Flying Foam Massacre: Lucrative Pearling Industry

In the same newspaper article that reported Resident Magistrate Robert Sholl’s instructions for the punitive massacre, there was a brief item about how financially lucrative the pearling industry is that area. This clearly shows that the punitive expedition was aimed at protecting the settlers financial interests.

Perth Gazette, 1868, April 3

Nicol Bay

By the Albert we have news from this the most remote northern settlement on the coast of this colony…

The pearl shell fishery was most prosperous, and if we are to believe the report, notwithstanding the number of boats now engaged in it, the returns average a ton of shells per 27 days for every white man employed, but it must be observed that much of this beachcombing work – for it is but little more – is done by natives, but even then the gain must be enormous, considering that a ton of shells will readily sell in the colony for £100, giving £25 a week for each white man engaged in the venture – something like the palmy days of the Victorian goldfields, when surface digging gave such splendid returns; but like the goldfields such golden harvests cannot last long, and the simple means and the small boats now so successful in the shallow waters along the coast will soon find they have gathered in all the harvest within their reach, and the field of deeper waters will require larger craft fitted with proper diving apparatus, the employment of which will in all probability produce equal if not better results.

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