Polperro Postscripts

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Record Pilchard Catch by Polperro Boat

Record pilchard catch by Polperro boat

Posted on September 26, 2022

The record catch of pilchards by a Polperro boat off Cornwall occurred in 1866 according to a first hand account that recently came to light. The story of the catch was told by one of the crew, Joseph William Gedye (1873-1954):

‘On an autumn day in the year 1866 the Polperro gaffer J.R.N. (representing the names Joseph, Rachel and Nicholas Gedye) was lying weatherbound at Plymouth with several other Polperro and Looe Luggers.  The owner of the J.R.N. was Mr. Joseph Gedye, the Captain was Mr James (‘Mollie’) Curtis and the crew Joe Gedye (son of Joseph), Jack Gedye, W. Bunt and T. Searle.  The weather having improved on the following morning the J.R.N. sailed with three other boars for the fishing ground south of Eddystone.  Shortly after arriving there a stiff S.E. wind rose and the three other boars returned to Polperro.  J.R.N. under two reefs continued.  Jimmy Curtis called out “Shake out the reef.  Jacko [J. George] take over helm.  I’m going to put on my oilskins”.  Jack remarked “That’s settled it. We shan’t go in tonight.” (He was courting at the time).  Curtis saw gannets diving.  They shot the nets and hauled 2,000 pilchards.  Turned south and Joe and Jack started ‘brining’ (stamping on fo’c’sle).  Found themselves in the midst of a vast shoal – fish were swarming everywhere.

‘Jimmy called out “Let me know when we are through. Don’t put the lights up”. They shot nets and returned over the same course. Had a cup of tea and then started to haul nets but could not get them in. They were so full of fish that they were aground. At dawn the next day some Looe Boats arrived and took over some of the nets.  The J.R.N. took on board ten lasts (100,000) and got in to Polperro at 4.30pm. This remains today a record catch of pilchards for a Polperro boat. The fish sold for 5s. a 1,000.  Next night J.R.N. was out again and caught 20,000.’

The owner of the J.R.N., Joe Gedye’s father was also named Joseph William Gedye (1837-1907). Joseph Gedye senior had become the innkeeper of the Three Pilchards by 1870, just a few yards along from the former Fishermans Arms in Lansallos Street. After his death in 1907 he was buried alongside his wife Rachel (née Batten, 1839-1887) in Talland churchyard.

His son Joe, who told the story of the record catch, married Fanny Tangley Holt (1872-1959). The Cornish Times reported in June, 1947, that 75-year-old Mrs Fanny Gedye was living ‘in one of those tiny cottages which cling so precariously to the steep slopes of Polperro… For the past 12 years Mrs Gedye has suffered from rheumatism of the spine. She was blitzed out of Plymouth during the war’.