The British fishing fleet industry was one of huge importance: it was estimated that in the late 19th century there were 22,000 merchant ships in the country but 30,000 fishing boats, and the industry employed over 100,000 workers. For centuries the main fleets caught herring - the 'silver darlings' - following the shoals as they made their way round the coast. The women followed the men, gutting and packing the fish.
In the days of sail, each region had its own specially designed craft: from the Zulus of Scotland to the Cornish luggers, from drifters to trawlers. But all faced the same hazards of life at sea - and it was the fishermen who, more than any, looked after the lives of other seafarers by manning the lifeboat crews. In the 19th century, steam gradually took over from sail and was in turn replaced by the diesel engine. Fishermen then not only fished home waters, but went to distant waters on long voyages.