Local Heroes: Hull's Trawlermen

Hull's First Fishing Trawlers

How did Hull's trawling industry start?

Hull's trawling industry started in Victorian times (1837-1901) and actually came about by accident. One day in 1850 a fishing boat sailed out of Scarborough and put out its net in the ocean. But a big storm was brewing and the little boat got caught in the storm was blown off course, and ended up in the River Humber. 

When the boat came into the dock its nets had been ripped up by the storm, but one part of the netting had remained intact and it was bursting full of fish! Sailors realised they must have been swept over a huge fishing ground somewhere near the river. And they had! There was a big fishing ground about 70 miles from Spurn Point, which became known as the Silver Pits.


Hull's fishing industry took off and between 1854 and 1887 over a thousand 'Smacks' (a type of fishing boat) were registered at Hull. Many 'Smackmen' from the south east of England came to live and work in Hull.


Hull's First Steam Trawler

In 1885 Hull's first steam trawler the Magenta was launched. Although some sailing 'smacks' were built and used for fishing from Hull for a few more years, from 1887 they gradually declined and by 1903 (Edwardian times) only steam trawlers went out from Hull.

Some fishing boats are called 'trawlers' because they use a 'trawl-net' to catch the fish, see the image on the right. The fish (such as cod and haddock) caught by these boats feed at the bottom of the ocean and are called 'demersal' fish. A trawl net 'trawls' along the bottom of the ocean to catch these fish.


Decline - something that has become smaller or fewer

Intact - undamaged, in one piece

Click on the BBC website link below for diagrams of how North Sea Trawlers work today. For more information about Hull's Trawlers follow the Hull Trawler website link below.

(With special thanks to Mr Michael Thompson.)

Document icon Learning article provided by: Hull Maritime Museum | 

Comment on this page

  • Posted by sophie moore on 08/11/2013

    its so cool and simple to use xoxox yolo lol omg

  • Posted by Victor Markham on 20/06/2013

    Interesting to read that you have given the year 1850 as the start of the fishing fleet. I am researching the Kingdom family, whom I have some ancestors. They were fishermen having moved from Brixham to Ramsgate thence on to Hull. In 1851 (based on 1861 census) their latest child, Cornelius was born in Hull. Sounds like they had heard about what happened to the boat from Scarborough they decided to move to Hull

  • Posted by Maureen Ward on 26/04/2012

    thank you for the information made available on Hull Fishing Industry. I dont have any links to the sea other then being a resident of Hull and aware of this most dangerous lost trade. it is of great help to me in my Local history course.

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