3["Grim Tales of the Pearl Game", The Northern Standard (Darwin, NT), Friday 27 May 1932, page 3]



(By Ernestine Hill in "The Sun" Sydney).

Died at Broome recently, Captain Harry Talboys, the man who lost a valuable pearl in the Indian Ocean--and found it again!

In 1909 Talboys, opening shell on one of his own luggers, discovered in the fish of the oyster a fair-sized pearl. Unwilling to let the colored men see it, he whistled to his white comrade, and was walking with casual air, ostensibly to wash his hands when the mucus-covered stone slipped from his fingers, hit the deck, and disappeared through the scuppers.

"What was it worth?" bawled the skipper, aghast.

"I didn't even see it," replied the mate.

A lifebuoy was flung overboard to mark the spot. By the time a diver was brought to the surface the lugger, in sail, had travelled 40 or 50 yards. Swiftly she put back, and the Jap, was sent down on the off-chance. Twenty anguished minutes and he reappeared, his left hand, miraculously enough, closed over the gem, which he had found, white and luminous, idly drifting down.

Two months later that pearl brought Talboys 1600 in the London markets!

In these breathless summer nights, when schooners and luggers "lie over" in Dampier Creek, safe from the sweeping fury of the hurricane, strange tales are told in the foreshore camps of Broome, alight with the lustre of living romance. In a industry that snaps shut on its secrets, close as an oyster, the best of them will never be written. Many are unknown, save to the old hands whose life on the pearling coast dates back to the black ivory days of wicked memory--old hands that one by one are setting sails for even further westward.

There died in the last few month P. P. Percy, policeman, publican, pearler, and patentee of a puzzle pearl-box, who in his young day chased Malay murderers and mutineers through the maze of the Timor Islands; "Frenchy" d'Antoine, from the Seychelles, who, with Harry Hunter, a silk hat manufacturer from London, blackbirded the coast from de Puch Is. to de Rougemont's Lacrosse, 21 bush natives in a 25-foot cutter, through uncharted seas, black divers for the Cossack fleets; Tommy Clarke, with gold rings in his ears, who, as a boy of 12 dry-shelling with an old gin on the reefs at low tide, found the Southern Cross pearl.

Sold ultimately for 34,000 and now in the possession of the Pope the Southern Cross was a gigantic hoax. Clarke himself admitted to the writer that it was broken when he found it. A remarkable arrangement of eight baroque pearls, in the form of an almost perfect cross, Clarke's father and Shiner Kelly of the Lacepedes sold it to one Frank Roy for 10 and a bottle of gin. From him Frank Craig, a Cossack publican, bought it for 40 and sold it to a Natal buyer for 100. Those who know say that it was Frank Craig, with a clever Roebourne pearl-jeweller, who mended the Cross and interposed the ninth pearl that was to make the gem the jewel sensation of a century.

Tommy Clarke led a charmed life. From early youth to old age, wandering among the natives of a wild coast, he knew the customs and tribal tongues of 200 miles. For ten years he walked the streets of Broome with a broken neck, a surgical marvel. A temperamental Irishman, last year he took poison. His wife it was that died, a gentle invalid who collapsed as a result of the shock, and Tommy was fined 5/-.

With a world of romance and adventure at his finger-tips, it was his pet vanity to avoid writing and writers, determined that "what I know will die with me" but, typically Irish, by a cautious stratagem of contradiction, mild and polite, he could be made to talk.

In 1904 there happened in Broome the Lieblid pearl murder, surely the strangest story ever told in a strange history, in which four men were sent to their deaths for a pearl that not one of them had seen.

On the fishing-grounds out from the Eighty-Mile Beach a Swedish pearler of that time found a pearl in his first year out. In amateurish delight he made for the nearest white man to celebrate his prize, a lugger owned by one Lilley, in company with Victor Nabos, a shrewd Manila diver.

Glass after glass of squareface was raised to the luck of the new beauty, and, when the Swede pulled off, practically incapable, in his dinghy, it was a bit of baroque that rattled reassuringly in his treasured tin matchbox. The pearl remained behind with Nabos who, for safe hiding, on his next night watch, wound it round and round in a strand of rope near the tiller. When Nabos returned to Broome the pearl had gone, but he was arrested and served a term of imprisonment for stealing it.

It was then that Lieblid, a Jewish traveller in [?gimcrack] jewellery, in reality a buyer of snides, heard of the missing pearl, offered 500 for it, and became the eager, credulous prey of Pablo, a Manilaman; Simeon, a Patagonian sailor of gorilla strength; and Charlie Hagen, a Scandinavian of sorts, barber, and saloon-keeper.

Clandestine meetings on the sandhills and the dark jetty, in which the glass marble stopper of a lemonade bottle masqueraded as the pearl, and Lieblid was killed by a slingshot in a cabin of the derelict schooner Mist, lying opposite Broome, his mangled body left by the tide in the mangroves. Mystery surrounded the murder until, through the influences of a priest in the confessional who refused absolution till the crime was disclosed, the Manilaman turned King's evidence, and the three murderers were hanged.

The pearl itself was never traced. Doubtless it was carried to Singapore in a cake of soap, the binding of a book, the elaborate construction of a Japanese woman's hair, or in the hollow of an Asiatic slipper, underneath the little toe-for all of these are time-honored hiding-places for stolen jewels of the sea.

Broome still has its gems of purest ray, the finest in the world, though seldom we hear of them. In the last year the price of stone, in Cryptic cable code, advanced from 850 to 1450 in three weeks. A few months ago, a perfect sphere, 43 grains of softly roseate light, lay in the writer's hand for a moment.

With the world still in the throes of war-convalescence, it is a poor season for pearl-buying, and its value is tentative, but it has been acknowledged by an expert the finest stone that the luggers have brought to shore in five years.

Sometimes--but not often--the buyers themselves make mistakes. An epic of Broome was when Gentleman James, a "character" of not so long ago, sold a French buyer his own pearl, cleverly represented as a perfect twin. It was aboard a Singapore steamer at the last moment and with his spot-cash 120, he promptly snouted champagne for the crowd.

The shore-bell rang.

"Your change, I think!" shouted Gentleman James to the amazed and hysterical buyer, handed over the residue of 94 16s with a grin, and made for the gangway. They have a great sense of humor in the pearling north-west.


Both the roseate pearl and the pearl lost overboard by Talboys found their way into Jack Idriess's "Forty Fathoms Deep".