The fishing pattern in those days was different to what it is today. Often
the fishermen would sail to southern Ireland to fish for mackerel, and
that's quite a long journey for small, open sailing vessels to make. Returning
to Eastbourne, the fishermen would make their way to The Beach Hotel,
(a Public House near the fishing station) where a Mrs. Tanner would let
them "chalk up" their debts as they drank beer at tuppence a
pint. Most of the fishermen were heavy drinkers in those hard days, and
the Public House was a pleasant place for them to meet and talk after
long, hazardous hours at sea; this was also a refuge and escape from their
small often-overcrowded house.
boats of the 1880's
Fishermen were naturally religious people. Out on the sea by day, but
more often at night, Tom knew of the wonder of the deep and the glories
of the heavens. As he fixed his eyes on the stars in order to steer his
sailing boat in safe waters, his heart would be attuned to nature, and
when the waves were high and tempestuous and the wind was raging he revelled
in the struggle for survival. Tom loved the solitude of being at sea,
in a cockleshell of a boat, with brown canvas sails and oars when needed.
There would be perhaps two other men or boys with him. No comfortable
cabins for these hardy fishermen in those days when Tom sailed the English
Channel. No shelter from the angry storms and the rough seas that often
washed overboard, sometimes taking the fishermen into the depths; they
just stood in their enveloping oilskins and endured the brunt of whatever
came. Paying out the trawler nets, hauling them in when full of fish,
was a terribly demanding task of strength and endurance; hands became
callused and hard, workworn and efficient at the job.
Old Tom is seated
third from left, front row.
Harry Boniface, Tom's brother is standing farthest right!
Mackerel catching, herring fishing, spratting, or catching dogfish with
line and hook, all called for a particular skill, which Tom developed
from boyhood. Then there was lobster and crab-catching time, when 'pots'
would be put down on the rocky seabed off Beachy Head at night, and hauled
up later at dawn.
The only alternative to fishing, for the Boniface family and others like
them at the time, was starvation. Fishing was the only work they knew,
and it was that or the workhouse. Some years later, realising that fishing
was a dying industry in the district, Tom bought some pleasure boats,
still with sail, and with the help of the steady income from his wife's
laundry, managed to make a reasonably good living, and fishing meanwhile.
His large family was brought up in health and happiness.
Story of Old Tom Part1 ... Part 3 ... Part
4 ... Part 5
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