1895 1896 1897 1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906
Source: Compiled from data provided in the Annual Reports, QDHM , 1895-1938, QVP ,
1896-1900; QPP , 1901-1939; SCQ , 1871-1900; SSQ , 1901-1903
His account suggests that, as early as 1900, the hawksbill turtle had experienced
considerable exploitation, and that some doubts may already have been raised
about the sustainability of the fishery. In 1901, the quantity of tortoise-shell
exported from Queensland reached 5,579 lb (Figure 6.1); by the end of the
following year, tortoise-shell had been shipped to New South Wales, Hong Kong,
However, by 1908, concerns had been expressed about the extent of
exploitation of hawksbill turtles, as evidence collected for the inquiry of the
Royal Commission into the pearl-shell and bêche-de-mer industries reveals.
Herbert Bowden, a pearl-sheller and merchant, reported that 'more notice should
be taken of the present criminal action of men slaughtering turtle in the way they
are doing'. He also stated: 'There is an enormous market for the turtle-shell itself.
Hawksbill turtle is slaughtered wholesale for it' (Mackay et al., 1908, p197).
Another pearl-sheller and merchant, Kenneth Ord Mackenzie, reported to the
Royal Commission that the shell was removed from the backs of turtles using hot
water while the animals were still alive, so that the shell could re-grow (Mackay
et al., 1908, p129). However, the Royal Commission also heard evidence that
the tortoise-shell industry had experienced a recent decline due to low prices for
the product. Mackenzie reported that he had fished for tortoise-shell for a period
of about six months and exported the material to London, but he stated that the
catches were smaller and the market value was lower than he had anticipated,
resulting in a small loss for his firm, Bowden and Mackenzie. Another merchant,
Arthur Thomas Sullivan, also reported that the price of tortoise-shell was very
low, although he argued that the industry remained profitable.
The declining profitability of the industry resulted in a contraction in fishing
effort after 1897, a reduction in tortoise-shell vessels registered in Queensland
from 1897-1904, and an associated decline in tortoise-shell exports from