Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo
The Maritime Museum of Ílhavo



Arquivo digital que documenta as campanhas bacalhoeiras desde o início do século XX


Object of the month: Tot in cod fishing

2020/03/01 a 2020/03/31
Mata bicho 1 224 100 1 772 9999

Cod ships after a journey of more than 3000 kilometers reached the major banks. Daily work begins and the sea routine imposes itself on the lives of thousands of men who collect their families' sustenance from the cold waters of the North Atlantic.
In life on board, certain gestures are repeated day after day, the Tot is one of the practices that marks the working routine.

The expression mata-bicho that is rooted in Portuguese culture has its origin in the French tuent le ver (kill the worm) which also has the same expression in Spain matan el gusano. The origin of this term, shrouded in contradictions, is presumed to be a narrative of popular tradition rather than supported by hard facts. Some of these narratives mention the year 1329, others 1519 and even 1719 as an event that dictated the origin of this word, but all the stories tell a similar story, that such a young lady from Parisian high society died suddenly and unexpectedly, which raised suspicions. An autopsy followed to ascertain the reasons for her death, which to the doctors' amazement the young woman's heart had been pierced by a worm that was still alive. The horrified doctors decided to eliminate such an undesirable parasite, which proved resilient to all attempts. Only after immersing the worm in a strong alcoholic drink did the animal die. Parisian doctors then began to recommend that a measure of wine or brandy be taken in the morning on an empty stomach. Thus, the expression tuer le ver appears. In Les 1001 expressions des Français Georges Planelles says that the oldest register of the expression dates from 1828 and that its origin was much more prosaic instead of a fabled story.

At sea, life is much more pragmatic as the Tot helped fishermen to warm up and maintain vigor at work, as the former fisherman Mr. Manuel Augusto Lopes Soares said:

«The biggest problem with cod fishing is the cold. And then the person cannot be still, the person has to move ... The Tot was to warm the body, to make the blood warm, to circulate better, to give reaction to the body.»

During the line cod fishing, fishermen were awakened to the sound of praises, had their first meal and went to the deck where they were given the bait. They prepared fishing equipment and dory for another day's work, as João Carlos Caetano recorded in his 1952 and 1953 diary:

«After the ship had sailed a few miles, the captain ordered to anchor the ship and the cabin boy began to distribute the usual Tot, and after everything was in order, the captain gave the order to lower the boats, which took an hour or so, the fishermen going to port or starboard, depending on whether their boats were on one side or the other of the ship and as there was a little wind, they hoisted their sails to find a place to drop their fishing gears.

It was five o'clock when the ship anchored, we had already cut the bait and some fishermen had already baited some lines and the captain sent the cabin boy give us the Tot and at half past five ordered to lower the boats.

Monday, May 11, 1953.
The praises went as usual, when the splitting ended before midnight, at four o'clock and after lunch we went to receive the bait which was fifty sardines on this day and to set down at five thirty in the morning after being given the Tot. »

In the trawling fishery, the Tot happened differently, as Mr. Manuel Soares remembers:

«In the trawling we had to ask the foreman and then he sent it out. There were always some who liked it more, I didn't like the simple brandy, it still makes an impression on me today, but there were those who always asked for more:
- Oh man, get a little more!
For example, sometimes we were aft dealing with networks, or this or that, and we said:
- Oh master! Isn't there a Tot out there?
He replied that he could manage.
- Do you want coffee or extreme?
But we always wanted to get better with coffee, but there were always those who asked for the extreme. Mine was with coffee. The cook would put a quantity of coffee and a quantity of brandy in a 3 or 4 liter coffee pot, I don't know if half a liter or a quarter. A small mug would take a drop for me and a drop for you, so we could warm up.»

The Tot remained in the memories of those who went fishing for cod and persisted in technological evolution, from lining to trawling, today many of these memories give voice to the pieces that are in the Maritime Museum of Ílhavo.

When visiting the Faina Maior room, notice the small detail that is found on the wall of the officers' room: the little horn of the Tot.

Hermínio Henriques Marques
He boarded the ship Aida Peixoto in 1971, in 1988 he made his last campaign.
He performed several functions from engineer helper to foreman.


Arquivo de Memórias da Pesca do Bacalhau - Relatos de Vítor Pereira Pimentel. Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo
Caetano, João Carlos - Pesca do Bacalhau: diário de bordo de João Carlos Caetano de São Miguel Groenlândia, ano 1952. Lagoa: Câmara Municipal de Lagoa, 2010.
Fonte Oral. Entrevista ao Sr. Manuel Augusto Lopes Soares, antigo pescador.
Ideias nos Arrumos. 17 de Janeiro.
Pórtico da Língua Portuguesa. 17 de Janeiro.
Pourquois. 17 de Janeiro de 2019
Rego, Aurora Botão - Viagens a Terra Nova: memórias de um Tempo. Caminha: Câmara Municipal de Caminha, 2016.
RTP. 17 de Janeiro de 2019.
Site do Escritor. 17 de Janeiro de 2019.
Villiers, Allan - A Campanha do Argus. Lisboa: Cavalo de Ferro Editora, 2015. p. 122.