Whitby Museum seeks your help in solving mystery of name on tunny bone

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In Whitby Museum stores there is a tunny bone inscribed with the words “Bone of tunny fish Mr A Hunter” about which nothing else is known. Nothing!

Normally when items are donated to a museum details of the acquisition are recorded: name of donor, date of donation, along with any other information.

RECORD:  The unofficial British record Tunny caught off Whitby in 1949 by John Hedley Lewis, on his first ever fishing trip. Picture courtesy of Wood End Museum.

RECORD: The unofficial British record Tunny caught off Whitby in 1949 by John Hedley Lewis, on his first ever fishing trip. Picture courtesy of Wood End Museum.

In this case nothing is recorded in the acquisitions book.

It is unknown who gave the tunny bone to the museum, or when, or who Mr Hunter was, or why he had this fish bone in his possession.

It must have been quite special to him; hence he wrote his name on it and he kept it.

Did he gift it to the museum at some point or did his family find it when going through his possessions when he died? Is there a descendent of Mr A Hunter reading this article who can shed some light on this mystery?

Seaweed feature with Jane Pottas''w134816a

Seaweed feature with Jane Pottas''w134816a

This bone came to light during a visit to the stores in Whitby Museum in search of things to display in the seashore cabinet when it is refurbished.

There are a number of items associated with tunny fishing already on display in the cabinet and with the current interest in reviving tunny fishing in Britain I set out to see if I could find out any more about the subject in general and about this bone and Mr Hunter in particular.

Tunny fishing was a popular sport in Britain in the first half of the 20th century for big game fishermen (and a few women) with much of the action taking place off the Yorkshire coast.

Atlantic blue fin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, were regularly seen in the North Sea as they followed the herring shoals which were their prey. The tunny followed the herring and the rich and famous followed the tunny.

In 1933 the British Tunny Club was founded and established its headquarters in Scarborough. The club drew up and enforced regulations which governed the fishing methods; the equipment to be used – reels, line, hooks, bait etc; stipulated the techniques for catching, landing and weighing the fish; and issued certificates. Members travelled to Scarborough and hired boats and skippers to take them out to the fishing grounds where they battled with the mighty fish, sometimes for hours at a time, before returning to harbour exhausted but exhilarated by their experience and sometimes with a tunny which was weighed and often displayed to an admiring public who would pay a few pence to see such a creature before it was despatched to a canning factory and then sold as tinned tuna.

One of these big game fishermen was Lorenzo Mitchell-Henry who pioneered tunny fishing in Nova Scotia and later in the North Sea. Mitchell-Henry himself designed specialist tunny-fishing equipment and developed tunny fishing techniques (which he wrote about in his book “Tunny Fishing at Home and Abroad”, published in 1934) and this brought him into conflict with the British Tunny Club whose rules and regulations he rejected.

He refused to join the club and was critical of those that did, considering them to be guilty of using unsporting methods.

He transferred his seasonal tunny fishing base to Whitby and it was here in August 1932 that he caught, and successfully landed, the first English tunny to be caught on rod and line.

It weighed 700 lb. He donated the mounted tail to Whitby Museum where it is on display alongside a photograph of Mitchell-Henry with his catch. In 1933 he took the world record with a fish of 851lb which was also caught off Whitby.

Sport fishing for tunny continued in the North Sea for a number of years but declined in the 1940s and eventually ceased in the 1950s and the British Tunny Club held its last meeting in May 1956.

The archives of the British Tunny Club and other historical information about tunny fishing as well as a number of articles associated with tunny fishing, including fishing gear, and the leather harness worn by Mitchell-Henry when he was struggling to catch and land tunny, are held in Scarborough Museum.

References to Whitby in the archives are few and there is no mention of Mr A Hunter in the club records, although a log book recording details of boats hired to take people out tunny fishing does include mention of Whitby, for example 7/9/33 (tunny) fish seen 30 miles E by N of Whitby, Boat – Mizpah II, Skipper Dryden; or September 7, 1946 ME Wild aboard the Georgiana left Whitby midnight, Boatman Tom Pashby, 2 fish caught 567 and 586 lb, 8 miles ENE Whitby.

So, the mystery surrounding the tunny bone and Mr A Hunter remain. If you can shed some light on this or have any other information or artefacts relating to Scarborough’s connection with tunny fishing, do get in touch with Whitby Museum or contact Jane Pottas.