|The poaching of oysters is recorded in the history of the island at least from the 18th century. As early as 1789 the theft of oysters was rife enough to see the setting up of a Protection Association to regulate the oyster trade and dissuade poaching. In 1808 a watch house was built on the Cob Marsh to do just this. . In 1809 four Harwich men were jailed for stealing Oysters from William Haward a member of well known oyster fishing family still very much in operation today.
By the Victorian period the newly formed (1874) Oyster company was worried enough about theft of oysters to pay a portion (5 per cent) of the wages of special constables. In the 1890s however there were plans, never realised as we shall see, to resort to 'new technology' and acquire a racy steam launch.
Notes plans and correspondence dating to 1897 held by the Essex Record Office (D/F 106/4/3) make a financial case for dispensing
with 3 of the 5 watch boats and 7 watchmen, some specified as weekend staff and some as 'marsh watchmen' with
police constables using a fast steam launch. Two boats named MILLIE and BETSY are recommended to be kept on their
usual station so more watchmen existed.
The proposed launch it is argued, would save some £190. The cost given for the existing boats, the coal to heat
them, and the wages of the 7 watchmen (inc weekend watchmen) is given as £474. The wages for 3 constables
(28 shillings per week each) and a clothing allowance is given as £284. There would be police on duty day and
night according to the document. In the June of 1897 the company was corresponding with Cox and King Yacht brokers
regarding a second hand vessel VIOLET whose owners, in the opinion of the brokers would sell for £250. The VIOLET
has a full inventory provided with items as varied as; an anchor and 30 fathoms of chain to velvet cushions for the
saloon and a wood chopper for the stove and an oil can for the engine. A larger vessel the NELLIE is also offered but at an unknown price.
Early in July 1897 the company exchanged correspondence with Forrestt & Sons Shipbuilders of Wyvenhoe who also offer the VIOLET and an offer to build a new vessel. The proposed vessel, for which plans exist, was to be some 38 feet in length, have a compound steam engine giving a top speed of 10 knots. The new vessel, in wood would cost £600 while a steel version of the same specifications would have been £585. In the event none of the above options were taken up
It would have been a handsome craft however.
Artist's tracing of one of the images in the plan.