Records of the Persian Gulf Pearl Fisheries 1857–1962

ISBN:  (13) 978-1-85207-605-4         Extent:     4 volumes, 2,000 pages, including 1 map box

Editor:  A. Burdett      Published: 1995
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available

In these three volumes Archive Editions presents documentary evidence of the history, development and decline of the great traditional industry of the Persian Gulf. The geographical coverage of pearling activities, though not evenly spread, extends to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the former Trucial States and Muscat, and the early trade in the Red Sea. This collection of documents includes and map box containing tables, lists of pearl banks and maps from Kuwait to Ras Tanura and Ras Tanura to Dubai.


These volumes bring together in a single research collection all relevant documents from British government records relating to the primary economic activity in the Persian Gulf before the oil era: the pearl fisheries. The material - virtually all now published for the first time - provides information on the economic, geographic, political and social aspects of the pearl trade as well as details on technical and operating aspects, including the terms and conditions of divers and their Nakhudas (pearling captains).
The collection focuses on the hundred years between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, when the traditional pearling industry reached its peak and began its abrupt decline. The documents show clearly the impact of the 20th century on pearling: the more lucrative arms traffic, the introduction of cultured pearls, the threat of mechanised diving, a Government of India ban on pearl imports in 1947-1948, and, from the late 1940s, alternative work in the oil industry.
Geographically, the collection reports on pearling activities primarily along the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, including material relating to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the Trucial States and Muscat, with some references to Saudi Arabia. The main pearl banks were mapped in two sections, from Kuwait to Ras Tanura, and from Ras Tanura to Dubai. There were smaller banks off Muscat. The season ran from April to September. The trade also involved mother-of-pearl and sponge fishery, which are referred to in this study.
One of the most important themes in the records is the economic exploitation of divers and sailors by the Nakhudas. This virtual slavery system led to the Bahrain reforms in 1924-1925, providing for diving rules, accounting methods, registration of vessels and the creation of a hospital ship. By popular demand a diving Court was created in 1928; the records for the Barwas Court from 1928 to 1934 are given in volume 3. The pearl divers´ riot of 1932 in Bahrain and its aftermath are also documented.
By 1948-1949 one report alleged that as few as 50 boats participated in the season. However, outside commercial interest persisted into the 1950s, and as late as 1955 there were vain attempts to impose controls on diving, although the days of the large pearling fleets and inter-tribal clashes had long passed.


Details from the documents:
  • Fishing rights on the pearl banks, 1857, 1862
  • Remarks on the pearl oyster beds in the Persian Gulf, 1866
  • Measures to prevent pearl divers from abandoning their debts, 1868- 1886
  • Weights and measures employed in the pearl trade, 1886
  • The problem of piracy, 1876, 1887
  • Legal status of pearl banks, 1912
  • International commercial interests and competition in the Persian Gulf pearl trade, 1905-1918
  • Effect on pearl fisheries of concessions granted to Sponge Exploration Syndicate by Sultan of Muscat and Shah of Persia, 1906-1907
  • Use of apparatus and divers from Bombay, 1912
  • British naval patrols defend pearling fleets, 1909
  • Central role of pearl industry in Bahrain trade, 1909
  • Accounting system used by Nakhudas: accounts of 23 divers and pearlers, 1923 (in Arabic)
  • The pearl market at Kuwait, 1918, 1924
  • The threat from cultured and artificial pearls, 1924, 1934
  • Report on diving conditions, 1930
  • Attempts to introduce deep sea diving suits, 1930
  • The pearl divers´ riots at Bahrain, 1932
  • Petitions from divers, certificates of manumission, 1928-1934
  • Naval patrols of the pearl banks, 1931-1932
  • Trial of merchants trading in cultured pearls, 1935
  • Divers´ work conditions at Kuwait, 1934
  • Pearling concessions from Saudi Arabia, 1934
  • Effect of pearl diving debts, 1935
  • The Trucial Shaikhs´ territorial rights over pearl banks, 1938
  • Indian embargo on pearl imports, 1947
  • New marketing initiatives for Persian Gulf pearls
  • Economic significance of pearl trade, 1951
  • Adverse effect of middlemen for Bahrain pearl merchants, 1962