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T-Wharf: 1903

T-Wharf: 1903

Circa 1903. "Unloading fish at 'T' wharf, Boston, Mass." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Salt Bankers

Lots to be learned from this photo. As Stanton Square says, it would be cod that the ships are carrying, most likely filleted and salted, as described in Kipling's "Captains Courageous."

But what's not well known is the carts tipped up to receive the catch and the well-dressed men -- not stevedores, surely -- who seem to be there to negotiate price and how much of the catch they are prepared to buy.

Technical types who have read Chapelle's "American Fishing Schooners" will recognize the vessels as post-"Fredonia" and therefore recent in the time of the photo.


I believe these are cod fishing schooners. The telltale signs are the baskets of coiled line and the stack of dories on each ship. Prior to modern trawling, cod was fished with long lines of baited hooks. Multiple groups of fisherman would set out from the mother ship in the dories and and handfish for the cod with the coiled lines. Each fisherman's take was carefully tallied so that they would receive their appropriate share when the entire hold was sold at market. All that changed with the introduction of steam powered fishing boats. Sailboats were not powerful enough to drag the trawl nets along the ocean floor but steam could provide the needed power. The introduction of trawl nets, which essentially scoop up everything on the bottom, forever changed the marine ecosystems of Georges and Grand Banks, eventually leading to decimation of the cod stocks today.

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