THOMAS LAWSON AND EDITH BOWMAN
THOMAS LAWSON was the great, great, grandfather of well known Fife born radio and TV broadcaster Edith Bowman. Edith is the daughter of Sandy and Eleanor Bowman, former owners of the CRAW’S NEST HOTEL in ANSTRUTHER.
Edith has consented to becoming a Patron of our charity. She is well known for her charity work, and has helped out with her mother’s charity, The East Neuk Wheelchair Appeal, and many others, for many years.
Edith’s family on her father’s side has a strong connection with the fishing industry. Her great grandfather Alexander Bowman was a fisherman in Pittenweem, and on retiring did what many other retired fishermen did, helped in mending badly torn nets. His father William Bowman, was the auctioneer in the fish market at Pittenweem.
Edith spent much of her childhood in Pittenweem with her grandfather, in and around the harbour, and we are delighted that she has decided to help support us in our project.
A condensed history of the fishing career of Edith’s great, great grandfather’s boat, compiled from newspaper archives with comments from James Bowman, Pittenweem, retired Merchant Navy.
A standard 70 foot “FIFIE” built at Pittenweem in 1899 for Thomas Lawson, named after his mother and launched by his 12 years old daughter, Janet Lawson.
The boat engaged in drift net herring fishing throughout her life, at Peterhead, Firth of Forth and Yarmouth, each year following the herring as they moved round the coast. During intervals between the herring fishings, in addition to overhauling and setting up gear, she also fished with great lines for cod, skate, ling and halibut operating from different ports.When the First World War commenced, all steam drifters were immediately taken into Admiralty service, which left only the sailing boats to catch fish. The Government pushed ahead with the production of Gardner and Kelvin engines for war purposes, and made such available for installation in fishing boats to increase their catching power, so as to make up any shortfall. Margaret Lawson like many more sailing fishing boats, thus converted to being power driven during that war.
She fished continuously under skipper Thomas Lawson, until that fateful day 3rd February 1937 when, making for Anstruther harbour in the early morning, during fog on a falling tide, she stranded at Billowness on the west side of the Black Rock. The boat was now old, and constructed as they all were using iron nails and bolts which had long since rusted, the result was that 48 hours later only wreckage remained. A photograph taken after the fog cleared, and in the possession of the Scottish Fisheries Museum, shows all gear being removed from her before she broke up.
Thomas Lawson was born in Pittenweem in May 1864 and, following retirement after the loss of the boat, died in December 1956 aged 92 years.
A brief history of some of her fishing career.
Dundee Courier Monday 12th November 1900. Yarmouth fishing: A good many boats have had big catches, the Triumph of Inverness made a single shot of 125 crans on Friday. The Kirkcaldy boat Margaret Lawson has brought in 120 crans for one night’s work: the Lufra 110 crans and a similar shot by the Valiant both Inverness boats. Other boats Ivy, Lilas Scott, Concord,White Cross and Maggie Watson all had about 100 crans. Prices have been steady with no fewer than 170 buyers now at Yarmouth, for home and foreign markets. Export curing by Scottish merchants is brisk with thousand of barrels of salted herring being dispatched by steamers almost daily to the Baltic.
Peterhead Sentinel Saturday 19th 1905. The boats had to contend with a strong headwind and were late in arriving. Total for the day amounted to 3100 crans for 155 boats, an average of 20 crans per boat. The sail boat Margaret Lawson of Pittenweem, and the Mistletoe of Peterhead topped the list with 100 crans each. The sail boat Betsy Hughes, of Pittenweem had 50 crans. Quality was slightly improved and prices were from 14 to 23 shillings per cran.
Press and Journal Monday 14th August 1905. The arrivals altogether are 220 boats and the average catch 25 crans, making a total of 5500 crans. The best shots were 90 crans each by the Mary Thomson, Lossiemouth and the local drifter Faithful. The drifter Ella had 70 crans and the sail boat Margaret Lawson of Pittenweem 65 crans. The drifters Pioneer, Jeannie and Pursuit, and the sail boats New Ranger, Provider and Integrity of Buckie had 50 crans each. Quality was mixed and prices were from 15/6d to 28shillings per cran.
Dundee Courier Saturday 1st September 1906. Calm weather prevailed at Peterhead and fishing was light. At nine o’clock 120 boats had arrived with an average of 10 crans. Quality was good and prices from 27/- to 37/- per cran for fresh herring and 23/- to 27/- for salted at sea herring. Highest shots were 50 crans from the sail boat Anster Fair, Pittenweem, and 45 crans by the sail boat Margaret Lawson, Pittenweem.
St Andrews Citizen 12th January 1907. Accident at sea–On Tuesday while the herring fleet were arriving in from fishing, one of the crew of the sail boat Margaret Lawson, named Alexander Wilson, was struck on the face by a block which inflicted a severe cut. He was attended to on his arrival by Dr Pirie, who stitched his wound.
Citizen Saturday 27th March 1915. 41 Skippers of motor and sail fishing boats from Fife ports and Cockenzie and Eyemouth were charged with illegal fishing in a prohibited area. Jas Bowman(Duncan), skipper of the motor boat Blossom: Andrew Bett Watson, skipper of the motor fishing boat Maggies: George Horsburgh, skipper of the motor fishing yawl Preston Horsburgh: James Hughes, skipper of the steam drifter Magdalene: Thomas Lawson, skipper of the sail fishing boat Margaret Lawson: Robert Keay(Watt), skipper of the motor bauldie Sperio Mercrio: Wm Wood(Paterson), skipper of the motor fishing yawl United: Robert Black(Bowman), skipper of the motor fishing boat Golden Sunshine: and James Hughes Wood, skipper of the sail fishing boat Never Can tell, all from Pittenweem. All but two plead guilty and the rest were given 15 days in jail or a £3 fine payable in one month.
Fife Free Press Saturday 8th March 1924. Pittenweem. The herring fishing has taken a change for the better. The winter fishing generally starts after the New Year, but although the fishermen have been pursuing their calling every night since, it was only last night that the herrings made their appearance on the grounds. Some good catches were landed, the Agnes Irvine, StMonance landed the record catch here for the season of 84 crans, and the Margaret Lawson, Pittenweem had 39 crans. The smaller boats had also a few crans. Prices were from 25/- to 27/- a cran. The herrings have been purchased for curing purposes and many women are employed at the work as “gutters.” Altogether the harbour has not been so busy for a long time.
Dundee Courier Monday 22nd March 1926. Anstruther. Moderate fishing a little over 100 crans being discharged. Highest shots were the Pittenweem motor boat Margaret Lawson 25 crans and the Seaton Castle 10 crans. Cellardyke drifters Scot and the Daisy 12 crans each. Cockenzie boats Tulip 10 and the Cedar Leaf 8 crans. Prices from 16/6 to 22/-.
Dundee Courier Monday 9th August 1926. Peterhead. Another heavy fishing was landed, the average for 140 arrivals being fully 18 crans. Keen demand and South Firth boats were exceptionally well fished. Sunshine KY 70 crans. Sweet Promise, John and William and Oceans Gift LH, Restless Wave KY, Lively Hope, and Ann Cook ML 50 crans each, Vine and Hughes ML 45 crans each, Promote KY 40 crans, Carmania and Margaret Lawson ML 30 crans each.
Dundee Courier Saturday 12th May 1928. North Shields. Supply very poor, 39 drifters landing a total of only 60 crans. Best shot by the Fife motor boat Margaret Lawson with 20 crans .There was keen demand and prices were from 44/- down to 39/- per cran.
Dundee Courier Thursday 6th September 1928. Peterhead. Heavy landings were made, the average for 95 arrivals being 27 crans. Quality mixed, spents predominating. Prices from 22/- to 27/- per cran. South Firth boats had a good share of the day’s catch. Hughes ML turned out 45 crans and Kimberley KY and Margaret Lawson ML 30 crans each.
Dundee Courier Saturday 7th September 1929. Peterhead. Eighty boats were forward yesterday with an everage of 13 crans. Prices were from 15/- to 24/6 per cran. Margaret Lawson ML had 50 crans: Peggy PD 40 crans: Lena and Francois KY 35 crans each: Eventide KY and Cavalier PD 30 crans each. Best shot in North Shields was from the KY Rising Sun with 25 crans.
Scotsman Thursday February 4th 1937. FIFE BOAT ASHORE. CREW AND GEAR SAFE. The Pittenweem fishing boat Margaret Lawson, which ran ashore at the Billowness, between Pittenweem and Anstruther, in dense fog yesterday morning, is badly holed and it was expected last night that she would become a total wreck. The skipper of the boat, which is one of the last of the old type of motor fishing vessels belonging to Pittenweem, is Thomas Lawson(Hughes), Mid Shore, Pittenweem.
The boat struck the rocks about twenty minutes to seven. Several other fishing vessels went to the assistance of the crew, including the Fortunatus, Pittenweem and the Royal Sovereign, Anster, but were unable to save the vessel which was rapidly filling with water. Mr Mackay of the United Burghs also went to their aid, but was unable to help. The crew of seven were taken off. The crew of Anster lifeboat stood by but it was unnecessary to launch the boat. The Margaret Lawson is about 70 feet long and her gear was salvaged.