Article V. written by Alexander Gunn, aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 2 Oct 1879. Part A
Warning: This recollection of Alexander Gunn contains a description of a seal kill in the 1840s that some may find disturbing.
|A seal snoozing at Dunnet Head, Highlands, Scotland|
“ I said in my last that the seal fishing, or farming if you will, was a very considerable item in the industry of the people of Auchencraig: and so it was. The way in which the thing was managed was this. A man named George Grant, “Pogach,” who lived in Auchencraig, paid so much yearly to the Laird for liberty to kill the seals, of which there were hundreds upon hundreds about the coast at that time.
|A seal sleeping on the ramp at Dunnet Head, Highlands|
|A cove near Dunnet Head, north-east Highlands.|
It was no uncommon thing to be struck violently by stones thrown by the seals when pursued. They had an art by which they could cast stones to a considerable distance, and with great force, with their hind feet, or paws rather, and often wounded some of the party engaged in the slaughter. They would also seize a man by the leg if they had a chance, and once they got hold, they would not let go until they heard or felt something give way. The parties engaged in killing these animals were in the habit of having two pairs of stockings on, and had the space between lined with charred wood, which, when the seal seized the man by the leg, cracked and broke, and when the seal heard or felt this, he let go, and the party escaped unhurt. Some of the seals were very bulky animals. I remember once coming on one in a cove where she had her young, and she was crying and speaking to her young. We slipped in unknown to her, and ran our boat along-side of her, when two of us leaped out with our weapons. She heard us by this time, lifted her head, and cast a look at us, we coming down on her at the same time with our bludgeons, but she gave one mighty plunge into the sea, which raised a wave that filled our boats as full as an eggshell, and she got away. She was fully as long as our boat, which was fourteen feet of keel.
|Scotland's jagged north-east coast, with its coves and beaches|
After a number of seals were killed in the way I have described, they were tied together and dragged behind the boat, and hauled up above the tide-mark and left there for several days, as the longer they were allowed to lie, the more oil did they produce. They were skinned, the blubber being taken off along with the skin, and next the blubber was separated from the skin, and latterly melted down in a large boiler, after which the oil was drained off, put into barrels, and sent to the market, Cromarty and Inverness being the principal markets for the oil. Hundreds of gallons of oil were thus yearly disposed of, and the price realised for the skins was very considerable as well, but this is all changed now. No herring fishing, or fishing of any kind; and why? Because a former Laird took a fancy for the poor people’s bits of lots to fatten his sheep upon, and at one sweep cleared away every one of these thirteen families.”