Pilotage in Scilly - Dissertation Abstract

The Rise and Fall of the Pilotage Trade in the Isles of Scilly 1800-1900

Dissertation abstract of MA in Maritime History by Sara Stirling (Stirling & Son, Yacht Builders)

Pilotage in the Isles of Scilly had been participated in at least since the seventeenth century, but only became a full-time occupation at the beginning of the nineteenth century with the development of Britain as an industrial power. The inhabitants of the Islands had lived in poverty for centuries, turning from one passing industry to another, the only success, prior to pilotage, coming from smuggling, which was finally stopped by the Preventative force at the turn of the nineteenth century. The pilotage trade came under the regulation of Trinity House in 1810, when only a minority of the men working as pilots were granted licenses, causing conflict that was to last to the end of the century. With seventeen cutters and over one hundred and thirty pilots working from the Islands during the peak of the trade, around 1860, incoming shipping was on the increase and the port of St Maryís was booming. The pilots were ordering larger and faster cutters in order to remain competitive and the industry was looking as if it was destined to last. However, this peak was short lived and by the 1870ís, with the increase of the use of steam and iron, the face of shipping was changing and the pre-industrial Islands were not able to keep up with the pace of progress. With the larger, iron ships not requiring the shelter and services of the Islands, shipping was now bypassing Scilly in preference for the modern facilities of the mainland ports and the pilotage trade was in decline. The Scillonian pilots fought to keep their profession alive, sailing day and night in search of ships to guide into their Isles, but by the 1880ís, outrun and outnumbered by the Falmouth pilots who were taking the last of their trade, they gave up the fight and discarding their cutters turned to the new industry of the Islands, growing flowers.