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1871 1876 1881 1886 1891 1896 1901 1906 1911 1916 1921 1926 1931 1936
Figure 6.1 Exports of tortoise-shell from Queensland, 1871-1938. Source: Compiled from
data provided in the Annual Reports, QDHM , 1895-1938, QVP , 1896-1900; QPP , 1901-
1939; SCQ , 1871-1900; SSQ , 1901-1903
turtle, although those animals yielded a material of lower quality. Tortoise-shell
production operated alongside bêche-de-mer , pearl-shell and oyster fishing, with
the same crews and vessels sometimes being engaged in more than one fishery
(Campbell, 1887; Bennett, 1898). Tortoise-shell production was concentrated in
the northern Great Barrier Reef where the hawksbill turtle was abundant.
By 1889, Saville-Kent (1890a; 1893, p322) reported, the trade in tortoise-
shell had increased: the average annual value of tortoise-shell exported from
Queensland over the previous decade had exceeded £400, and its export value
reached £1,705 in 1889. Saville-Kent (1893) stated that high-quality tortoise-
shell reached a price of between £1 and £1 5s per imperial pound, although some
highly sought variants could obtain a price of £20 per imperial pound. Very large
quantities of tortoise-shell were exported from Queensland during the 1890s and
1900s, and rapid expansion of the industry had occurred by 1897, as shown by
the increase in the number of tortoise-shelling vessels registered in Queensland
between 1895 and 1897 (Figure 6.2) . In 1898, the Queensland Inspector of
Fisheries, G. H. Bennett (1898, p1048) stated: 'The supply of shell turtle seems to
continue much the same, year by year, and affords an easy means of livelihood to
the few coloured men [ sic ] engaged in it'. Two years later, Bennett (1900, p1319)
reported that:
[Tortoise-shell] is so valuable that shell-turtle is captured, when possible, by
anyone who sees it, and has the means of attacking it - i.e., a boat and a spear.
How the shell-turtle maintains its number in spite of all the enemies that
pursue it - from the time the egg (an esteemed article of food) is laid on the
sand beach through all the stages of its existence - is something of a mystery;
but the fact remains that the shell-turtle appears to be as plentiful as ever,
and its pursuit furnishes occupation and subsistence to a number of men [ sic ].
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