In the fifteenth century, around a small creek in the 600-million-year-old rocks on the Phingask Coast of Moray Firth in North-east Scotland, grew a small fishing community. Its identity became the settlement of Pitullie. A few hardy families battled with the North Sea to thrive on its harvest of fish. A self-sufficient entity evolved as the feudal "Land of the Pitullies", with the skills necessary to support village life. Later, in the neighbouring "Land of Pittendrum", a village known as Seatown of Pittendrum was renamed - Sandhaven.
1835 - The Fishermen's Dream!
In 1835, the fishermen of Pitullie had a dream and a vision – a New Harbour! A haven whereby fishermen would not have to leave “their houses and their families” to engage in the fishing.
They pledged their names and their resources to make it happen!
In a humble petition of 19th July 1835 to The Honourable Commissioners of Herring Fishing, in Edinburgh, they stated:
“That the present boat haven at Pitullie is very inconvenient, unsafe and not capable of improvement so as that Herring Fishing could not be prosecuted there. That in place of Fishing Herrings at home or near it (which the subscribed are anxious to do) the Petitioners are obliged to engage each season to fish at other stations and leave their houses and families.
“That at Sandhaven about half a mile East from Pitullie, an excellent haven or harbour could be made at moderate Expense and as such a Harbour would be a very great convenience to the subscribers they would be willing to bear a proportion of the expense!”.
Approval was given and a 14-acre (3.25 hectare) harbour built at a cost of £4205, the Commissioners to pay 75% and the fishermen 25%. The laird, Sir John Forbes, paid the fishermen’s portion of £1057-5s, and was repaid by them in kind by fish landings over a period of four years.
By this year, 46 boats fished from the port of Sandhaven, whose economy prospered with the linked trades of gutting, packing, coopering and some coastal cargo trade. Community life and social leisure centred on the Harbour. Subsequently, Sandhaven was classified as one of the safest harbours on the North-east coast, with over 100 fishing boats and employing more than 700 men. 12 curing stations were set up employing over 60 coopers and 300 fish workers, mainly families of the local fishermen.
The present Harbour replaced the original. The advent of the Great War saw the fishing market, exports and operational income spiral into decline. The replacement of sail by the introduction of steam drifters, needing bigger harbours such as Fraserburgh, further contributed to severe communal deprivation.
The owner, Lord Clinton, closed the Harbour following a long period of economic loss. From that time to the present Project, almost total absence of maintenance has resulted in the current state of dilapidation.
Wreck of the Acheen
Fraserburgh Herald 1949 June 7th, p3 Col.4
Wreck of the “Acheen” – 1882
In an old book, “Reminiscences of Wrecks in St. Andrew’s Bay” by George Bruce, Provost of St. Andrews about 1885, occurs the following passage which may be of interest to some of the older generation of Pitullie and Sandhaven : -
“The Plimsoll’s Merchant Shipping Act of 1876 was intended for foreign-going ships, unseaworthy over-loaded and over-insured. But it fell like a thunderbolt upon British Coasting, fairly driving it off the sea and handling our very ships over to the foreigner for a mere song to carry it on. Yellow-buttoned British Surveyors hamstrung their own coasters. The ship – probably the skipper’s all – condemned or forced to lay out upon her more than she was worth – the poor British owner was ruined while the foreigner bought the cast-aside ship for a mere trifle, Laughing up his sleeves at the grand Philanthropy of the British laws, and gave him the coasting trade to carry on as the thought fit with any old box he pleased./ Not content with ruining many, and driving most small British Coaster off the sea if any be –which was wrecked and her crew drowned – he ran the risk of being branded as a murderer, as the following report shows in February 1883: - The Board of Trade Inquiry into the loss of the small schooner Acheen of Sunderland 58 tons register, was held in Fraserburgh. Mr Rothery, Wreck Commissioner, presided. The nautical Assessors were Captains Ward and Grant. Amid breathless silence, the Court found the owner to blame for not taking proper measures after his purchase, regarding her age and small price, to look into her condition; not being subjected to a proper and sufficient overhaul and not thoroughly repaired. The load-line did not give sufficient freeboard, that she was partly rotten; and that if the anchors had been let down, there is a probability for the loss of life on board must rest with him.
The Aucheen bound for Sunderland from Wick with a cargo of coal, was caught in a northerly gale while crossing the Moray Firth. Dismasted and out of control, the vessel drifted before the gale and finally ran ashore below Sandhaven, in a trink between the Craigullie and Stevenie rocks. The Fraserburgh Rocket Apparatus crew attempted without success to get into communication, and the Life-boat was summoned. So great was the fury of the tempest however that the ship rapidly broke up, the forepart only remaining above the water. The skipper and his wife along with two of the crew, clung desperately to this part, but a huge wave washed them off. One man, presumably the mate grasping a small ladder, reached close to the rocks at the Cobble Shore and was within a few yards of being rescued when he sank exhausted. The body was recovered some hours later and was laid out in the Pitullie Church which was being built at that time, afterwards being interred in the Kirkyard at Old Pitsligo. On the following day, a Sandhaven lady, the late Jean Sim (Shannie), while gathering coal washed ashore from the wreck, found in the Gwites a part of a woman’s leg in a long lacing boot, and also one of the Ship’s name boards which she kept for many years and which may still be in existence. This disaster which occurred on the 28th November 1882, cast a profound shadow over the neighbourhood and may still be fresh in the memories of some of the older inhabitants.
Last year, when Mr. James Smith, fisherman, Sandhaven, was searching at low water for partan creels, he found in a crevice between Craigullie and Stevenie, a copper bolt which is probably a relic of the Acheen.
Wm. Spence Forsyth F.S.A. (Scot.)
Schoolmaster at Leuchars, Fife.
By Wm. Spence Forsyth (1943), The Guff O’Waur
I steed upon Sandhaven's pier
Upon a simmer's morn,
And scanned the hairbour desolate and bare.
As in a trance I seemed to hear
On northern breezes bourne,
A by-gane medley fillin' a' the air.
An eerie licht came' fae the sky,
Transformin' a' the scene ;
The desolation cheenged to bustlin' life.
Noo strappin' fishermen flit by,
Contentment in their een ;
Nae thochts ha'e they o' future warldly strife.
There's Sims and Mitchells, who for long
Ha'e formed Pitullie's clans,
There Addisons and Smiths fae wast the coast,
There's Fairmers, Beels and Dougals strong,
And Shannies, Trails and Sans ;
There's Nobles tee and Barrons in the host.
There's heilan'men fae far Portree,
And Pennan Wests and Gatts,
And Ritchies fae Rosehearty's auld Sea-toon :
There's Buchans, Cows and Duthie's tee,
And weel-faur'd Gamrie Watts'
And mony a spin'le-shankit skummer loon.
The broon-faced fishers tyauve and rug,
and fender-aff the sides
As fifies, Skaffs, and Zulus edge and squeeze
To gain the channel, whaur the tug
Wi' whirrin' paddles rides
To tow them oot against the onshore breeze.
And Captain Trail wi' cuppit han's
Snaps orders sharp and clear,
And guttin' quines look on demure and shy,
And smatchit loons wi' poddley wan's
Gang scamperin' roun' the pier'
And scutter into everybody's wye.
A scurrie scronnachs ower my heid
And br'aks the mystic spell.
The vision vanished on the simmer air ;
The port was teem, the pier was deid ;
I steed there by mysel'
And m'urned the scene sae desolate and bare.