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Lincolnshire coastal villages and the sea c.1300 - c.1600 : economy and society

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posted on 04.12.2014, 11:54 by Simon Pawley
The idea that mariners have a distinctive tradition, generated by a view of the world not open to other men, is an old one. "They that go down to the sea In ships, that do business in great waters; they see the works of' the Lord and his wonders In the Deep", says one of the Psalms; emphasizing not only the sense of separation which went with the occupation of seafarer, but a unique proximity to God, which made the sea in general, and fishermen in particular, important images for the medieval church. Even at sea, as the story of Jonah reminded men, nobody could flee from God; while fishing, as James I is said to have pointed out, was "the Apostles' own calling". Educated nineteenth century commentators, less concerned with the dignity this gave to mariners, often regarded them as similar to the primitive societies contemporary explorers encountered overseas. Ebenezer Mather, an Anglican missionary, took the gospel to fishermen at sea, after discovering them to be "the wildest men I had ever encountered". The naturalist, J G Bertram, who was principally interested in the classification and habits of fish, wrote of the marriage customs and superstitions of the "fisher folk" he encountered on the Scottish coast, as curious anecdotes, and at times almost seems to have relegated the majority of fishermen to the status of' uneducated savages: "I have examined every Intelligent fishermen I have met within the last ten years," he complained, "numbering above one hundred, and few have any real knowledge regarding the habits of the fish which it is their business to capture." [Taken from introduction]



Phythian-Adams, Charles

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School of Historical Studies

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University of Leicester

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