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the pearl are so abundant that there is scarcely any shoal where they are not found. The fishery extends along the whole of the Arabian side of the Gulf and great part of the Persian ; but the oysters are found in most abundance near this island of Bahrein, and this of Karack, It is in general observed that the deeper the water, the larger and better the pearl; and this rule makes it likely that larger pearls than any ever seen hitherto might be found at greater depths than those to which the diver can go down.
H. But, sir, do these pearls belong to the King of Persia, or is everybody at liberty to go and pick them up?
U: 0. You must not suppose it is as easy for a man to pick up a pearl as to go to the seaside and pick up a pebble. Neither are there so many persons who search for them as you might imagine. For this there are two reasons; the first is, that the expense of fishing for pearls is certain and considerable, while the success is uncertain; and the other is, that the demand for the pearls of the Gulf has declined since the English have been contented with the pearls of Ceylon.
H. Are the best pearls, then, those which come from the Gulf ? .
U. O. I believe so. The pearl of Ceylon peels off, while that of the Gulf is as firm as a rock; and though it loses in colour and water one hundredth part every year for fifty years, yet it loses still less than that of Ceylon, and, after fifty years, ceases to lose at all. I have not yet answered your question, whether the pearls belong to the King of Persia. They do not; for, as I have already told you, the Gulf belongs rather to the Arabs than the Persians. Formerly, the different chiefs along the coast claimed a right to the pearl-banks opposite their shores, and obliged persons to pay for the right of fishing; but I believe the fishery is now quite free to any person who chooses to incur the expense of such a speculation. They proceed in one of these two ways :-in the first, the person engages a boat by the month or for the season; and in this boat he sends his agent, or goes himself to superintend the whole, with a crew of about fifteen men, five or six of whom are divers. These divers continue their labours from sunrise to sunset. The oysters, as they are brought up, are delivered to the superintendent; and when
the business of the day is over, they are opened on a piece of white linen, while the superintendent carefully watches the opening of each shell, to see that the men do not steal the pearls. The man who, on opening an oyster, finds a valuable pearl, puts it into his mouth, because they think that it thus gains a finer water than it would otherwise possess; and at the end of the fishery this man is entitled to a present. The expense of the adventure is about fifteen pounds a month, of which the divers get one pound, and the rest of the men in proportion.
F. A pound a month is very small wages.
U. O. I do not think so. I never call wages large or small until I find what are the habits of life among the people who receive it, and what is the cost of the food they use the most. By this rule I find that one pound will go as far in supplying an Arab with his necessaries as five pounds will go with an English mechanic. One pound is therefore a large sum to the Arab diver; and you will remember that he has a chance of obtaining presents for finding good pearls. But a more common method of undertaking to fish for pearls is by way of agreement between two persons, one of whom pays all the
expenses of the boat, provisions, &c., and the other goes in person to conduct the labours of the fishery. When the boat returns, the pearls are valued and the amount is equally divided; but the person who paid the expenses is at liberty, if he pleases, to buy the other half of the pearls at ten per cent. below the price for which they are sold in the market.
F. Will you please to tell us more about the men that go down under the water to look for the pearls ?
U. O. They are brought up to the business, and none who follow it live long. Sores break out all over their bodies, and their eyes become weak and blood-shot. They are also obliged to be always careful about their food, which consists of dates and other light articles.
When the boat has anchored over the pearlbank, the diver ties a stone under his body, which is to serve him for ballast, enabling him to walk more steadily, and preventing his being driven about by the motion of the sea. He also fastens a stone to one foot, the weight of which sinks him to the bottom in a moment. To receive the oysters which he rends from the rocks, a large net is fastened round his neck by
a cord, one end of which is attached to the boat, and serves to pull up the diver when he signifies, by shaking it in a peculiar manner, that he wants to take breath, or that his net is full. To prevent his hands from being torn by the rocks and the oyster-shells, they are covered with a sort of gloves made of leather. Lastly, he oils the inside of his ears, and puts a horn over his nose, and then immediately plunges to the bottom, where he makes the best use of his time, tearing off the oysters from the rocks, and stuffing them into his bag. It is sometimes said that these divers can remain under water for half an hour. But I don't believe it; I think they can hardly ever stay under water longer than five minutes at a time. They can go so far down as from ten to sixteen fathoms, and sometimes more, but the deeper they go down, the higher is the payment they expect.
Very few of the pearls collected in this manner go directly into Persia. They are taken, in the first place, to Muscat, from whence the greater part of them are exported to India, where a person may buy them at a cheaper price than he could get them for anywhere in the neighbourhood of the Gulf.