THE PETERHEAD FISHERMAN'S WIFE
A song about the hard work that inshore fishing involves.
Wha wid be a fisherman’s wife
Tae run wi a creel, an a scrubber, an a knife?
A raivelled bed, an a deid-oot fire
An awa tae the mussels in the mornin
Here we come scourin in
Three reefs tae the foresail in
Nae a dry stitch tae pit on wir backs
But still we’re aa teetotallers
Wha’ll gies a hand tae run a ripper-lead?
Or fish for codlin in the Bay o Peterheid?
Or maybe tae the Lummies, the Clock, or Satis Heid
When we sail tae the sma lines in the mornin
It’s doon the Gaidle Braes in the middle o the nicht
Wi an auld syrup tin an a cannle for a licht
Tae gether in the pullers, every een that is in sicht
Tae get the linie baitit for the mornin
It’s easy for the cobbler sittin in his neuk
Wi a big copper kettle hingin frae a crook
They’re standin in the boo, we canna get a hook
An it’s gey sair work in the mornin
It’s nae the kinda work that a saft quine’d thole
Wi her fingers reid-raw wi scrubbin oot a yawl
A little-een on her hip, an awa tae carry coal
She’ll be ca’d fair deen in the mornin
Ma puir auld faither in the middle o the flair
He’s dein hooks wi “tippins” as he’s sittin in his chair
They’re made o horses hair, and that’s the best o gear
When ye gyang tae the fishin in the mornin
But I widna change for the grandest kind o gear
Tho ye never ken the minute that yer heart’ll lowp wi fear
Awa tae the sea, he’s your bonnie dear -
Ye’ll be a widow wi his bairnies in the mornin
Performed by Tryst
We can trust the way Tryst have pronounced the local words and placenames of Peterhead in this song. Susan Thores of the group is from Peterhead and her family still live there. Her grandmother, Elizabeth Davidson, was a fish gutter who lived on the Gaidle Braes and Susan remembers summer holidays spent clambering on the rocks there.
The first verse of the song was known as a rhyme in various fishing communities along the Moray coast. Some Peterheid worthy took it as the start point for a wonderfully detailed account of the hard work needed for inshore fishing. The song changes viewpoint between an onlooker, the fisherman, and his wife. One of them has been up in the night to gather pullers [edible crabs] for bait, then he sails out for cod perhaps with 8 or 10 men sharing the boat, to cast small [sma] handlines at good ‘grounds’ off the port of Peterhead in the North-East.
She has left the house untidy to gather mussels from the ‘scarp’ for bait. The father of one of them is twisting hooks into horse’s hair tippings, which are in turn tied to the lines. At Peterhead in 1815 each man had 36 strings. In summer each string had 80 hooks, in winter only 40 hooks – only 1440 hooks to bait each winter day, and 2880 hooks on summer.
To learn more about the life of Peterhead fisher folk see Frank Duthie’s account in Sheila Douglas’ book The Sang’s The Thing’ (1992)