Page:Picturesque New Guinea.djvu/376

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158
BRITISH NEW GUINEA.

timber, but the felling of fresh timber was prohibited until the spot had been visited by Sir Peter Scratchley or one of his officers. The wisdom of this step was shown by the fact that large numbers of young cedar trees, too small for use, had been cut down in sheer wanton waste. To prevent this for the future, a Forester was appointed, whose duty it was to prohibit the felling of timber below a certain girth. It was stated, verbally, by an agent for an Australian company who had for some years past been engaged in felling timber in New Guinea, that out of 10,000,000 superficial feet of cedar and malava fallen, only about 500,000 superficial feet were of marketable value. He further went on to state that he did not think the future prospects of the cedar trade were hopeful, and that he himself would hardly be able to recover the money he had already spent in felling and removing timber. Besides the cedar and malava, there are, however, large quantities of india rubber trees, massoi, sandalwood, ebony, hardwood, tamonu, &c.,—especially in the district around South Cape, ebony grows in considerable quantities. Two or three large firms have invested capital in this trade in New Guinea. By one firm a number of Kanakas were employed, but hitherto no complications have arisen with the natives with regard to this industry.

Bêche-de-mer, or the sea-slug, which is an article de luxe among the Chinese, is to be found all along the coast from Port Moresby to Aroma, including Constance Island, Milport Bay, Milne Bay, Slade Island, Bentley Bay, and, it is believed, in some bays on the north-east coast. The number to be obtained, however, especially on the south-west coast, has materially decreased during the last few years. The profits are small and precarious, and a considerable amount of hardship has to be undergone in prosecuting the trade. There is also a further difficulty in some districts where the natives, through superstition, dislike handling the bêche-de-mer. It was estimated that the actual annual export in this industry amounted to about £8,000; and it was suggested that the revenue raised by a tax on this trade might eventually be considerable. The expense, however, of collecting this tax would absorb a large portion of the amount raised. It was the intention of Sir Peter Scratchley to establish a dépôt for this industry at Teste Island. An inspector was appointed, whose duty it was to report the number of vessels engaged, and the number of tons of fish exported. According to his estimate, there are now ten schooners occupied with this work, and the estimated amount of fish exported is about 500 tons. The persons engaged in this pursuit are, generally speaking, small irresponsible traders, who are constantly coming into collision with the natives with regard to payments, &c.