An enquiry from folklorist Bob Walser – what do we know about Firth of Forth oyster boats?

This Illustrated London News engraving from 1862 is the latest clue in Bob Walser’s  continuing investigation into the background of a series of ‘dreg songs’ recorded by folklorist James Madison Carpenter from families in the Firth of Forth area.

Bob asks whether readers can provide any information about the boats pictured, the use of two sweeps simultaneously, and about oyster fishing in the Firth generally please?

I haven’t any specialist knowledge of the area, but I’d say that the boats rather resemble the early fifie shown in the Washington Report of 1849, though rigged with a single mast rather than two – which makes sense what appear to be fairly small boats. The full sized early fifies are described by the Chatham Directory of Inshore Craft as beamy, double-ended entirely open boats with upright stems, which seems about right. The boats were made to be full ended at the sheer and had hollow waterlines forward but were a more bouyant shape aft.

The two sweeps make practical sense to me, not least because they would enable the boat to travel in a reasonably straight line, without using the rudder so far over that it acted as a brake and made hard work for the crew.

These are just my untutored guesses. What do the rest of you think – or, even better, know about Firth of Forth oyster boats of this era please?

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