Historic barometer, with sad echoes of the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster, joins museum's collection

A poignant and historic wooden barometer which was presented to an Eyemouth fisherman who lost three sons in the 1881 fishing disaster has been gifted to the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 10:56 am
The Eyemouth Barometer, originally gifted to James Johnston.

Today (October 14) marks the 140th anniversary of the tragedy, which saw 189 fishermen lose their lives.

The barometer, which was donated by David Johnston, was presented to James Johnston by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society after his sons John, James and Walter drowned when their pilot boat Concord was swamped crossing the submerged bar at Dunbar Harbour during what is also known as ‘Black Friday’.

Alongside the Barometer, which will go on show in the museum in the East Neuk of Fife, a warning was given to ‘study the glass’.

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The harsh caution reflected the fateful error in judgement made that morning at Eyemouth Harbour, a close-knit community dependent on haddock fishing for its livelihood.

Fishermen in Berwick and Spittal had stayed in port and heeded the warnings of the barometer, which showed indications of stormy weather, while those from Eyemouth and neighbouring harbours including Burnmouth and Coldingham ventured out because the weather appeared fine.

Hours later, at midday, a severe storm broke out, described in a report by John Doull of the Eyemouth Fishery Office, “with terrific and awfully sudden violence … immediately raising a fearful sea along the coast”.

Few of the wooden boats made it safely back to harbour.

Most were overturned or dashed upon Eyemouth’s Hurkar Rocks with 189 fishermen (129 from Eyemouth) drowned and many in sight of family, friends and onlookers standing on shore helpless.

Linda Fitzpatrick, curator at the Scottish Fisheries Museum, said: “We are grateful to David Johnston for donating this barometer to the museum’s nationally recognised heritage collection.

"It is a very moving memorial to a great personal tragedy in his family and will help us describe, commemorate and remember the horrendous and enduring impact the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster had on fisherfolk and fishing communities.”