History Index : Christian Watt


Christian Watt was a fisherman's daughter from the Broch (Fraserburgh) who married a fisherman, and in spite of being courted by two local lairds, she married for love. Her grandmother was an illegitimate daughter of the Frasers of Philorth. She was highly intelligent and well educated, was born in the 1830s and lived to the 1920s.

The life of the fishing people was terribly hard, but the price dropped out of the herring market in the 1870s and their lives were really severe then. She tells of going to school with shoes as a child, but being unable to provide shoes for her own children. She describes how the women followed the fleet as it fished right down the East Coast to Norfolk, gutting and curing. They lived in really basic accommodation, worked sixteen hours a day and, with no rubber gloves, wound cotton strips round their fingers to try to protect them from the sharp knives and salt.

In her forties she lost her husband, her father, a brother, a son and a fifth male member of her family one winter to the sea and entered Cornhill in Aberdeen as an outpatient unable to cope with so much tragedy. Mental breakdown was not understood then as it is now and she was often shunned. The women gutted and cured the fish their men caught and would walk to the West coast and back in the summer selling them, but many previous houses and customers kept their doors closed to her after she went to Cornhill.

She writes of the changes wrought partly by the Clearances, but also by all the new folk from the South (England) who had bought up the old lands of the exiled families. Large numbers of Scots had been forced by economics to go to better prospects in the new lands and many old estates were now run for shooting and sheep by incomers. She had her portrait painted when she was ninety and was particularly upset by the terrible carnage of the First World War. She kept a diary once she went to Cornhill and when these papers were discovered in the 1980s they were edited by David Fraser.

Source: Sir David Fraser ,The Christian Watt Papers, 1983. See Bibliography