The year 1921 was a timeof economic disaster for the fishing communities of north-east Scotland. But the despair of the fisher folk led them to turn to God
The early years of this century had been a boom time for the fishing industry of north-east Scotland. Almost 90 per cent of the working population earned their living landing and processing herring. But it was all soon to change. The 1914-18 war robbed the herring fleets of their European customers. The government could only underwrite the losses for two years beyond that. Fishermen could not get a living wage and many faced bankruptcy. Fishermen tied up their boats and went on strike, but without any effect.
Despairing of any human help, the fishing community turned to prayer. Being of staunch calvinist stock, they saw the severe problems as a sign of God's anger at their complacency. They began to repent of their sins.
God caused two very different streams to flow together and create the torrent of revival. One was a mission to local villages by an itinerant missionary, Fred clark. It was traditional preaching of the gospel. The other was a wave of renewal centred on East Anglia where a converted barrel-maker, Jack Troup, was preaching powerfully.
Clark's preaching reached the women and childen of the area while the fishing fleet was away. The men were convicted by Troup's sermons when they landed in East Anglia. After the fleet finally returned to Fraserburgh and Peterhead in the autumn, awakened husbands and sons were reunited with awakened wives and daughters.
Jack Troup was guided in a dream to travel up to that part of Scotland and people flocked in their hundreds from this thinly populated region to hear him. A newspaper reporter from Aberdeen noted: "Without saying a word he raised his right arm and everyone in the hall, even those in the street, knelt down and prayed. Within a minute sounds of sobbing came from every part of the hall, and a woman's voice cried, "0 Lord, forgive and forget!".
Then Troup preached. He had, said the journalist, the noisiest vo ice he had ever heard and did not need a microphone! Some cried out under conviction, others shouted hallelujahs, and many streamed forward to commit their lives to the Lord. "Then," said the reporter, "came a perfect tornado of unsuppressed prayer, the voices so mingled that only here and there could the voices be distinguished.
"After the meeting I saw seventeen boys and girls kneeling in prayer in the street, and 200 fishermen down by their boats on the shore, listening as parables were read and explained to them. After each explanation the men knelt down together on the shore and engaged silently in prayer, wringing their hands, their bodies swaying to and fro."
Local churches of every denomination were mobilised to 'pull in the nets'. All along the Moray Firth congregations swelled. The Salvation Army alone claimed 600 new converts that year. It was estimated at the time that throughout the region some ten thousand souls were saved through the 'fishermen's revival'.
Some converts told of coming under such conviction of sin that they fell to the ground, but the majority came to the Saviour with quiet joy. A few conversions made the headlines: noted drunkards, a gang of local Peter-head thugs, even some who had initially opposed and mocked the revival.
What is perhaps most striking is the background of the converts. "They are," says the reporter, "predominantly young men aged 15-25; some of them had previously been notorious characters, but the majority had simply been indifferent to religion."
This article has been extracted from Revival Fires, available online from the Jesus People Shop.
Source: The Fishermen's Revival, J.LDuthie (History Today, vol 33, 1983).