In 1877, Frank Buckland, Spencer Walpole and Archibald Young were commissioned by H.M. Government to inspect the ‘Scotch’ Herring Fishery. They travelled all around Scotland gathering ‘evidences’ (sic) at various locations. The following year, these evidences were published in full, along with their conclusions, a map of their route, and several appendices.
The proper title of this document is ‘Report on the Herring Fisheries of Scotland’, but I refer to it throughout this book as The 1878 Herring Report, or simply The Herring Report. It was commissioned by the Home Office and presented to ‘both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty’.
My new book about their sojourn in Scotland has taken me a long time to write. It began with my first interest in Frank Buckland more than thirty years ago and it is only one element of a larger project of greater ambition. Buckland has charmed more sensible folk than me, but he has, importantly I think, come to personify many of the affections, affectations and inconsistencies in our relationship with the living world around us.
Frank Buckland died in 1880 but he never really went away. I can’t even remember how I first met him, but I know that his deeply flawed and eminently humane writing has been part of my reading life for as long as I can remember. I genuinely feel he’s been with me all along, as I wrestled with the contradictions of caring deeply for wild animals whilst depriving them of fundamental freedoms.
In this book, he steps away from his role as the pseudo-comical public figure and ever-so-flippant writer to assume the mantle of the serious, diligent and dedicated public servant. He is, finally, leading from the front in a collective effort to understand the impact of human depredation upon natural resources. We find him taking full advantage of this opportunity to re-calibrate his public image and thus become a man of science and equal to his peers.
‘Around Scotland with the Fisheries Men’ contains many strands and layers. There are digressions and diversions, connections and complexities. Some of those side-tracks and bridle-paths are explored in the final chapter, ‘Interesting Notes and Curious Observations’, but they are merely a sidebar to what is already a tangential saga.
All of my work is conceived with other media in mind. My short story collections, novellas and all-ages writing are either based on screenplays derived from lengthy treatments, or conceived for future adaptation as audio-visual constructs. ‘Around Scotland with the Fisheries Men’ is no different.
The Queen’s Commission into the state of the Scotch Herring Fishery undertaken by Buckland, Walpole and Young in 1877 is historically significant and readily adaptable as multi-part documentary, while the evidence gathering constitutes an ergonomic basis for dramatized sequences. It has, like so many truly great stories about Scottish social history, been overlooked. If my book helps to change that it will have achieved its purpose.
Each chapter of this book is structured to contain three parts. In each case, I begin with localized scene-setting before moving the action to the hearings, which took place in hotels, churches and meeting halls. I close every chapter with a contemporary character sketch of each place the fisheries men visited, discovering what has disappeared and what has remained intact. There is then, the opportunity to create multi-faceted features for television and/or radio that embrace history, industry, character, identity and landscape.
Buckland, Walpole and Young also undertook surveys of the whitefish fishery and salmon rivers in Scotland, while Buckland and Young looked at the crab and lobster fisheries. There is then the possibility of producing a series of differentiated books are nevertheless mutually supportive, and bound together by shared themes. They would reveal even more about Buckland, Walpole and Young, not least their relationships with high-ranking influencers in nineteenth-century Britain.
I also believe that Archibald Young (1820-1900) is a suitable subject for a stand-alone biography, which would involve further research and discovery. It would also uncover, I think, a few minor revelations. He lived throughout Victoria’s reign, and his life in Edinburgh and elsewhere was colourful. He would appear to be a nineteenth-century Scot who seems orthodox on the surface, but frequently subverts the archetype. I uncovered a great deal about him that hadn’t been collected, and received considerable interest and support from the Advocates Library in Edinburgh.
For these reasons, I think that everything about Archibald Young (including his interesting family) would, in my opinion, also make for a compelling piece of radio or television. I found his autobiographical writing to be engaging and full of personality, especially his ‘Summer Sailings’ where all academic pretensions are removed. A lifelike portrait of an Edinburgh professional in his various habitats would be as much about a time and place in Scotland as this strong and appealing character.
Michael Stephen Clark
Mr Buckland, Mr. Walpole and Mr. Young: Around Scotland with the Fisheries Men – A Non-Fiction Narrative by Michael Stephen Clark and published by 1320Books is out now on Amazon UK