In England, 15ᵗʰ – 19ᵗʰ century, the salmon barrel held 42 wine gallons.
2 Henry VI chapter 14 (1423)
There is also a measure called Salmon Butt of 84 gallons : so the Barrell of Salmon 42 Gallons, the halfe 21. The Herring Barrel is 32 Gallons, and the Eele Barrell 42 Gallons, and the halfe and Firken of both these must hold accordingly ; the Soape Barrell 32 Gallons.
Consuetudo Vel Lex Mercatoria, or the Ancient Law-Merchant.…
London: Printed by Adam Islip, 1622.
In Scotland, a unit of capacity for packing salmon. In the 15ᵗʰ century, 14 gallons by the measure of Hamburg. Late in 16ᵗʰ century, redefined as 12 gallons of the Stirling pint (the 6-pint gallon, about 122.4 liters), and after 1641, 10 gallons of the Stirling pint (the 8-pint gallon, about 135.9 liters). These three descriptions are all roughly the same capacity; it was the size of the units used to define the salmon barrel that changed.
Acts of the Scottish Parliament
The texts of the following excerpts have been taken from the database of the Scottish Parliament Project at the University of St Andrews (retrieved 15 May 2009). The full text of the acts can be found on their excellent website, www.rps.ac.uk. The translations are adapted from theirs; they are not responsible for any errors we may have introduced. The yellow highlighting, obviously, is not in the original.
13 June 1478
Item, because it is hevili murmurit and the realme gretly sklanderit be strangeris and uthiris that byis salmond of the mynising of vesschiallis and barellis that the salmonde is pakit in, it is statut and ordanit that in time to cum all salmonde be pakit in barellis of the mesure of Hamburgh efter the alde assise of Abirdene and na smallare barell nore veschell, and that na couper within the realme mak smallare barellis to pak fische in than the saide mesure of Hamburghe and alde assise of Aberdene, and gif ony dois in the contrare of thirs in tyme tocum, the first sellare that sellis the fische of false paking in sic small barellis sall tyne the fische and be oure souverain lordis escaete, and that the couper that maid the barell sall pay v l. to the king, and that the kingis custummaris salbe sercheouris hereuppoune in ilk toune, and alsa it salbe a poynt of ditta in tyme tocum.
Item, because the diminution of vessels and barrels in which salmon is packed is heavily complained about and the realm greatly slandered by foreigners and others who buy salmon, it is decreed and ordained that in the future all salmon is to be packed in barrels of the Hamburg measure according to the old assize of Aberdeen and not in any smaller barrel or vessel, and that no cooper within the realm is to make smaller barrels to pack fish in than the said Hamburg measure and old assize of Aberdeen, and if any do in contradiction of this in time to come, the first seller who sells the fish in false packing in such small barrels shall forfeit the fish to be our sovereign lord's escheat, and the cooper who made the barrel shall pay £5 to the king, and the king's customs officers shall be investigators for this in each town, and also it shall be a ground of indictment for a criminal offense in time to come.
13 October 1487
Alsa it is statut and ordanit be the thre estatis in this parlment that the barell binde of salmonde sulde kepe and contene the assise and mesour of xiiij gallonis and nocht to be mynyst under the pain of eschete of the salmonde quhar it is fundin les, to the kingis use, ande that the provostis, baillies and custumaris be serchoris hereto, ande that ilk burghe have thre hupe irnis convenient herefore, ane at ilk ende of the barell and ane in the middis for the mesuring of the barell, and a birnyng irne to mark the samyn, under the pain of eschete of the barell unmarkit.
Also it is decreed and ordained by the three estates in this parliament that the barrel bind of salmon should hold and contain the assize and measure of 14 gallons and not be reduced, under the pain of forfeiture of the salmon where it is found to be less, for the king's use, and that the provosts, bailies and customs men be inspectors for this, and that each burgh have three hoop irons convenient for this, one at each end of the barrel and one in the middle for measuring the barrel, and a burning iron to mark the same, under the pain of forfeiture of the unmarked barrel.
26 January 1489
Item, anent the barell of salmond and the pakking and mesure of the samyne be the quhilk oure souerane lord and his liegis ar defraudit, it is statut and ordanit that the said mesure of the barell, quhilk is callit of ald the Hamburghe barell, be of the mesure of xiiij gallonis and that twa girthis be maid of irne, ane for the middis and ane for ilkane of the endis, and send to Perthe and Aberdene and uthir places neidful quhar salmonde ar maid for the observacioune and keping of the said mesur, and quhar ewer it beis fundin sal ony salmond be maid withein the said mesure that thai be oure souerane lordis eschete, and scharp execucioune to be maid be the kingis custumaris and serchiouris that salbe lymmyt thar to in all partis of the realme here uppoune.
Item, regarding the barrel of salmon and the packing and measure of the same by which our sovereign lord and his lieges are defrauded, it is decreed and ordained that the said measure of the barrel, which is called of old the Hamburg barrel, be of the measure of 14 gallons and that two girths be made of iron, one for the middle and one for each of the ends, and sent to Perth and Aberdeen and other necessary places where salmon are made for the observance and keeping of the said measure, and wherever it is found [that] any salmon [is] made within the said measure that they be our sovereign lord's escheat, and swift execution of this [is] to be made by the king's customs men and inspectors who shall be appointed for this in all parts of the realm.
30 April 1573
Anent the measure of salmond and hering barrellis
…it is statut and ordanit be our soverane lord, with avise and consent of his derrest regent, the thre estatis and haill bodie of this present parliament, that everie salmond barrel to be maid heirefter sall contene twelf gallounis of the Striviling pynt, and that everie barrel of hering and quhite fische contene nyne gallounis of the samin stop, and that the cowper, maker of the barrel, sall burne and mark the samin with his awin proper mark…
… it is decreed and ordained by our sovereign lord, with advice and consent of his dearest regent, the three estates and whole body of this present parliament, that every salmon barrel to be made hereafter shall contain 12 gallons of the Stirling pint, and that every barrel of herring and white fish contain nine gallons of the same stop; and that the cooper, maker of the barrel, shall burn and mark the same with his own proper mark…
10 November 1641
Act anente loyall packing of sallmond
…our said soverane lord, with advyse and consent of the saidis estates, ordeanes ane act to be made ratifieing and approveing all and sindrie actes of parliament, lawes and constitutiones of this realme made anent salmond fishing and the sufficiencie of the barrelles and loyall paking therof, with this additione: that the whole couperes within this kingdome make the said sallmond barrelles of good and sufficient new knappell, wherfore he shall be ansuerable, without worme bolles, and whyte wood of sufficient tichtnes for conteyneing the pickle and sufficient tichtnesse for enduring all kynde of stresse in the handlinge, and that the barrelles conteyne no les then ten gallones of the Stirvling pinte, conforme to ane act of his majesties counsell of the daite at Halyrudhouse, the fyfteene day of Julij 1619 yeeres, which his majestie, with consent foirsaid, ratifies and approves in all the heidis, clauses and articles therof, to be ratified in this present parliament wnder the paine of fyve pundis to be payed by the couper for ilke wnsufficient barrell and escheate of the samene barrell…
…our said sovereign lord, with advice and consent of the said estates, ordains an act to be made ratifying and approving all and sundry acts of parliament, laws and constitutions of this realm made regarding salmon fishing and the sufficiency of the barrels and loyal packing thereof, with this addition: that the whole coopers within this kingdom make the said salmon barrels of good and sufficient new knappel, wherefore he shall be answerable, without worm bolls, and white wood of sufficient tightness for containing the pickle and sufficient tightness for enduring all kind of stress in the handling, and that the barrels contain no less than ten gallons of the Stirling pint, according to an act of his majesty's council of the date at Holyroodhouse, 15 July 1619, which his majesty, with consent foresaid, ratifies and approves in all the heads, clauses and articles thereof, to be ratified in this present parliament under the pain of £5 to be paid by the cooper for each insufficient barrel and escheat of the same barrel…
22 May 1661
Act for the right packing of salmond
…our said soverane lord, with advice and consent of the saids estates, ratifies and approves all and sindrie acts of parliament, lawes and constitutions of this realme made anent salmand fishing, and the sufficiency of the barrells and loyall paking thairof, with this addition, that the whole coupers within this kingdome make the said salmond barrells of good and sufficient new knappell, for which they shall be ansuerable, without wormeholls and white wood, and of sufficient tichtnesse for containing the pickle, and sufficient tichtnesse for endureing all kynd of stresse in the handling, and that the barrells containe no lesse then ten gallons of the Stirling pynt (conforme to ane act of his majesties' councill of the date at Holyrudehouse the fifteinth day of July 1619 yeers, which his majestie, with consent forsaid, ratifies and approves in all the heids, clauses and articles therof) wnder the paine of fyve pund to be payd by the couper for each insufficient barrell and escheat of the said barrell…
…our said sovereign lord, with advice and consent of the said estates, ratifies and approves all and sundry acts of parliament, laws and constitutions of this realm made concerning salmon fishing, and the sufficiency of the barrels and loyal packing thereof, with this addition, that the whole coopers within this kingdom make the said salmon barrels of good and sufficient new knappel, for which they shall be answerable, without wormholes and white wood, and of sufficient tightness for containing the pickle, and sufficient tightness for enduring all kind of stress in the handling, and that the barrels contain no less than ten gallons of the Stirling pint (conforming to an act of his majesty's council of the date at Holyroodhouse, 15 July 1619, which his majesty, with consent foresaid, ratifies and approves in all the heads, clauses and articles thereof) under the pain of £5 to be paid by the cooper for each insufficient barrel and escheat of the said barrel…
17 September 1681
Whereby also, his majesties' umquhile father, with consent mentioned in the said chartor, ratified, approved and confirmed ane act of secret counsell, of the date the fifteenth day of July jM vjC and nineteen years, by which act the saids lords concluded and ordaines ane constant measure of salmond in and throughout the haill kingdome of Scotland only to be, and that according to the old measure and gadge and standart of Aberdeen, every measure containing ten gallons, and ordained all the leiges and subjects to observe the said measure and forme in their delivering and receaveing of salmond, under the pain contained in the said act of secret councill, in the haill heads and clauses thereof, and made and constitut them and their successors keepers of the said gadge and standart of Aberdeen for ever, and disponed to them the haill fies and dewties due, used and wont, for keeping of the said gadge and standart and making of the measures, barrells and casks of salmond, to be holden of his majesties' said umquhile royall father in free burgadge in maner therein mentioned; with all and sundrie other heads, points, clauses, articles and conditions of the two severall chartors, precepts and instruments of seasing following thereupon, and his majesties' gift abovementioned and therein contained, and after the formes and tenors thereof in all points.
Whereby also, his majesty's late father, with consent mentioned in the said charter, ratified, approved and confirmed an act of secret council, of the date 15 July 1619, by which act the said lords concluded and ordained a constant measure of salmon in and throughout the whole kingdom of Scotland only to be, and that according to the old measure and gauge and standard of Aberdeen, every measure containing ten gallons, and ordained all the lieges and subjects to observe the said measure and form in their delivering and receiving of salmon, under the pain contained in the said act of secret council, in the whole heads and clauses thereof, and made and constituted them and their successors keepers of the said gauge and standard of Aberdeen for ever, and conveyed to them the whole fees and duties due, used and wont, for keeping of the said gauge and standard and making of the measures, barrels and calks† of salmon, to be held of his majesty's said late royal father in free burgage in manner therein mentioned; with all and sundry other heads, points, clauses, articles and conditions of the two several charters, precepts and instruments of sasine following thereupon, and his majesty's gift above-mentioned and therein contained, and after the forms and tenors thereof in all points.
Act for the loyall cureing and packing of herring and salmond fish
Our soveraigne lord and lady the king and queen's majesties, considering how much the true and loyall cureing and packing of herring and salmond fish to be exported furth of this kingdom contribute to the advancement of trade and generall good of the nation, do therefore, with advice and consent of the estates of parliament, ordain and enact that all casks to be made hereafter, for exporting herring or salmond fish, be made of well seasoned knappell or oak timber free from all white wood or worme holls, the heads of the cask dowled, the step or stave of a third part of an inch at least in thickness and that none of the staves be rest or clift, and that ilk barrell for exporting of herring contain eight gallons and two pynts, and ilk barrell for exporting salmond ten gallons, and be full hooped at least in the one end and have eight hoops on the other end.
Our sovereign lord and lady the king and queen's majesties, considering how much the true and faithful curing and packing of herring and salmon fish to be exported furth of this kingdom contributes to the advancement of trade and general good of the nation, do therefore, with advice and consent of the estates of parliament, ordain and enact that all casks to be made hereafter, for exporting herring or salmon fish, be made of well-seasoned knappel or oak timber free from all white wood or worm holes, the heads of the cask dowelled, the step or stave of a third part of an inch at least in thickness and that none of the staves be twisted or cleft, and that each barrel for exporting of herring contain eight gallons and two pints, and each barrel for exporting salmon ten gallons, and be full-hooped at least in the one end and have eight hoops on the other end.
Follows the exemplification, under the great seal of England, of the act of the parliament of that kingdom entitled, an act for a union of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, as the same was transmitted to the parliament of Scotland, and ordered to be recorded
…and that, from and after the union, the laws and acts of parliament in Scotland, for pining, curing and packing of herrings, white fish and salmon, for exportation, with foreign salt only, without any mixture of British or Irish salt, and for preventing of frauds in curing and packing of fish, be continued in force in Scotland, subject to such alterations as shall be made by the parliament of Great Britain; and that all fish exported from Scotland to parts beyond the seas, which shall be cured with foreign salt only, and without mixture of British or Irish salt, shall have the same eases, premiums and drawbacks, as are or shall be allowed to such persons as export the like fish from England.
Thir great barrelles, ar called Hamburgh trees, and ar in greatnesse, nocht unlike to our Salmond trees, and sulde conteine fourteine Gallounes: and the small barrelles, ar some what greater, nor our herring trees.
Their great barrels [of the ports along the Baltic coast, esp. Prussian] are called Hamburg trees, and in size are not unlike our salmon barrels, and should contain 14 gallons; and the small barrels are somewhat larger than our herring barrels.
Sir John Skene.
De verborum significatione.
Edinburgh, printed by David Lindsay, 1681.
Under the entry SERPLATH. The first edition was printed in Edinburgh in 1597.
In like manner concerning the barrelling of fishes, it is ordained that the measures prescribed of old shall be kept, namely, each barrell of Herrings, or of white fish, to be of twelve gallons; and the barrell of Salmon of fourteene gallons, according to the measure of Hamborough [i.e., Hamburg], upon paine of forfeiture, and five pounds to be levied from the Cooper; and therefore hoop yrons to bee made in each town for the trial and gaging thereof. All which concerneth the Law of Merchants, & the particular knowledge of every one of them.
Consuetudo Vel Lex Mercatoria, or the Ancient Law-Merchant.…
London: Printed by Adam Islip, 1622.
Page 247, in a section devoted to Scottish law.
Elizabeth Gemmill and Nicholas Mayhew.
Changing values in medieval Scotland : a study of prices, money, and weights and measures.
Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press, 1995.
R. D. Connor and A. D. C. Simpson.
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Last revised: 18 July 2009.