“On Tuesday last,” reported the Woolmers Western Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 20th August 1814, “immense shoals of mackerel came over the bar to the shore of the town of Exmouth.” The shoals seem truly to have been immense but this was not a unique occurance. Some thirty years before had been the last invasion. This time, in 1814, the immense shoals came between six and seven in the morning and the people of Exmouth were up and ready for them. The waters between Exmouth Town and the Warren Point were thick with boats.
All who could were there to take the mackerel as fast as they came. Every kind of net was being dipped and retrieved and many were busy with rod and line. Some fishermen who were working a seine net near the bathing machines ‘inclosed’ so great a multitude of mackerel that they could hardly make their haul. This seine was “so loaded with mackerel that it was with some difficulty it could be dragged ashore.” It must have made the pious chapelgoers of Exmouth think of the miracle at the lake of Gennesaret. Another seine, however, only a short distance away caught not a single mackerel but each time it was cast was found to be full of “an innumerable quantity of fish of a large kind of sprat”.
No doubt the immense shoals of mackerel were in pursuit of these innumerable sprat with the same energy, dedication and motivation that the Exmothians were in pursuit of the mackerel. The lines that Keats was to write in Teignmouth four years later- come to mind: “every maw, the greater on the less feeds evermore.”
The sprat, however, were not wanted by the fishermen who had caught them and they were picked out of the net as fast as was possible and thrown away “indignantly” “so that those who chose to pick them up were supplied gratis.”
The Gazette’s report on this “enlivening and interesting scene” ends with this wonderful paragraph: “Whilst the ocean was thus yielding such a profusion for the good of mankind the adjacent hills were stripped of their ‘golden grain’ by the sickles of the reapers. In this neighbourhood, certainly, they have not only peace but plenty too.”
Tomorrow a poem entitled: A Haul of Mullet.