GEORGE FREDERICK M C CORQUODALE 1853 - 1936
Crawford Little celebrates George Fredrick Mccorquodale
Crawford Little celebrates the lives of history’s finest salmon-fishers. This month, the Spey laird who caught 10,000 fish
IF THE SHEER number of salmon caught by an individual is the surest measure of greatness, George Frederick Mccorquodale was in a league of his own. Indeed, Major Hon. John Ashleycooper – perhaps the great salmon-fisher of the post-war generation – described Mccorquodale as the greatest salmon fisherman of all time. G.F. Mccorquodale fished the Spey from 1891 to 1935 and in those years accounted for 8,924 Spey salmon – mainly from Tulchan but also from what was to become the Brae Water at Gordon Castle, which he fished in spring and autumn. Plus more than a thousand fish from other Scottish rivers, taking his total to over 10,000 salmon with many falling for a Jock Scott – his favourite fly. What sets great salmon-fishers apart from the common herd? Their success is undoubtedly built on flair in using their tackle and understanding the behaviour of the fish, which grows with experience. Then comes a willingness to invest considerable time and effort. But there is another requirement that cannot be avoided. For all but a very lucky few, what you need to catch thousands of fish is very deep pockets filled with bucket-loads of cash. So, in truth the story of George Frederick Mccorquodale’s success with salmon starts with his father, also George Mccorquodale (1817-1895), at the close of the Victorian era. George the elder owned a printing works in Lancashire that specialised in working for the ever-growing railways – printing tickets, timetables and the likes. During the 1870s, he opened further printing works in Glasgow, London and Leeds. All this brought George to the attention of Sir Richard Moon, chairman of the London and North Western Railways, who realised the printer might provide a solution to a problem that had arisen in the North Buckinghamshire town of Wolverton. A solution that would require both business acumen and a willingness to indulge in social engineering. Wolverton had developed fast in the industrialisation of Britain. Railway works had opened in 1838, and 40 years later provided employment for 4,600 men. However, there was little if any employment in the works for women and this meant the unmarried daughters of the railwaymen and other locals were forced to move out of the area to find employment. Leaving a growing number of frustrated bachelors in their wake. With that in mind, Sir Richard was keen to see clean and safe employment provided for girls and younger women in Wolverton and approached Mccorquodale, who agreed to open a new printing works in the town in 1878. With just 20 employees at the start, Mccorquodale soon introduced shorter working hours, contributory pension funds, paid holidays, a mutual sick society, and even a dining room. The factory expanded to the point where they were employing about 800 girls between the ages of 13 and 21. However, the girls lost their jobs in the print factory just as soon as they married – clearing the way for more unmarried girls to gain employment in Wolverton, thus gladdening the hearts of succeeding generations of younger railway men.
GEORGE THE ELDER married Louisa Kate Honan in 1844, and they had nine children before she died in 1870. Their eldest son died in 1868, aged just 23, leaving George Frances as the oldest male heir. His father married a second time, to Emily Sanderson, who produced two more children, the youngest being Lieut. Hugh Stewart Mccorquodale who was killed in action at Spion Kop in 1900, while serving with Thornycroft’s Mounted Infantry in the Boer War. When their father died in 1895 the remaining Mccorquodales were left an estate valued at £439,396 (about £50 million in today’s terms). They set about expanding the business, but it wasn’t all work and no play… As mentioned earlier, George Frederick Mccorquodale first fished the Spey in 1891. Like many before and since, perhaps he realised there was nowhere in the world he’d rather be. He became a regular guest of banker Sir Philip Sassoon who was a close friend and financial advisor to King Edward VII, as well as the
the greatest salmon fisherman of all time”
shooting, stalking and fishing tenant at Tulchan, which was the “fishing box” of the Earls of Seafield. In the fullness of time, Sir Philip invited George to share the lease at Tulchan. Later still, Sir Philip no longer had time to indulge his northern pleasures – he served as Private Secretary to Field Marshal Haig during the First World War – and so in 1915 George became the sole tenant of what many have described as one of the finest sporting estates in Scotland. He ordered the building of Tulchan Lodge, originally known as Dalchroy House, which was completed in 1906 to accommodate his family and friends. Guests included King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, President Theodore Roosevelt, banker JP Morgan, the railway financier William Vanderbilt, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and King Leopold of Belgium among a host of the great and good. In his book Memories of a Highland Gamekeeper, Dugald Macintyre described the organisation required when the Mccorquodales travelled north. “I was delighted when my employer asked me to visit him at his fine fishing water on the Spey. He rented thirteen miles of the River Spey when he lived in Tulchan Lodge. There were thirteen boats on Mr Mccorquodale’s part of the Spey. When we had finished with one side of a pool we crossed by boat and fished the other side … Mr Mccorquodale had hired a special train for his family and servants, and another ‘special’ carrying coal arrived at Advie Station the following week. King George V’s doings were all the talk of the Lodge people of course; for he had been staying at Tulchan on the previous grouse shooting season. “Mr Mccorquodale gave fortnightly dances to his servants and tenants. All in the district had in fact a free invitation to attend the dances. I met numerous natives of Speyside at those dances, where gamekeepers and gillies provided the music from their pipes. A surprising number of the older men had been soldiers in their youth. They had seen service in the Seaforths, or Camerons, or Black Watch. You could hear tales of the Relief of Lucknow, the taking of Quebec and of the Battle of Balaclava from the lips of the old soldiers who had participated in the battles, or from their sons.” These were golden years on the Spey, as described in 1909 by WL Calderwood in The Salmon Rivers and Lochs of Scotland. “I have no hesitation in saying that the best interests of the river were considered when, at the end of 1903, an agreement was come to between the proprietors above Orton and the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, by which nets were removed from Orton and the upper part of Gordon Castle water … In the agreement as to proper compensation I understand it was decided that between 6,000 and 7,000 fish would on an average be thus allowed to ascend annually. As has already been said, the rod catches have now greatly improved, an improvement which I understand amounts to 50 or 60 per cent, in several waters. Mr. George Mccorquodale has had 426 to his own rod at Dalchroy. When mentioning this distinguished angler I may add that in 1919 he killed a 38lb fish on a trout rod, with a trout cast.” His best season on the Spey was in 1920, when he caught 492 fish. That year also saw the beat record being set, with 30 fish on May 31. After his death in 1936, Mccorquodale’s daughter, Molly Wood, had this to say about him: “It is 46 years since he first fished Spey, and he never missed a season. During his early life he fished many other rivers, but there was no river to compare with Spey in his opinion … He was in his 83rd year when he died last May, and had been able to fish until ten days before his death. He used a very small rod, and for the last two years did not fish many hours a day, but in 1935 he killed 214 salmon to his own rod. Fish were very late coming up this year, but he had some good days, the best being four salmon to his own rod on April 21st. There has been no finer fisherman or greater sportsman than my father, and I think his memory on Speyside will live on and on.” Amen to that. We will never see his likes again.
Mccorquodale with a 42½lb fish from Fochabers, Spey, October 15, 1907.
Gaffed: Mccorqoudale fishing The Sawmill at Ballindalloch, River Spey in 1891.
Mccorquodale fishing Rock pool from the Battery, Tulchan, July 1905. Images from the Tulchan archive photographed by Stewart Grant.
Picture from the Tulchan archive. The caption reads: "Cruikshanks. 35½lb. G.F. Mccorquodale." The fish was caught in Greenbank pool on May 27, 1902.
started fishing with a bent stick before he went to school and has fished for salmon at home and abroad for more than 50 years. He has written seven books, including Success with Salmon, The Great Salmon Beats, The Salmon & Sea Trout Fisheries of Scotland, and The Salmon Fisherman’s Year. CRAWFORD LITTLE