pearling industry

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.

Media Response to the Roth Report I

Dr Walter Edmund Roth (1861-1933) Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library, Qld

Dr Walter Edmund Roth (1861-1933)
Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library, Qld

The following newspaper articles are responses to the Roth Report, recorded in The West Australian. The newspaper and date are followed by the headlines as written in the article and brief outline of what is contained in the article. Click on the date to go to a PDF version of that item.

The West Australian
30 Jan 1905
The Aborigines Question
The Investigations by Dr Roth
A Comprehensive Report
Drunkenness, Disease and Crime
Important Recommendations
This article is part one of three, and provides a lengthy summary of the Report, which does not include specific editorial comment; however, note that although the focal point of the report was a scathing indictment about the ill-treatment of Aborigines by Anglo-Australians, the headlines ignore the findings of abuse and neglect, highlighting instead negative Aboriginal behaviours that were not prevalent in the Report itself.
7,900 words

The West Australian
31 Jan 1905
The Aborigines Question
Dr Roth’s Investigations
Treatment of Aboriginal Prisoners
Charges Against the Police
This lengthy article is part two of three, focussing on issues related to sentencing and the treatment of Aboriginal offenders.
6,043 words

The West Australian
01 Feb 1905
The Aborigines Question
Dr Roth’s Investigations
The Indenture and Contract Systems
Alleged Abuses
The Mission Stations
The third and final instalment of the summary of the Roth Report focusses on the issue of working contracts and apprentice agreements made (or not made) with Aboriginal workers in the north-west. Also summarises the evidence given for the principal missions in WA: New Norcia, Beagle Bay, Swan Native Mission, Sunday Island, Broome.
6,039 words

The West Australian
31 Jan 1905
The editorial focusses on the upcoming legislation that results from the Report. It also highlights the “problem” of Asians in the pearling industry:
“The condition of affairs…is mainly due to Asiatic aliens allowed into the State as pearling boat’s crews…mostly Malays, Manilamen, and Japanese…The contact with Aboriginal women with Eastern Asiatics can only be shocking and demoralising from every point of view…the half-caste offspring of such unions, if any there be, can have no abiding or respected place in the scale of humanity… There can be no question whatever that all practical steps should be taken, by legislation or otherwise, to prevent such moral atrocities.”
1,378 words