Harry Bangate is the old eelman in The Big Six who lives in a derelict old hulk or houseboat, round a bend past a short stretch above the inn. The hulk has two windows, a stove, and black tarred sides (BS2,3). He is an old man of about seventy-eight with a mane of grey hair that hung down on his shoulders from under an old black hat, and he rows a small black tarred boat. Born on the Broads, he had been a wherryman once. He learned to catch eels as a small boy, taught the skill by his uncle.
Harry's hulk is decorated ...with pictures of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, ...soldiers off to South Africa... the Coronation of Edward the Seventh. The old man's interest in history seemed to have stopped about then... (BS3)
Tom and the Death and Glories visit Harry at midnight after the tide turns, to help him with his eel setts, a wide net across the river from one side to the other which he lowers to the bottom for boats and lifts when the eels are running. When he says Seventy years tommorow that he saw pods lifted by his uncle Tom says To-day or tomorrow he replies Gone midnight. Seventy year today (BS2,3).
Harry also catches eels using eel lines and babs, and when younger used an eel-spear.
He shocks the Coots by saying he is still willing to shoot bitterns or buttles: shot many a score of ‘em I have and that he would still sell their eggs for money in my pocket and tobacco in my old pipe. Shooting them is now banned and they are coming back, but he says that their decline is due to reed cutting and all they pleasure boats (BS3). Harry's attitude, and the shock felt by his young visitors, is part of the theme of treachery that flows through The Big Six. (It is worth considering whether Harry's analysis of the decline in bird numbers might have been the correct one.)
An earlier appearance?Edit
An un-named eel-man, described in Coot Club as Tom's friend, appears near Horning Hall Farm and down-river from Horning: an eel-man in his shallow , tarred boat going the rounds of his nightlines. He was a friend of Tom's , and lifted a hand like a bit of old tree root .... (CC16).