Of course by the date that this final decision had been made Mr Gammell was already dead however the original dispute had begun in 1848 when Mr Gammell was very much alive, and continued with appeals and counter appeals in the intervening eleven years. When Mr Gammell died in 1855 his wife, Rosa Ann, took up the cudgels and continued to appeal and fight the courts in an attempt to gain what the Gammell’s assumed was their legal rights as the owners of the lands of Portlethen.
You will already have realised that the subject at stake here was the right to the sea salmon fishings off the local coast. Recounting this early story and quoting the decision of the House of Lords not only fits in with well with the story of Portlethen but is a good precursor as to how sea salmon fishing was regulated in subsequent years. Additionally it possibly sums up a small piece of legal Scottish history.
So when Mr Gammell, or I should say, the tenants on his estate that he had granted a lease to, started salmon fishing off the Portlethen coast did they know they were breaking the law? In fact, were they doing anything illegal at all? Was there a law already in place stating that salmon that were caught in the sea were actually the property of the Crown?
The proprietors in question (Mr Gammell and his tenants) steadfastly refused to recognise the Crown’s claim to the ungranted fishings on the coast at Portlethen, and they ignored requests that they needed to make an arrangement for obtaining authority to work under a title derived from the Crown. In plain English – they didn’t believe that there were any laws in place and they certainly didn’t want the Crown and its associated authorities to get a cut from the revenue that was being generated by the fish they were catching.
Inevitably this was unacceptable to the authorities and it became necessary to start legal proceedings against Mr Gammell – for the maintenance of the Crown’s right, and a summons was raised in January 1849 against Mr Gammell, George Gray and James Hutcheon (the latter pair being the tenants who were involved in salmon fishing off the coast of Portlethen).
So what followed was a protracted legal case that ebbed and flowed for eleven years; a decision made by court, an appeal made by the Defendant, further arguments, more decisions, an appeal to the House of Lords and finally a legal ultimatum that established the rights of the Crown to the sea salmon fishings of the coast of Scotland.
Before Mr Gammell’s case it wasn’t cut and dried who was legally entitled to catch salmon on the sea coasts of Scotland, there didn’t appear to be any law in force at that time and Mr. Gammell took advantage of this particular “loophole” to exercise what he believed to be his own legal right. It would seem that Mr. Gammell’s action spurred the Crown into action and as a result laws and regulations were introduced around 1859 that firmly established, in the eyes of the law courts, the Crown as the rightful legal owners of the coastal salmon fishings in Scotland.
It was soon after this that further regulations were written up in respect to the type of salmon fishing that could take place in the sea; the length of the salmon fishing season (what date it started and ended on), what type of nets could legally be used, and what days or times of the week when fishing could take place.
The Crown itself wasn’t particularly interested in developing salmon fishing stations around the Scottish coasts, employing it’s own salmon fishers, or creating a monopolised industry of their own. Their intention was to establish their rights to the coastal waters and lease these rights and related properties to commercial enterprise under a regulated set of rules and ultimately this is what started to happen around the Scottish coasts.
Had Mr Gammell been alive in 1860 he could still have established salmon fishing stations of his own on the coast of Portlethen and sublet to his tenants but instead of being in control of his own destiny he would have paid a rent to the Crown and abided by their regulations and restrictions. Very probably he could have still made some money out of this enterprise but would have lost a chunk of any profit by having to pay the Crown for his right to fish the sea next to his land.