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Fishing vessel graveyard, 600m NNE of Binsness Cottage, Findhorn Bay

A Scheduled Monument in Forres, Moray

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Latitude: 57.6523 / 57°39'8"N

Longitude: -3.6218 / 3°37'18"W

OS Eastings: 303308

OS Northings: 863640

OS Grid: NJ033636

Mapcode National: GBR K8FH.FNP

Mapcode Global: WH5GY.BXKL

Entry Name: Fishing vessel graveyard, 600m NNE of Binsness Cottage, Findhorn Bay

Scheduled Date: 29 July 2020

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13730

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: shipwreck

Location: Dyke and Moy/Dyke and Moy

County: Moray

Electoral Ward: Forres

Traditional County: Morayshire


The monument comprises the remains of abandoned sailing fishing vessels, visible as wrecks and related debris, partially buried in intertidal sediments on the west side of Findhorn Bay.

The group of fishing vessels consists of the remains of at least 30 Zulu-type sail-powered fishing drifters used in the late 19th and early 20th century in connection with the commercial herring fishery on the northeast coast of Scotland. The remains include visible survival of structural hull timbers, fixtures and fittings of 14 vessels. Distinctive piles of stone ballast are likely to enclose the hull structure of a further 16 vessels. 

The scheduled area is irregular and includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the history of the Scottish commercial fisheries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

b.   The monument retains structural and physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding of the past. The survival of elements of hull structure, deck fittings, hauling machinery, sailing gear and ballast can enhance our understanding of the design, construction and operation of the Zulu class of sailing fishing drifter and their evolution from earlier vessel designs to improve speed and manoeuvrability.

c.   The vessels surviving at Findhorn Bay are rare surviving examples of a class of fishing vessel of which over 3500 examples were built.  

d.   The monument is a good representative example of an important although relatively short-lived design of fishing vessel used widely in Scotland during a period of rapid changes in maritime technology as sail power was superseded by steam- and then diesel-propulsion.

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the Scottish fishing industry. The Zulu design originated in the local area (first commissioned at Lossiemouth in 1878) but came to dominate the east coast herring fishery during the last two decades of the 19th century. The design reflects the development and expansion of Scottish fisheries and wider still, industrial development along the east coast of Scotland.   

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the historic landscape. The fleet was abandoned in Findhorn Bay, a natural, sheltered harbour along the Moray coast and possibly, a wintering location for these boats. It represents the herring industry at the time and the gradual decline of commercial fishing that took place within the smaller vernacular harbours as fishing effort became increasingly concentrated in a few much larger fishing ports on the east coast of Scotland.

g.  The monument has significant associations with historical, traditional, social or artistic figures, events or movements. The design of the Zulus may have been influenced by the disastrous loss of lives in a storm in 1848 and the subsequent report to parliament indicating existing fishing boat design and proposals for new, safer designs. The name 'Zulu' was adopted in 1879, to resonate with the Zulu wars taking place in Southern Africa. The use of Zulus came to an end with the introduction of steam and diesel propulsion but also, the onset of the First World War.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics

The scheduling field assessment confirms the findings of field investigation (Scape Trust 2017) in identifying survival of at least 30 fishing vessels, located within an area of 600m by 50m in a sheltered sand and shingle embayment on the west bank of the River Findhorn. The visible hull structure of the 14 vessels includes sections of mostly carvel-built hull (the hull planking is side-by-side rather than overlapping as in 'clinker' style); stern and stem posts; keels of beech and larch; timber frames, possibly of oak and larch; floor timbers; rudders; and mast steps. The construction and design of these vessels is consistent with the Zulu class of sail-powered fishing drifter. The presence of clinker planking on one of the hulls is thought to be a later version in the overall design class and represents an interesting variant to the normal carvel planking seen on vessels of this size (Graham & Hambly, forthcoming). 

Researchers consider that, at a further 16 locations on the foreshore, distinctive, butterfly-shaped stone ballast mounds are likely to enclose the hull structure of other vessels. The stone ballast was stored inside the hull of a fishing vessel and helped to improve stability underway. In addition to the hull remains, there are visible fixtures and fittings including boilers (used to power a winch or capstan), capstans (for hauling ropes and nets) and smaller mounds of stone ballast. There is also high potential for survival of buried deposits of hull structure, fixtures and fittings within the sand and shingle of the foreshore.

These remains at Findhorn can significantly enhance our understanding of the Zulu class of sail-powered fishing drifter, its design, boatbuilding, and operation. There was much variation in the design and construction of fishing boats prior to the introduction of the Zulu. Two designs predominated in Scotland during the 19th century - the 'Scaffie' and the 'Fifie'. The Zulu combined the best elements of these two designs – the straight vertical stem of the Fifie and a raked stern taken from the Scaffie. This hybrid design was first commissioned in Lossiemouth (by a Mr William Campbell) in 1878 – the first example, with a keel length of approximately 12 metres was named 'Nonesuch' (Inverness registration INS2118). Ballast on these boats was approximately 30 tons and when sailed efficiently, they could reach speeds of 11 knots (approximately 20kph). Oars or sweeps were used to manoeuvre Zulus in light winds or confined spaces.

There is no evidence in the form of surviving machinery that might indicate the Findhorn Bay examples were power-driven. Researchers believe that the vessels at Findhorn are probably examples of the larger and later 1st class Zulu sailing drifter design, measuring more than 15m in length. This collection of vessels illustrates a watershed moment in maritime technology in the commercial fishery as sail gave way to steam.

Contextual characteristics

Although Zulus were once commonplace (over 3500 are known to have been built) the remains of at Findhorn Bay represent rare surviving examples of this craft. Other known examples in the archaeological record include a surviving fleet of 1st class and smaller Zulus, abandoned on the southern shore of Loch Fleet, Sutherland (see HMS case 300042545). The Edindoune, a Zulu built in 1903 (and converted to motor propulsion) lies on the seabed of Scapa Flow - a casualty of an onboard fire with no loss of life (Sula Diving, 2018). The hull of Research, a large, first class Zulu, also dating to 1903, is on display at the Scottish Fisheries Museum, Anstruther. The National Register of Historic Vessels (NRHV) has entries for four surviving Zulus (including Research which is on the National Historic Fleet, denoting a vessel of pre-eminent national or regional significance). However, the wider archaeological record for all types of wooden sailing drifter, is particularly sparse.

The National Record of the Historic Environment has only 68 records for 'drifters' out of a record population of 361 for the broad class of recorded 'fishing vessel'. There is potential to compare the remains at Findhorn Bay with examples of the earlier 'Fifie' class, as represented by at least seven abandoned vessels on the southern shore of Aberlady Bay, East Lothian (Scheduled Monument No. 10471 and Canmore references: 10202, 268126-34, 322283).

Fishing and fisheries in Scotland underwent considerable change throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Fishing had traditionally been a small-scale community activity with small, inshore and open-decked sailing boats launched from beaches and naturally sheltered bays and inlets, harvesting species such as white fish, salmon and herring, inland or close to shore. Line fishing was complemented by drift netting at greater distances offshore. Government incentives had been used to increase these catches and to develop export markets. 'Crown' branding was used to guarantee quality in the processed products, for export to expanding markets such as in the Baltic Sea region. The nationwide annual production of 50,000 barrels of processed herring at the turn of the 19th century rose to over 1 million barrels by the 1880s. With an increasing demand for processed herring, larger fishing grounds were found at greater distances from Scottish shores and with this, bigger boats were needed to harvest the bigger catches, together with improved landing and processing facilities. A storm in the Moray Firth in August 1848 brought fishing safety into sharp focus with the loss of 100 fishers and 124 boats, many while trying to enter safe havens. These and other factors influenced the introduction of the Zulu, a new and very successful fishing boat design that was faster than existing designs, more manoeuvrable, and able to land larger catches.

By 1900, 11 years after the launch of the first Zulu at Lossiemouth, nearly 500 Zulus had been registered in Buckie alone. Fishery returns for the second half of the 19th century indicate two complementary trends – greater numbers of larger boats and fewer numbers of smaller boats. Modifications to the initial Zulu design included a steam driven winch or capstan which greatly helped the fishing crews to haul much larger, heavier catches (some of these boats were carrying up to 50 nets – the result of improved, lighter, cotton-based nets). By 1910, steam propulsion had been introduced on larger, new build vessels. Motor power was combined with the sail plans of existing Zulus to afford even greater reach, although this retrofitting was problematic. Ultimately, the introduction of power propulsion and steam drifters effectively marked the end of sail as the primary means of propulsion in the herring fishery. The outbreak of the First World War, with enlistment and the home front focusing on support for the war effort, decimated the national fishing fleet – many vessels including Zulus were simply abandoned. Within months, the reduced crewing of these fishing boats made fishing untenable and many fleets were simply moored up, as if for winter storage – many were never to go to sea again. Significant numbers of steam drifters were requisitioned for war duties.

Findhorn is recorded in 1891 as only having one 1st class Zulu. There is local and regional variation along the Moray coast, with rises and falls in the number of boats and the numbers of herring barrels produced. This contrasts with the national picture - a steady increase, up to the start of the First World War. Researchers think that the formation of the site at Findhorn Bay took place gradually rather than as the result of one episode, culminating with the onset of the First World War. As a naturally sheltered area, Findhorn Bay had been favoured by fishing boats sheltering against bad weather, and as an over-wintering haven. There is a tradition of fishing at Findhorn village on the east side of the bay and the wider area was known for salmon fishing prior to the expansion of fisheries nationwide. Further afield, the rivers and coastline of Moray were ideal for line fishing white fish, salmon and subsequently herring. The east coast herring fishery became concentrated around the harbours of the Northeast and Fife coasts. By the mid-1850s, there were more than 100 fishing settlements – 25 between Berwick and St Andrews; 60 between Dundee and Nairn (including Findhorn) and more than 20 along the Caithness coastline between Embo and Freswick. The abandonment of this site illustrates how, during the 20th century, technological innovation impacted traditional fishing communities in the smaller vernacular harbours of the east coast as fishing became increasingly focussed on a smaller number of larger fishing ports.

The surviving group of Zulus at Findhorn Bay is therefore likely to represent many aspects of fisheries development and its impact in Scotland: the rapidity of technological change in fishing boat design and function; the final stages of the Scottish sailing drifters and; broader trends shaping one of Scotland's major industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries including the impact of the First World War. The proximity of this group to the original Zulu, 'Nonesuch' built at nearby Lossiemouth adds interest given that the design appears to have originated in the Moray Firth.

Associative characteristics

The presence of designs and plans, historic photographs, Fisheries Society records and accounts of life on board add to our collective understanding of the Zulu class. This documentation complements the paucity of known archaeological remains of Zulus. In particular, historic photographs from the late 1800s / early 1900s show a fleet of Zulus hauled out onto the shore at the west side of Findhorn Bay. The photographs show Zulus registered from Banff ('BF' markings) and many of them with single masts.

More generally and following the storm noted above, in 1849, a report to Parliament (the Washington Report) pointed to the inadequacy of existing, mostly open-decked boats working at greater distances from land. It set out the variations in the design of fishing boats in Britain and with the assistance of a naval architect, drew up suggested designs for an improved, safer, sail-powered vessel. It is likely that the report exerted some influence in thinking which, may have led to the design of Zulu boats and the commissioning by Mr William Campbell of Lossiemouth of the first Zulu, 'Nonesuch'.

The name Zulu was derived from the Anglo-Zulu wars of 1879 in which three Scottish regiments took part.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Moray Council HER/SMR Reference NJ06SW0125 (accessed on 07/04/2020).

Graham, E and Hambly, J, (forthcoming), A Tale of two fishing boat graveyards in, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Gray, M, 1978, The fishing industries of Scotland, 1790-1914. A study of regional adaptation. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

I'Anson, M, 2013, Scotland's East coast fishing industry. Stenlake Publishing. Catrine.

Newland, K, 1999, The Zulu herring drifter. A case study of historic vessel preservation at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in, Stavanger Museums Arbok, 1998, 108, 83-104.

Prescott, H D, 1996, Scottish 'Zulu' herring drifters. Unpublished typescript Masters dissertation. Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies. University of St Andrews.

Scape Trust, 2017, Findhorn Bay boat graveyard. Data Structure Report. Typescript survey report. University of St Andrews.

Smylie, M, 2011, Traditional fishing boats of Britain and Ireland. Design, history and evolution. Amberley. Stroud.

Sula Diving, 2018, Wreck of the Edindoune (BF1118), Scapa Flow, Orkney. Unpublished research report or Historic Environment Scotland.

Tanner, M, 1996, Scottish Fishing boats. Shire publications. Princes Risborough.

Washington, J, 1849, Report on the loss of life, and damage caused to fishing boats on the East Coast of Scotland, in the gale of 19 August 1848. Typescript Report to Parliament.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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