Home' Afloat : AFLOAT May 2018 Contents Take monthly with water May 2018 17
WHEN EVERYTHING COMES TOGETHER
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Tracks and travellers
Cam cleats and swivels
Photo: Ola Stensby/Niklas Strandberg
the Royal Navy’s survey sloop HMS Norfolk,
hove-to and recorded the fateful day that
his crew returned from the Island with the
first bloody boatload of seals.
Flinders was to sound what might
have been the Shy Albatross’s death knell,
when, in his journal he wrote this ominous
account that two centuries later, retains the
power to send a shudder down my spine.
“ There are vast numbers of albatrosses
on the isle to which their name is
given, which were tending young ... and
being unacquainted with the power or
disposition of man, did not fear him:
we taught them their first lesson of
The brutal Bass Strait sealers
and ruthless ticket-of-leave convicts
who followed in Flinders’ wake, first
exterminated the island’s fur seals, then
“ the disposition of man” turned its full
and terrible attention to pillaging the
albatrosses for their feathers.
In the frenzied slaughter that followed
they killed 99 per cent of the birds and left
their carcases rotting on the cliff tops. Two
centuries later their numbers have still not
Why on earth, one might wonder, would
anyone want to rip the snowy-white down
from the breasts of brooding seabirds?
The sheer scale of the 19th century feather trade
beggars belief. In 1893 the English naturalist
W.H. Hudson penned a letter to The Times
which conveys the sense of the outrage then
being felt at the universal plundering of the
world’s birds to meet the insatiable demands of
Under the heading ‘Feathered Women’, he wrote:
“All over the world, where birds have a bright-
coloured plumage, the same destructive war has
been waged, with a result that may be imagined
when we remember that for twenty-five years
the fashion has been universal, and that it was
estimated nine years ago that 20 to 30 millions
of birds were annually imported by this country
to supply the home demand.
“In some thoroughfares where Saturday evening
markets are held I saw trays and baskets full
of tropical birds exposed – tanagers, orioles,
kingfishers, trogons, humming birds &c.,
from 2d and 41⁄2d per bird. They were indeed
cheap – so cheap that even the ragged girl from
the neighbourhood slums could decorate her
battered hat like any fine lady.”
In March 1899, the Rev. H . Greene wrote As in
a Mirror: an appeal to the Ladies of England
against the use of birds in millinery. It was one
of the earliest pamphlets published by the newly
formed Society for the Protection of Birds.
“One dealer in London,” he
wrote, “is said to have received
as a single consignment, 32,000
dead humming birds, 80,000
aquatic birds and 800,000 pairs
“A Parisian dealer had a contract
for 40,000 birds and an army of murderers were
turned out to supply the order. No less than
40,000 terns have been sent from Long Island
in one season for millinery purposes.
“At one auction alone in London there were sold
404,389 West Indian and Brazilian bird skins
and 356,389 East Indian, besides thousands of
pheasants and Birds of Paradise. We need not
further repeat numbers. The slaughter is simply
In 1895 British milliners offered for sale “mixed
sprays” of Ospreys and Birds of Paradise
feathers “which divided, bleached or dyed,
would sell for some sixpence apiece.” An
American Egret hunter boasted that he could get
$5 in New Orleans for a single plume and that
in two years hunting in South America he had
made $4,000 profit.
This is the maelstrom of plunder and profit
that very nearly ended in extinction for the Shy
Albatross. It is one more compelling reason for
us to do whatever we can to help make amends.
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