William Saville-Kent (1845-1908) was a marine biologist, writer and the most eminent naturalist of his time and authored "The Great Australian Barrier Reef from 1893" short extract shown below.
The pearl and pearl-shelling industry of Queensland is confined to the tropical area of the Queensland coast-line, or, in other words, is essentially associated with the Great Barrier district.
Its headquarters are at Thursday Island, Torres Strait, degrees S. lat., 140 degrees E. long., and thirty miles north-west of Cape York, the northernmost point of the Australian continent.
All the licenses for vessels, boats, and men employed in this fishery, are taken out at Port Kennedy in Thursday Island ; and from this centre, shelling expeditions are made along the mainland coast-line to the northern limits of the Great Barrier coral-reef, and throughout Torres Strait northward to the vicinity of New Guinea. Within recent years pearl-shell has also been obtained in some quantity on the east shore of Cape York peninsular, in the gulf of Carpentaria.
As a result of his official investigation of that district in the year 1891, the author was able to report its presence also in the neighbourhood of Sweer's Island, one of the Wellesley group, farther east in the same gulf.
The average depth of water from which the greater quantity of the mother-of-pearl shell is at present collected is seven or eight fathoms. In former years it was abundant, and it is even now occasionally obtained in water of such little depth, that it can be gathered with the hand at low spring-tides. Twenty fathoms represent about the greatest depth from which the shell is profitably fished, although few divers can stand the strain of prolonged work under that pressure. Some of the largest shell now placed on the market is collected at the above-named depth from off the New Guinea coast.
By 1890, as Commissioner of Fisheries in Queensland he had achieved success while working on the "pearl sac" theory, which had resulted in the successful cultivation of Spherical pearls on Thursday Island, part of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
Unfortunatley, he had shared his knowledge with all, without realising the value of his discovery or registering Patent rights.
After he had spent years experimenting with the spherical pearls, he established the first South Sea cultured pearl farm on Albany Island in 1906.
He had promised to publish details of his method of culturing pearls, but unfortunatley, he never got round to it before he died in 1908.
It is interesting to note that the two japanese accredited with perfecting the techniques ( Tatsuhie Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa) both were sent to Thursday Island by Japanse Bureau of Fisheries where they stayed between 1901 and 1902.
They were refused patent rights in 1907 for the creation of cultured spherical pearls, but the method outlined was ultimatly adopted as the prefered method of culturing pearls, and it is still used today.
Kokichi Mikimoto, who became a world renowned name for pearls, bought the rights to the method that Mise and Nishikawa had become joint owners of.
Their claim of being the discoverers of the cultured pearl was registered in on 2nd Septemebr 1908. But the question of the origination of the technique of culturing of spherical pearls remain clouded. I thank Marge Dawson the Author of "Pearls of Creation A-Z of PEARLS" for this information