Great Yarmouth History

The Share System

How Driftermen were paid

Traditionally, fishermen of all complexions, and driftermen were no exception, were not paid a weekly wage but took a share of the voyages profits, if there were any. This led to a precarious existence, not only for the driftermen and their families but also for the traders of fishing ports such as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The way the driftermen were paid meant they were forced to buy "on the slate" and pay their debts when they got paid. Traders often wrote off debts in lean periods as they had no hope of getting their money. The share a crew member received was calculated after all the expenses and the costs of the owner were deducted from the monies that were forthcoming from the sale of the catch. It was not a fair share as the owner was, probably, never too much out of pocket even on a bad trip. The owners also took a share of the drifters nett earnings.

In Lowestoft the owners took 62.5% against the crew's 37.5% and in Great Yarmouth the owners took 55.5% against the crew's 44.5%. Lowestoft tended to have large companies operating the drifters, which may have led to higher costs manifesting itself in the share they took or perhaps they were greedier? I leave you to make up your own mind. The share system was modified after the first world war.The driftermen were still paid on the share system but they received a weekly wage which would be offset against their share when the catch was sold.

The table below shows the share each crew member might typically expect. If the total number of shares in the drifter was worked out to be 24 shares (owner took 15 shares, crew took 9 shares) then one share would be calculated to be £4-3-4d of every £100 nett profit. This leaves 2 1/8th shares to be given out by the skipper as he saw fit, this usually went to obtain a good cook.

The Share System

So, if for example the voyage made £400 profit then

the crews combined share would be £400 / 24 x 9 = £150

The Skipper's share would be £150 / 72 x 10 = £20-16-7d (£20.83p)

In the event of a bad catch and no profit they could be in debt to the firm that employed them. Believe it or not the share system was so complex that many fishermen, even after a lifetime of being paid under the system had little idea how it was calculated. Capital costs, such as the cost of the drifter itself, the engines, the nets and the capstan were added to the running costs of the trip. So the driftermen were paying the total costs of the business. During the Great Depression there was particular hardship. When boats were laid up the driftermen could not get dole money.

The reasoning behind this was that since the men received a share of the profits from fishing trips they were deemed part owners of the vessels and as such not entitled to the dole. To get any help they had to sell any possesions of worth and then they might get work in the Oulton Workhouse, since workhouses still existed at this time or work for the council on municipal works. In the U.S.A. they may think they have just invented workfare but it was alive and kicking in Norfolk and Suffolk in the early part of the 20th century.