On 11th October 1837 herring were landed in St Ives for the first time in 14 years. Not only that but numbers were big. John Tregerthe Short wrote in his diary that between 2,000 and 20,000 fish per boat were taken and sold at 2/6d per hundred. 20,000 herring would be worth £15, according to the Bank of England inflation calculator that would be £1540 in today's money.
But that was just the start. The next day they landed 40-50,000 herring per boat which sold at 2/9d per hundred and this continued through the month and into November. On 6th November JTS reported that the boats landed 120,000 herring between them which sold at 2/- per hundred, total catch value £120 or, in today's money, about £12,300. By 8th November the catch was also including large numbers of mackerel and pilchard.
The pilchard catch continued through November and on the 28th JTS reported that catch was greatest ever taken in one day (up to that time), 60 boat-loads in all.
As the experience with the herring shows, fishing can be unpredictable and the shoals don't always arrive. By 16th February 1838 JTS was able to report that St Ives had sent 26 shiploads of pilchards to Italy totalling 13,588 hogsheads for the season. The following year JTS gave a 10 year running total for the fishery of 89,468 hogsheads with an average of 8,946 hogsheads per year, way below the 1838 figure. But the precarious nature of fishing was illustrated by the size of the pilchard catch for 1839, a mere 3,663 hogsheads, almost 10,000 less than the previous year.
So season 1837-38 was a good one. And good fortune persisted beyond the end of the pilchard exports. On 28th February the most valuable prize ever brought into St Ives (up to that time) was tied up in the harbour. The French brig Generale Foix was on her way from Guadeloupe to Le Havre carrying rum, sugar, coffee and other high value goods. Her logbook recorded that she had shipped a big wave and it seemed that she was then abandoned by her crew. She was towed into St Ives by Caesar and her salvage brought £1000 into St Ives, over £100,000 today.
Plenty of money was made in 1837-38 but it wasn't all good news; ships continued to be lost. In August 1837 Henry Care and his crew survived the loss of the Allen off the Lizard while four days later, on the 1st September, the St Ives was lost on the Manacles with her crew getting off in the boat. In December the brigantine Gem was lost with all hands, skipper and four of the crew from St Ives. On February 15th 1838 a severe gale sank a French smack in St Ives harbour, damaging several other vessels and the next day the schooner Edward was abandoned at sea with the crew subsequently landing at Cork. Not the disastrous losses of some winters but a nonetheless sobering reminder that the riches of the sea are hard won.