John Louis

Australian-built for pearling

The pearl shelling lugger John Louis under sail in Sydney Harbour with Centrepoint Tower in the background

  • About


    Built in Broome for pearling, John Louis is one of the last sail-rigged working craft built in Australia. In the early 20th century, Australia supplied 75% of the world's pearl shell. Luggers towed their divers over the pearl beds by drifting, often with just the sail on the after mast set. John Louis collected young pearl shells for the cultured pearl industry which thrived after World War II. Its tank of circulating sea water kept shells alive on the return voyage.

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  • Photo Gallery

    Photo Gallery

    Black and white photograph of pearling lugger JOHN LOUIS A50Vessel plan of JOHN LOUIS
  • More info

    More info


    John Louis was built in Broome in 1957 using local Western Australian timbers. It was one of the last traditional pearl shelling luggers built.

    The design of the Broome luggers evolved in response to the local environment, with the shallow draft and broad beam needed for the large tidal movements of the region. The crew, mainly Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Malay, or Japanese, slept and lived on the deck. Crew members worked tending the air hoses for the hard hat divers collecting pearl shell below. They cleaned the shell on deck. Pearl shell was a valuable material before the days of plastic.

    In the 1970s the hard hat era ended. John Louis was modified for the growing cultured pearl industry and for the new form of diving called hookah, which used much lighter equipment. The foredeck was raised, forecastle accommodation built, the diesel engine replaced and an open wheelhouse and awnings were added. This is John Louis' configuration today.

    Ship specifications

    15.64 m overall
     Breadth 4.39 m
     Draught 1.73 m
     Displacement 35.6 tonnes
     Builder Male & Co, Broome, Western Australia
     Construction Carvel, jarrah planking, karri frames, white gum decks, oregon spars
     Sail Auxiliary gaff ketch
     Engine 6-cylinder Volvo Penta marine diesel 78 kW

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