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Herring Industry

Herring gutters at work

Although Wick had been a port, the seat of a sheriff court and a royal burgh for hundreds of years, it was the British Fisheries Society development of a harbour on the south side of Wick Bay in the early nineteenth century that transformed Wick from ‘a place of little account’ to the largest herring fishing port in Europe.

Wick's long association with the herring fishing industry began way back in 1767, when three local men, Alexander Miller of Staxigoe, John Sutherland of Wester and John Anderson of Wick outfitted two sloops and began to fish for herring. The British government had begun to pay bounties on boats and the fish they caught. After initial setbacks, they persevered and Miller at least became very wealthy. These three pioneers of the herring trade in Wick set an example that was followed by locals who started to fish from inlets along the coast from Wick north to Staxigoe.

The 1790s saw the British Fisheries Society investigate the prospect of building a harbour and fishing village on the opposite bank of the river to Wick, as part of wider plans to promote the fishing industry in the Highlands. The Society was keen to develop a fishing port on the east coast, as there was not a safe harbour between the Cromarty and Pentland Firths "whence a vessel in distress can take shelter." Land was acquired from Sir Benjamin Dunbar in 1803. Renowned architect and civil engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to build the harbour and associated village, complete with yards and stores for the industry.




Although Wick had been a port, the seat of a sheriff court and a royal burgh for hundreds of years, it was the British Fisheries Society development of a harbour on the south side of Wick Bay in the early nineteenth century that transformed Wick from ‘a place of little account’ to the largest herring fishing port in Europe.

Wick's long association with the herring fishing industry began way back in 1767, when three local men, Alexander Miller of Staxigoe, John Sutherland of Wester and John Anderson of Wick outfitted two sloops and began to fish for herring. The British government had begun to pay bounties on boats and the fish they caught. After initial setbacks, they persevered and Miller at least became very wealthy. These three pioneers of the herring trade in Wick set an example that was followed by locals who started to fish from inlets along the coast from Wick north to Staxigoe.

The 1790s saw the British Fisheries Society investigate the prospect of building a harbour and fishing village on the opposite bank of the river to Wick, as part of wider plans to promote the fishing industry in the Highlands. The Society was keen to develop a fishing port on the east coast, as there was not a safe harbour between the Cromarty and Pentland Firths "whence a vessel in distress can take shelter." Land was acquired from Sir Benjamin Dunbar in 1803. Renowned architect and civil engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to build the harbour and associated village, complete with yards and stores for the industry.



The Wick Society
18 - 27 Bank Row, Wick, Caithness, KW1 5EY

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