[Broome pearling letters]


Two rare letters relating to the pearl industry in Broome, northwest Western Australia dated 1905-06. The letters are correspondence from a John Challenor, an Englishman working in northwestern Australia, and a part-owner of the pearling lugger Gloria, working out of … Read Full Description

S/N: PEARLING-1905–315059
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Full Title:

[Broome pearling letters]





In good condition with folds.


Manuscript letters

Image Size: 

x 263mm

Paper Size: 

x 263mm
[Broome pearling letters] - Antique Ephemera from 1905

Genuine antique



Two rare letters relating to the pearl industry in Broome, northwest Western Australia dated 1905-06.

The letters are correspondence from a John Challenor, an Englishman working in northwestern Australia, and a part-owner of the pearling lugger Gloria, working out of Broome.

The vessel’s principal owners were the Broome merchants Streeter & Male. Presumably Challenor was making a reasonable living from pearling around this time (and perhaps Challenor Drive, Broome, is named after him?); but within a couple of years his luck had deserted him, and this pair of letters, written in desperation by Challenor to a trusted employee of his family’s law firm in Leek, Staffordshire, paint a vivid picture of how difficult it was to prosper in the tough Western Australian pearling industry, and how easy it would have been to lose everything in a failed enterprise.

Letter 1. Broome, North West Australia, 17 October 1905.
John Challenor, c/- Streeters, to [M.S.] Smith, [Challenor & Shaw,
Solicitors, Leek, England]. Manuscript in ink written on 3 octavo pages; old
folds, complete and legible.

‘Dear Smith, Thanks for your official note. Also, the money has come to hand. I should not bother my wife any further about the carpet, let it rip, as for the dessert service I wrote to Frank Illsley to go and see you about it, but I will not take under £20 for it, it really is too valuable to throw away for a trifle. I would sooner have it broken up and destroyed. Looking through the account I notice that I must have paid a good many people’s debts as by Col. North I make it as per your bills £133.2.6 and besides what I paid him I reckon they have £48.0.0 more than they ought to have, but if I have any luck early next year and can get stacked I will re-open the whole matter again. I object to being blackmailed when I am hard up. I hope one or two of my friends give me a help to start again, if I can only get started I can go. There is money in this Mother o’ Pearl business and the advantage of it is that you do not want a great deal of experience, as you see by my letter that the cost of getting it is very heavy but commercially it pays and if you find any stones, well you are very well in. The life is a very hard one and the only things I dread is the limitation to exercise for six weeks at a time on a small lugger, but it’s the only way out of all my difficulties that I can see and I do want to pay all my debts to my tradesmen in full first of all; after that there will be trouble for one or two people … I suffer for the next month or
six weeks [as] I shall live on the schooner Nellie
on Mother o’ Pearl shell, fish soup and turtle for we are going up to the
Lacepedes … It’s getting terribly hot here regularly over 100 in the shade and
the cool westerly breezes do not begin till after 2 p.m….’

Letter 2. Sydney, 21 May 1906. John Challenor, c/- Thos.
Cook & Son, 4 Hunter Street, Sydney, to M.S. Smith, Challenor & Shaw, Solicitors, Leek, England. Manuscript in ink written recto only of a single quarto sheet, engraved letterhead of Her Majesty’s Hotel, Sydney; old folds,
complete and legible.

‘Dear Smith, If you have not yet sold my China dessert service, please sell at once and get as good a price for it as you possibly can. Cable the money to me at the Union Bank of Australia, Broome. I left Broome for the reason I could not start a boat of my own on the Pearling grounds, and came here to get some work of some sort to earn a little money. At present I have been unsuccessful and I am stranded in a City with no friends and no letters of introduction and have the magnificent sum of 3d twixt me and starvation I am overdrawn I should think about £18 at Broome as it cost me a lot to get here, I got hung up in Perth for a fortnight … I hope to return to Broome in Nov. with any luck as I am fully convinced that there is money to be made there in the M.O.P. shell & Pearling Industries….’

George Streeter and Arthur Male were pastoralists and pearl shell and fishing business-men operating out of Broome, Western Australia under the title Streeter & Male.

George Streeter was an agent for his father, EW Streeter, a London based jeweler and gem merchant. George Streeter returned to London in 1898 leaving Arthur Male to manage the company’s interests. Streeter and Male Ltd owned cattle properties including Dampier Downs and Roebuck Plains near Broome.

Streeter and Male’s pearling vessels had been on the west coast since 1884. Along with McDaniel and Son and Robinson and Norman they were one of the largest pearling businesses in the north west, and one of the longest in operation too, continuing for century. A report in March 12, 1946 notes their involvement in the resumption of pearling following World War II.

The pearling industry has re-opened. The first lugger sailed from Roebuck Bay last evening, marked by cheering and wild enjoyment among the Malays and the deep appreciation of the people of Broome. With a full crew of Malays and under the supervision of Mr. Alfred Morgan the lugger B3, belonging to the fleet of Messrs. Streeter & Male, sailed gracefully down the stream. In the hearts of many who saw the boat begin her voyage were feelings of wonder and joy, wonder at what she would bring home and joy at the revival of the trade which means so much to Broome. Messrs. Streeter & Male have made every effort to re-open the industry, and hope to have other luggers ready for the shell beds in the near future. Difficulty is being experienced in obtaining crews, the hold-up being in the release of suitable men from the defence forces.”

No.78, 1903, GLORIA, O/No.118981, 13.18 tons.
2 Masted Schooner.
Dimensions, 37.2 x 12.5 x 4.6 feet.
Built at Fremantle by James Howson during 1903.
Owner:- Streeter & Male Ltd, of Broome, Merchants.
Other owners, John Challoner, of Broome, Pearler.
Louis John Goldie, of Broome, Pearler.
Registry cancelled on the 18/5/1937 as the vessel was fitted with an engine. Registered anew as No.1
of 1937.
She was taken up by the Royal Australian Navy during the second world war and was manned by the
Naval Auxiliary Patrol. In 1946 she was permamently acquired by them for small ship duties. Later
sold into the fishing industry.

Streeter and Male also managed vessel construction, hiring shipwrights and labour to build luggers. Rod Dickson (“They Kept this State Afloat” 1998 p.260) notes that the firm Streeter and Male Ltd “established a boat repair and refitting yard on the banks of Dampier Creek. The firm built a number of pearling luggers at their yard. Most of the shipwright staff were Asiatics brought to Broome under contract, as were the pearling crews”

Streeter’s jetty was built across the tidal mudflats of Dampier Creek in the late 1880s next to Streeter and Male’s company’s camp and shell shed. This jetty was used by the pearling industry from the 1920s when there were around 400 pearling luggers in Broome until the 1980s, although shortened and realigned in 1966. Repairs were carried out until 1989, when Streeter and Male Pty Ltd was purchased by Paspaley Pearls Pty ltd.

Arthur Male represented the Kimberley district in the Legislative Assembly from 1905-1917, and was honorary consul to Japan from 1928. He died in 1946, with his son AS Sam Male taking over his business concerns.

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