Big Game Fishing

18 Mar

I’ve already written a post about the two monster tunny fish at Tatton Park. They are perhaps one of my favourite pieces in the collection, and will definitely get a big feature in my PhD thesis.

Last Monday I spent an interesting day looking at the British Tunny Club archives at Scarborough Museum. Sadly Maurice doesn’t appear to have been a member of the club, so there were very few mentions of him, and his large fish are not recorded in their record books. However, it was interesting to see the names and catches of others fishing as friends or rivals of Maurice at that time. Their accounts are great comparisons alongside Maurice’s, and I got some great context for my research.

This is a story best told through pictures, so here are a few photos from the archive, taken with kind permission of Scarborough Museums Trust.

After a few reported sightings and speculations, the first tunny fish was caught in British waters in August 1930 by Lorenzo Mitchell Henry. Lorenzo Mitchell Henry, seen here with this largest fish that briefly held the record in the 1930s:


Maurice’s tunny diaries begin in 1931, and his first catch wasn’t until 1933 so I had always assumed that he jumped on the bandwaggon rather late. However, the archive revealed that the very next day after Mitchell Henry caught his fish in 1930, Maurice arrived in Scarborough to get in on the action. With the formation of the British Tunny Club in 1933, the “rules” of fishing were cemented, saying that fish must be caught unaided from small boats on rod and line. Many fishermen were angry to be inundated from wealthy fishermen using motorboats and the assistance of their crew in landing the fish. As he was a member of the Shikar Club and seemed to care deeply about the rules of sportsmanship, I was surprised that Maurice didn’t join the Tunny Club or adhere absolutely to it’s rules. I think the eagerness to acquire a fish at any cost seemed to win out in this case.

Tunny fishing was a social affair- the waterfront would bustle with people, especially children, waiting to see what would be landed This crowd gathered in September 1948:Image

When landed, the fish would be weighed according to British Tunny Club guidelines, and of course the proud fisherman would be photographed alongside his catch. Here is Jack Tansey posing alongside six fish caught:


Tunny fishing was considered a rich man’s sport due to the expense in hiring yachts, buying equipment and engaging experienced skippers to locate the fish at sea. Scarborough was also advertised as the only place in England that could provide a “big game” hunting experience as exciting as shooting lions in Africa. No wonder it attracted Maurice, as well as other wealthy thrill seekers like the Rothschilds. One lady attracted by this was Lady Broughton, who was an experienced game hunter in Africa. She preferred to set up a tent on deck as if on safari rather than sleeping below deck:


Scarborough harbour teemed with large yachts, such as Baron Rothschild’s ‘Eros’ and Colonel Peel’s ‘St George’ staffed by an entirely Sudanese crew pictured here:


The largest ever Tunny at 852lbs was caught by John Hedley Lewis on his first fishing trip, seen here with his skipper Tom Pashby:Image


The very same record breaking fish, now looking a bit forlorn in storage at Scarborough:



Tunny fishing declined sharply in the 1950s, and the last fishermen came back empty handed in 1953. Some claimed the fish were no longer coming near, but others blamed the local fishermen guides for charging greedy prices. As they lost business, they were forced to work elsewhere, and so few guides were available for those that did still look to fish there. Scarborough felt the loss of the money brought into the town. Today as I walked down to the harbour, it’s almost impossible to imagine how different it must have been in those few summer months every year when the tunny fish came biting.

 Photo: Greetings from sunny Scarborough

Many thanks to Scarborough Museum and Jennifer Dunne for hosting me.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: