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Wonders of the Deep: The Williamson Brothers Submarine Expedition: Pearl Trade, In the Bahamas

The Williamson Brother Submarine Expedition of 1914 and the pearl industry in the waters around the Bahamas. Including the tale of a native woman who lost a large natural pearl of great value.

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In the Bahamas (continued)

One of the remarkable phenomena that arrests the attention of visitors is the "banana holes” which frequently occur in the limestone. The formation of these holes, which are curiously regular in shape, has been attributed to the effect of rotting vegetation on the rock. Some of these “banana holes” have a depth of forty feet.

The island scenery is most picturesque, gaining beauty from the fine colouring of the sea and the rich, luxuriant vegetation. The waters swarm with fish of every kind. Ornithologists and bird-lovers are charmed with the variety of bird life to be found in these islands. Here are to be seen wary flamingoes, beautiful humming birds, wild geese and ducks, hawks, and green parrots. Tradition declares that once upon a time the islands boasted of a breed of dogs that never barked!

The finding of pearls is probably one of the most interesting industries in the world. It is carried on with every element of romance and by methods which have not materially varied during historic times. It is an industry that can only be prosecuted for a short season in the year. The profits are a gamble; while the beautiful products, useless in themselves, are only valuable owing to the pride and vanity of the purchasers. Pearls, one of the valuable products of the Bahamas, fetch a good price, some being worth as much as eight pounds sterling a grain. Many of the pearls are found accidentally. A case is recorded of a man having bought a conch, or large shell-fish, for his morning's repast, for which he paid the equivalent of a halfpenny, and on going home found embedded in the shell a magnificent pearl, which, when sold, fetched sixty pounds.

A native woman

The following story of an actual incident has been related: In a settlement on one of the Bahama islands, a native woman one day was busily engaged in opening some conch shells and removing their contents. While she was thus occupied, a wild duck seized a shellfish in its beak and rapidly made off with it. The woman, anxious to recover the conch, thereupon chased the duck. A child, who happened to be standing by, saw a pearl drop from the conch which the duck was carrying, but the woman, being so intent on the chase, did not notice the pearl fall to the ground. The child naturally picked the pearl up and took it home to her mother. Guessing that the pearl might be a valuable one, the woman took it to Nassau, where she sold it for forty pounds. Some while afterwards the news of this discovery reached the ears of the original owner, who claimed that the money received for the pearl really belonged to her. But the woman who had effected the sale disputed the claim. Matters now became rather serious, and the original owner threatened to take the matter into Court. Discretion proving the better part of valour in this case, the vendor agreed to pay the other woman a third of the money for which the pearl had been sold. It afterwards transpired that the pearl in question was an exceedingly fine one, and was worth about two hundred pounds.

Much of the history of these delightful islands is "wrapped in mystery". Red Leiric, a daring navigator, is said to have visited the islands nine hundred years ago, and spent twelve months there with his storm-driven crew. Five hundred years before that, so the legend runs, St. Brendan, an Irish missionary, endeavoured to spread the principles of Christianity in this region. But these, and other traditional accounts, must be regarded, delightful though many of them are, as belonging to the realms of myth and legend. It is not until we come down to the fifteenth century that we can feel we are on safe historic ground.


EXTERNAL LINKS:

Marine pearls

St. Brendan (484-577A.D.)

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