Letter: king's letter and instructions
Missives articles and instructions regarding the fishing

The which day Sir William Alexander [of Menstrie], knight, his majesty's principal secretary in this kingdom, exhibited and gave in to the estates his majesty's missive letter underwritten, together with the instructions given by his majesty to the said Sir William to be treated by him with the said estates about the erection of a general fishing, of the which missive and instructions the tenor follows:

Charles Rex, right trusty and well-beloved cousins and councillors and right trusty and well-beloved councillors, we greet you well. Having with the advice of our council here in England maturely considered that as well in thankfulness to almighty God as for the benefit of all our loving subjects, we ought no longer to neglect that great blessing offered to us in the great abundance of fish upon all the coasts of these islands, to the end we may at length enjoy with more honour those rights which properly belong to our imperial crown and are usurped by strangers, we have considered of a way which in time, by God's favour, may produce this good effect and also increase our navigation and trade. And because this work concerns equally all our three kingdoms and must, therefore, be undertaken and ordered by common counsel and assistance, we have taken this opportunity of your convention at Edinburgh to send our instructions to Sir William Alexander [of Menstrie], our secretary for Scotland, to acquaint you with certain propositions for the advancement of this service, and we require you both to give him hearing at large and freely to entreat with him in every point of his instructions and in whatsoever may be found expedient for the furtherance of so good and great a work concerning both our honour and the public good. And with all we expect that you proceed not only to a resolution upon such articles as shall be agreed upon, but that you also endeavour to put them in execution so as by him we may speedily understand how you take it to heart and how far you concur for the accomplishment of the work wherein you may expect from us such privileges and powers as shall be convenient and as reasonably you can desire. And also be assured that we shall graciously accept your extraordinary care and forwardness in a business which with extraordinary earnestness we recommend to you. Given at our palace of Westminster, 12 July 1630.

By his majesty's commandment, [Sir] John Coke, [secretary of state for England]

  1. NAS, PC1/34, f.12v-13r. Back
  2. NAS, PC1/34, f.13r-15r. Back
  3. Defined in DSL as a name given to the Scottish silver half-merk piece. Back
Instructions for Sir William Alexander [of Menstrie], knight, our secretary for the kingdom of Scotland, employed by us to treat with the lords of our privy council there about the erection of a general fishing

First, you are to signify to the lords and others of our council in Scotland that having duly considered how great a blessing God has given to our kingdoms in the abundance of our sea fish upon all our coasts, and how the benefit thereof is reaped only by strangers, to the great disparagement and prejudice of our loving subjects, we have now taken a royal and firm resolution to set up a common fishing to be a nursery of seamen and to increase the shipping and trade in all parts of our dominions; and these being common benefits to all our three kingdoms, so as they cannot be dividedly enjoyed by any, our royal and gracious pleasure is to have it undertaken and ordered by common council and endeavour, and to that end (among other things) we have sent you to this meeting of the lords of our council at Edinburgh, there to make this intimation and to present to them the propositions which have been offered and approved of here as tending to the advancement of this great work, that they may be taken there into like serious consideration, as well to ratify and confirm what they shall agree upon as to advise what other ways and means may induce to the perfecting thereof. And because a great stock must be raised by contributions of adventurers who cannot otherwise be drawn to it but by hope of great and present gain, you are to show to the said lords the estimate which is made of the charge and profit, that it may be rectified if anything be mistaken and made fit to be published for an inducement to encourage men to join in a work of so great hope.

Besides the fishing vessels, which are already prepared and employed upon the several coasts of these kingdoms upon the fishing seasons, it is thought fit for a considerable beginning to make a new provision of 200 vessels more between 30 and 50 tons apiece, which being rated by a medium of 40 tons and at £3 the tun will cost for the hulls only with the iron works £120 every ship, and for the hundred, £12,000 00s 00d

For rigging, sails, cables, anchors, majesty's boats and other equipment the like rate, £12,000 00s 00d

Every vessel will require 120 nets, which with headlines and corks will cost for every vessel £120, and for 100, £12,000 00s 00d

Every net will require 10 fathoms of 3 or 4 inch war rope, which makes them for every vessel 250 fathom, estimated at 100 weight, which at 5 nobles per cent will cost £16 13s 4d a vessel, and for 100, £1,666 13s 04d

Other necessaries at £4 the vessel, for 100 will cost, £400 00s 00d

These 100 fishing vessels may make three returns every year. The first whereof is for herrings and may catch 100 last apiece, in all 10,000, and so many last the barrels will cost at 20s the last, £10,000 00s 00d

These 10,000 last of herrings will require 3,000 weight of salt accounting 30 weight for every 100 last, which at £4 the weight will cost, £12,000 00s 00d

Every fishing vessel of this burden must be manned with 16 men and boys, in all 1,600, to be victualled for 4 months from 1 June until 30 September, which at £13 4s a man per month comes to, £4,533 06s 08d

The wages of 16 men in every ship comes to £74 for 4 months, and for 100 ships to, £7,400 00s 00d

Total charge of 100 vessels, £72,000 00s 00d

The profit to be raised of 100 vessels.

The first fishing being 10,000 last of herrings, if they shall be sold at sea, will at £10 the last come to, £100,000 00s 00d

Out of which, deducting £72,000 for the charge, it clears the stock of the vessels with their equipment and nets and in money, £28,000 00s 00d

In the second fishing beginning 1 October and ending 31 January in like manner for herrings these 100 vessels may take 60 last apiece, in all 6,000 last, which being winter herrings will be worth at £12 the last, £72,000 00s 00d

And deducting the charge of 6,000 last of cask, £6,000; of 1,800 weight of salt, £7,200; of wages, £7,400; and of victuals, £4,533 6s 8d, in all, £25,133

The clear gain will be in money, £46,867 00s 00d

The third fishing beginning in March and ending 31 May, for the taking of ling and cod in the lochs and upon the Rona, accounting that every vessel may catch 6,000 fish, and 100 vessels 600,000 at £30, the 1,000 will yield, £18,000 00s 00d

Besides the fish of every vessel will yield 3 tons of oil worth £13 6s 8d the tun, which for the 100 vessels comes to, £4,000 00s 00d

Total profit, £22,000 00s 00d

Out of which, deducting for hooks, lines, leads for every ship £14 10s, which for 100 ships is £1,450, and for salt 10 weight for every ship £4,000, for 3 months victuals £3,200 and for three months wages £5,510, in all, £14,160

The clear gain rests, £7,840 00s 00d

And so these three fishings in one year will repay all disbursements and yield in clear profit all the ships and nets with their equipment to serve again for many years and beside in money to be shared among the adventurers, £82,707 00s 00d

The other 100 fishing vessels will require the like charge and yield no less profit, which added to the former sum produces yearly, £165,414 00s 00d

This benefit will be much advanced if the fish be carried to the markets where they will yield above a third part more in price and no less by the returns to be made in the commodities of these countries where the fish shall be sold.

When you have thus satisfied the lords in the charge to be required and in the profit which may accrue, you are to understand from them what number of vessels may be furnished in that kingdom and what proportion of money may be raised, and to that end you may move them to confer with the nobility and gentry and specially with the free burghs, that it may appear what several undertakings may be procured amongst them in like manner as we propose to do here.

And because it is not held feasible or convenient to manage this common business by a common and joint stock, but rather in separate companies or members which notwithstanding may have relation to one body or corporation, you are to that end to move the council there to take the same course we intend here, namely: in every province to settle a separate company in the chief city, town or burgh and to take order that all adventurers of that province may join with that company both in the charge and contribution for setting forth the ships and in sharing the benefit which shall be raised by the fishing.

Yet considering that the fishings shall not out in all places at all seasons but the general herring fishing begins about Orkney in June and thence proceeds all the summer along the coasts of Scotland and England until the middle of winter, and that all the year it continues about the Hebrides and Ireland and specially at Lewis, that therefore the adventurers may fish freely in all places and at all times and yet so as the laws and freedom of every kingdom may be preserved (which is our gracious resolution), we conceive necessary and accordingly you are to communicate it with the lords that all the adventurers in this company of the common fishing be our own liege subjects, and that no stranger of whatsoever nation be admitted to it otherwise than as servants, except they transplant themselves into our dominions and there be naturalised and take the oath of our allegiance. And further, that all our own subjects of that company be naturalised respectively in either kingdom both to obey the laws and to enjoy the liberties accordingly.

And because Lewis is the most proper seat for a continual fishing along the western coasts, you are to let the lords know that we are resolved to take it into our own hand as adherent to our crown, yet proposing to give such satisfaction to [Colin MacKenzie], earl of Seaforth as shall be honourable and just, to which end the lords shall demand of the said earl a true particular of the rents he receives there and certify us how they may be maintained and made good from time to time.

It is also our purpose as you must acquaint the lords to erect in that island one or more free burghs in such places as shall be fittest for advancing of the fishing and for magazines and stages.

When you have thus advised with the lords of the number of vessels, the encouraging of adventurers, the proportion of the charge, the settling of companies and the disposing of places as punctually as you can, it remains that you propose to them the form of government without which a business of this consequence can neither be established nor continued. There be late erected forms both in Spain, France and the Low Countries which show the necessity of settling a common council or handling office to be composed of sundry chosen men of quality of each nation, with power given from us to make and execute such ordinances as in conformity to the laws of each kingdom shall be found expedient both for the ordering, taking and vending of the fish, and also to hear and determine such questions and differences as shall happen about the same. Likewise in every province in that city or burgh where a company shall be settled there must be a court of assistants to correspond with the common council, with commission in like manner to order the business of their own company, according to such ordinances as shall be established by the foresaid common council and determine differences arising among themselves about the affairs of their fishing with relation to the said common council in cases of appeal.

Having treated with the lords about these and other particulars which may occur and shall be found necessary for the settling of this business, if any such difficulty arise as cannot be determined by your negotiation you are to move their lordships to nominate commissioners to treat further with such as we shall appoint here, and by them to send a perfect report of all points wherein they require satisfaction.

You are to observe these instructions for your direction in your proceedings with the lords, yet if any thing may occur whereby the service may be furthered which is here omitted, you or they are not hereby restrained to use your best endeavours therein as occasion shall serve. Given at our palace of Westminster, 12 July 1630.

By his majesty's commandment, [Sir] John Coke, [secretary of state for England]

  1. NAS, PC1/34, f.12v-13r. Back
  2. NAS, PC1/34, f.13r-15r. Back
  3. Defined in DSL as a name given to the Scottish silver half-merk piece. Back