A history of pearling in Far North Queensland

1868 - Pearl shell first collected at Warrior Island pearl shell beds.

1871 - First underwater breathing apparatus introduced. It was in common use by 1877.

1876 - Recruitment of Japanese divers commenced. Within 15 years they dominated the work force in the roles of divers and dive tenders.

1877 - Thursday Island acted as a port for the industry. The industry had grown to 16 firms and 109 vessels (63 with diving apparatus).

1881 - Old pearl shell grounds discovered.

1883 - Serious depletion of pearl shell grounds reported.

1885 - Catch rates fell rapidly and major fleets sailed to Western Australia to collect shell.

1888 - 89 - Fleets returned from WA. Floating stations introduced (mother schooners 50-60ft - 100 tonnes) and fishing effort increased significantly.

1891 - GILD Fisheries Commissioner Dr. William Saville Kent (a British marine biologist), arrived and put size limits on shell catch (6 inches/152mm). He actually bred shell and grew spherical peals. Darnley Deeps grounds were closed.

1896 - Saranealis family began trading as pearl merchants and manufacturing jewellers at Saranealis House, Douglas Street, Thursday Island.

1899 - CYCLONE MAHINA: over 300 pearl shell crew drowned, and 54 luggers and 3 schooners were lost off Cape Melville.

1893 - 1900 Annual Mother of Pearl catch rates fell from 5.75 to 3.1 tons.

1897 - Minimum legal size reduced to 5 inches/127mm.

1902 - The prosperity of Thursday Island, and its existence as an outport, is entirely dependent on the pearl shell fishery.

1912 - 13 - Mother of Pearl shell price rose to 200 pounds per ton.

1916 - WW1 caused the entire Qld fleet to be tied up.

1919 - 29 - Mother of Pearl production increased until the international market was saturated by 1929.

1929  -  99% of all divers' licenses in the Torres Strait were held by Japanese.

1929 - 32 - The great depression caused the pearling industry to collapse.

1932 - 39 - Resurgence of the fishery.

1940s - Motorization of the fleet.

1941 - 45 - WW1 halted fishing. During the war, the original Saranealis store was burned to the ground with its neighbour the Metropole Hotel.

1946 - Saranealis family rebuilt the current store on original property.

1957 - The first pearl culture farm in the Torres Strait started on Packe Island.

2001 - Saranealis House opens again as the only specialist pearl sales outlet in the far north.

2005 - Saranealis House expands operations to supplying southern jewellers as well as local retail.

2009 - Torres Pearls Pty Ltd sells Saranealis House and purchases Escape River pearl farm, the second oldest pearl farm in Australia, and the largest pearl farm in Queensland.