Scottish Fisheries Museum celebrates 40th anniversary

By Ed Sexton | 03 July 2009
ships in a harbour

(Above) Anstruther Harbour in 1910. Picture courtesy Scottish Fisheries Museum

Exhibition: SFM@40, The Scottish Fisheries Museum, Fife, Scotland, until September 27 2009

The Scottish Fisheries Museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a special exhibition charting the museum's development over the past four decades.

From humble beginnings in a historic courtyard, the Museum's galleries have grown to encompass neighbouring houses, a boatyard and various other buildings including a pub and a smokehouse.

Based in Anstruther, once the busiest fishing port in Scotland, the Fisheries Museum was started when the industry started to decline and concern grew that this important part of local heritage would be lost.

A group of people got together to form the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust with the aim of establishing a museum to mark Scotland’s fishing heritage.

The collections are now recognised as being of National Significance, and the latest exhibition draws on the fantastic selection of photographs, documents and artefacts held in the collection.

photo of men sitting round a table

Trustees Hew Lorimer, Tommy Murray and Bill Jack looking at plans (1969). Picture courtesy Scottish Fisheries Museum

Some stars exhibits include the very first pieces donated to the Museum, as well as more curious objects which have found their way into the collection.

"One of the earliest pieces donated in 1967 is a ship's steering compass, which is interesting as it is marked with a swastika and an eagle and was made in Hamburg," says Curator Linda Fitzpatrick. "It was used by the German Navy during World War Two and was donated by John Martin and Co, who are a local oilskin maker.

"We also have a beautiful model of a Chinese Junk donated in 1969 which, although of little relevance to Scottish fisheries, is still a fantastic piece.

"The piece was donated by Group Captain Sellers who came across many pieces at antique fairs and brought a lot of collections to the Museum on loan," she muses. "Reading between the lines I think he would turn up with a load of things and the Museum would say 'that's great' and put them on display. In the early days there wasn't a lot on show, but that's changed now.

"He bequeathed his entire collection to us when he died and we thought this would be a great opportunity to get the model out of storage and put it on display for the first time."

a model of a ship

(Above) The Chinese Junk featuring in SFM@40. Picture courtesy Scottish Fisheries Museum

The Museum will also be including a maritime murder weapon in the exhibition. The swordstick would have been concealed within a walking stick, and still has a curved walking stick handle marked with an inscription revealing it was used to murder a seaman in Leith.

A diverse range of collections covering aspects of the industry are also held and range from the boats used over time, to the clothes worn by men and women in the fishing industry.

The Museum has an impressive collection of 19 boats, three of which are in the National Historic Ships Register. When the list was compiled the Museum had the largest collection in one place.

a compass

(Above) The German ship's compass showing the detailed decoration. Picture courtesy Scottish Fisheries Museum

The three listed boats are a sailing Fifie, a type of sailing fishing boat which is still on the water, a 1903 Zulu, a sailing fishing vessel at the turn of the 19th century, and a 1936 ring netter.

"There are examples of fisher folk costume that may not seem much by themselves, but we have examples from all over Scotland, which makes it a significant collection,” says Fitzpatrick.

The Museum also has some significant collections of documents, including the whole archive from Miller's boat building farm. "It is a well used archive," explains Fitzpatrick. "I have been talking to someone from Bermuda who has one of the boats which was converted into a yacht and he was trying to source some original drawings so that he can restore the boat to what it would have originally looked like."

The Museum is hoping the exhibition will attract visitors old and new and is also planning to reunite ex-staff and volunteers who have helped make it what it is today in a special event in September.

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