"The pearl-mussel is found in abundance in the river Conway, in North Wales, and is collected by many of the natives, who obtain their livelihood entirely by their industry in procuring the pearls. When the tide is out, they go in several boats to the bar at the mouth of the river, with their sacks, and gather as many shells as they can before the return of the tide. The mussels are then put into a large kettle, over a fire, to be opened, and the fish taken out singly from the shells with the fingers and put into a tub, into which one of the fishers goes barefoot and stamps upon them until they are reduced to a sort of pulp. They next pour in water to separate the fishy substance, which they call solach, from the more heavy parts, consisting of sand, small pebbles, and the pearls, which settle at the bottom. After numerous washings, until the fishy part is entirely removed, the sediment, if I may so term it, is put out to dry, and each pearl separated on a large wooden platter, one at a time, with a feather; and when a sufficient quantity is obtained, they are taken to the overseer, who pays the fisher so much an ounce for them. The price varies from eighteenpence to four shillings: there are a number of persons who live by this alone, and where there is a small family to gather the shells and pick out the fish, it is preferable to any other daily labour. The pearls are generally a dirty white, sometimes blue, but never, I believe, green or reddish. I cannot with accuracy say how many ounces are taken to the overseer each week, though I might say there are some scores. But what makes this fishery more singular, is the mystery which hangs over it. At present it is a perfect monopoly, and there is but the one
Page:Natural History, Mollusca.djvu/272
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