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Ch. 2: Gems in Ceylon

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182
PEARL.
usually at 10 o'clock, on a signal gun being fired from the fort of Arippo, and make for the Government guard vessel, which is moored on the bank, and serves the double purpose of a guard and a lighter-ship. The divers are under the direction of a manager, who is cilled the Adapinaar, and they are chiefly Tamils and Moors from India. For each diver there is provided a diving stone, weighing about 30 pounds, which is fastened to the end of a rope long enough to reach the bottom, and having a loop made for the man's foot; and in addition to this, a large network basket, in which to place the pearl oyesters as he collects them. These are hung over the sides of the boat; and the diver placing his foot in the loop attached to the stone, liberates the coils of the rope, and with his net basket rapidly decends to the bottom.
To each boat there is usually allotted a crew of 13 men and 10 divers, 5 of whom are descending whilst the others are resting. This work is done very rapidly; for, notwithstanding the stones to the contrary, the best divers cannot remain longer than 80 seconds below, and few are able to exceed 60. The greatest depth they descend is 13 fathoms. When the driver gives the signal by pulliug the rope, he is quickly hauled up with his net and its contents. Accidents rarely happen ; and as the men are very superstitious, their safety attributed to the incantations of their shark-charmers, performed at the commencement of the fisting. Sir E. Tennent, however, attributes the rarity of accidents from sharks, usually so abundant in tropical seas, to the bustle and to the excitement of the waters during the fishery frightening away the dreaded creatures. The divers-are sometimes paid fixed wages: others agree for one-fourth of the produce. When a boat-load of oysters has be.en obtained, it returns to shore, and the cargo, sometimes amounting to 20,000 or 30,000 is landed and piled on the shore to die and putrefy, in order that the pearls may be easily found. The heaps are formed in small walled compartments, the wall surrounding each being about one or two feet in height. Several of these compartments surround a small ceutral enclosure, in which is a bath, and they slope towards this bath, and are each connected with it by a small channel, so that any pearls washed out from the putrefying mass by the rain may be carried iuto the bath. When the animals in the .shell are sufficiently decomposed, the washing commences, and great care is taken to watch for the loose pearls, which are alwaj'-s b}' far the most valuable ; the shells are then examined, and if any attached pearls are seen, they are handed over to the clippers who, with pinchers or hammer, skilfully remove them Such pearls are used only for setting ; whilst the former, being usually quiteround. are drilled and strung and can be used for beads, &e. The workmen who are employed, to drill the' pearls, also round the irregular ones, and polish them with great sklill. The method of holding the pearls during these operations is very curious ; they make a number of holes of small depth in a piece of dry wood, and into these they fit the pearls, so that they are ooly partly below the surface of the wood, which they then place in water. As it soaks up the water and swells, the pearls become tightly fixed and are then perforated, &c. These operations are all carried on, on the spot.
For many miles along the Oondatchy shore, the accumulation of shells is en­ormous, and averages at least four feet in thickness. This is not to be wondered at, when it is remembered that this fishery has been in active operation for at least 2,0lH) years. The place itself is exceedingly barren and dreary, and, except during the fishing season, is almost deserted; bHt at that time it presents an exceeding animated spectacle ; thousands of people of various countries and castes, are here drawn together, some for the fishery, others to buy pearls, and others to feed the multitude. They chiefly reside in tents so that it appears a vast encampment.
The pearls vary much in size ; those as large as a pea, and of good colour and form, are the best, except unusually large specimens, which rarely occur, the most extraordinary one known being the pearl owned by the late Mr. Hope, which measured two inches in length, and four in circumference, and weighed 1,800 grains. The smaller ones are sorted into sizes, the very smallest being called seed-pearls. A con­siderable quantity of these last are sent to China, where they are said to be calcined, and use in Chinese pharmacy. Amongst the Komans the pearl was a great favorite, and enormous prices were paid for fine ones. One author gives the value of a string of pearls at 1,000,000 sesterces, or about £8,000 sterling. The single pearl which Cleopatra is said to have dissolved and swallowed was valued at £80,729, and one of the same value was cut into two pieces for earrings for the statue of Venus in the Pantheon at Borne. Coming to latter times, we read of a pearl, in Queen Elizabeth's
Ch. 2: Gems in Ceylon Page of 442 Ch. 2: Gems in Ceylon
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