 1910 report, the import of these herring to St. Petersburg had practically ceased 25 . While the wharfage had not changed since his previous visit, the storage facilities had improved and ‘year by year, fewer herrings are being bracked.’ It may seem surprising that Mr. Skinner did not visit St. Petersburg more often than Libau, but St. Petersburg was more remote, and exports to each were quite similar(Figure 14). As Danzig, Königsberg, and Libau were all geographically quite close to each other, it is understandable that he visited them frequently. A comparison between Libau and Königsberg (Figure 15) shows the rise in the relative importance of the former.
2. Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002 https://www.royalsoced.org.uk/cms/files/fellows/biographical_index/fells_indexp1.pdf
5. National Archive of Scotland AF490-493
6. National Archive of Scotland AF298-347
7. National Archive of Scotland AF298-530 (my translation)
8. National Archive of Scotland AF298-344
9. National Archive of Scotland AF298-338 is an example of this
10. National Archive of Scotland AF298-356
11. National Archive of Scotland AF298-355
12. National Archive of Scotland AF298-366
13. National Archive of Scotland AF62-335
14. National Archive of Scotland AF2 98-416 Letter from John Skinner in Dresden dated 19th October 1910
15. National Archive of Scotland AF2 98-416 Letter from David Jones to Wm. Reid(Nicol) dated 25/10/1910
16. National Archive of Scotland AF2 98-441 Letter from Wm. Reid Stettin, 11/11/10
17. National Archive of Scotland AF2 98-441 Minutes 11/11/10
18. National Archive of Scotland AF2 98-441 Letter from David Jones to Wm. Reid dated 24/11/1910
19. Aberdeen People’s Journal 28th July 1906
20. Shetland Times 8th June 1907
21. Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland 1913, 32nd Report, pp.244-245
22. Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland 1906, 25th Report pp.292-294
23. National Archives FO 368/46/18
24. Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland 1908 27th Report pp252-256
25. Herring Trade on Continent: Report of a visit Inspection 1910 p.3