Black Friday

— #24 Newhaven Harbour

Overview Lighthouse and Beacon A Picture Postcard Skiffs, Fifies and Baldies Superstitions Black Friday

Friday October 14th 1881

The sea is a demanding mistress, sometimes giving up its bounty with great generosity, sometimes being unco-operative.  But should a fisherman fall into its clutches, survival was unlikely.  Dressed as they were for their working environment, in warm woollens and with heavy waterproof boots, the sea would envelop the hapless victim and pull him down.

Tragedies were commonplace, indeed almost routine, but some were catastrophic due to their scale and devastating impact on so many households. One such disaster happened off the coast of Dunbar, with dreadful implications for the village of Eyemouth.

A Great Windstorm

Friday 14th October 1881 is a day still remembered in Eyemouth as ‘Black Friday’.  189 fishermen lost their lives, 129 of them being from Eyemouth and the others from villages along the south shore of the Forth, including 17 from Newhaven.

A sudden windstorm blew up whilst the fishing boats were out at sea. Many of the fishing boats capsized; others were wrecked on the rocky coastline for in the stormy conditions, it was impossible to see the hazards ahead.

The lives lost in this natural disaster are commemorated by a tapestry in Eyemouth Museum and a fine scuplture at the nearby village of Cove of wives and mothers looking anxiously out to sea.  

Even to this day, each time trawlers put out to sea, the fishermen put themselves at risk.

Eyemouth Fishing Disaster Memorial Sculpture at Cove, a nearby village.

Newhaven Losses

A newspaper of the time reported, “A deep gloom prevails in the fishing village of Newhaven, where, out of over 400 fishermen, 17 have perished in the storm.  The incidents connected with the loss of these men, which almost all took place in the vicinity of Dunbar, have already been recorded and there is little new to add regarding them.  Many bodies found near Dunbar were brought back to Newhaven but some were never recovered at all.  In all 44 children will be left unprovided for by these losses.”

“Some names of those killed or missing;—
Pilot Boat ‘Concord’ – crew – John, James and Walter Johnston. ‘The Perseverance’ (the largest boat) – crew – John Carnie, Boreas Hall, William Inglis, Peter Inglis, John Wilson, John and David Lyle.  10 Children left unprovided for from this boat alone.  ‘The Robinas’ – a boat 24 feet in length and missing – crew – William Rutherford, Matthew
Hume (age 18), William Liston (age 17) and Alexander Noble who leaves nine of a family.   ‘The Stormy Petrel’, a pilot boat, left Dunbar on Friday morning and is also missing – crew – father and two sons – David Stevenson, Hugh Stevenson and Philip Stevenson.”

Another newspaper report of the time described the sad spectacle of the funeral —  “Many of the bodies were naked, stripped by the sea.  But not all came ashore and it was believed that the bodies, which had not been recovered would come to the surface on the ninth day”.  Sadly some never did and their death certificates of the time state that fact.

Eyemouth Fishing Disaster Report, 17 October 1881