Mr. Tree to
Brussels , August 25, 1887. (Received September 12.)
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that on Tuesday last, the 23d instant, a rather serious riot was produced by the Belgian fishermen at the port of Ostend.
It seems that English fishing vessels are in the habit of bringing their fish to Ostend for sale; and on Tuesday two of these vessels arrived at the port and proceeded to unload their cargoes for the purpose of disposing of them in the Ostend market. The Belgian fishermen, between whom and their brothers on the other side of the Channel there has been much bad blood for a long time, growing out of various causes, declared that the Englishmen should not land their fish, to be brought into competition with the cargoes of the Ostend fishermen. The men on one of the English boats, nevertheless, persisted in proceeding to deposit their cargo, and had the aid of the police and gendarmes to protect them in their rights. When, however, the cargo was partly landed, the Ostend fishermen, who were all the time growing more and more excited, forced the line of police and gendarmes, which had been drawn up on the dock, around the English vessel, and seizing the fish threw them at their heads. The police and gendarmes finding it impossible to hold their position alone, invoked also the assistance of the civic guard, and on the arrival of the latter the fishermen were driven at the point of the bayonet from the dock.
In the mean time the two English vessels hauled out from dock a few yards, when the Belgian fishermen got into small boats and boarded them. Neither prayers nor menaces could induce them to abandon the vessels which they had taken possession of. The civic guard then advanced to the edge of the dock, and the usual legal summons was made for the rioters to disperse, but without effect.
The men had become terribly excited, and opening their shirts so as to expose their breasts, were crying out to the military, “Tirez! voice [Page 41] nos poitrines; vous verrez de quelle couleur est lesang d’un pêcheur flamand!” The soldiers then tired two volleys over the heads of the rioters, but they made no motion to give up possession of the English boats. The third time they fired directly at the fishermen, killing five of them and wounding several more.
As soon as it was learned that some of their comrades had been killed, all the Belgian fishing-vessels in port were caused by their crews to hoist their flags at half mast in sign of mourning, and great excitement prevailed amongst the fishing population, which was increased by the action of the women, who were wandering about the streets, crying, wringing their hands, and heaping invectives on the heads of foreign fishermen, who, as they declared, are taking the bread from the mouths of their children. In the evening the English vessels put to sea without discharging their cargoes.
The affair may be considered in some degree a culmination of the hostility which has for a long time existed between Belgian and English fishermen.
According to the Belgians, when English nets are cut, as they sometimes are, it is always the Belgians whom they accuse. On the other hand, while the English have always enjoyed the right to sell their fish equally with the Belgians in the Ostend market, and employ steamers in the trade which purchase and take on board their loads of fish from English smacks in the open sea, thus rendering it impossible for the Ostend fishermen to compete with them at their home, syndicates of middlemen in England prevent the sale of their fish in English markets. The Belgians are kept out of France by the heavy duties imposed, and owing to the limited market to which they are confined, and the competition of other nations, especially the English in their own market, the Ostend fishermen are being reduced to starvation and misery.
Matters are more calm to-day, and it is believed there will be no further serious trouble for the moment. In the mean time it is said that England is already making the affair one of diplomatic investigation.
I have, etc.,