History of the PAM Pearl Lugger

| by Dan and Wendy McLay

The ‘PAM’ Pearl Lugger started her life in 1901 under the name ‘DOMINION’. Pearler and trader Captain Ansell Clement Gregory bought the Dominion cheap around 1925 from Griz and Billy Ward, Publican of the Roebuck Hotel in Broome WA.

The DOMINION (1901)

In the year 1901 Australia was embroiled in its own new found freedom, closely watched by England. In a shipyard in Fremantle Western Australia, a shipwright looked over the plans of a new pearl lugger named ‘DOMINION’, after the times in which she was born.

After many months of construction, she freed her land bound moorings and slipped gently into the waters of Western Australia.

In April 1902 the ‘DOMINION’ owned by George Francis started her working life. She was soon sold in 1905 to George Hampton (Master Mariner) of Freemantle, who owned and operated her until 1922.

After many owners and the rapid depletion of the oyster beds, the Fisheries Department of Broome made a ruling that no new luggers were to be built, unless off the remains of another lugger, and the original lugger had to be burnt after she was stripped of usable parts. This was so as not to add to the fleet, but you could build a new boat off the remains of an old one.

In 1925 there were 200 registered luggers working out of Broome.

In a 1924 cyclone, wild storms pounded the seas off Broome and the ‘DOMINION’ was one of many victims and she lay wrecked on the beach.

In 1925 Captain Ansell Clement Gregory (Pearler and Trader) of Broome bought the wreck from Griz and Billy Ward, Publican of the Roebuck Hotel. The Dominion was struck from the registry and her certificate cancelled in 1926.

Rebuild by Gregory Pearling Company

Between February 1925 and November 1926 the Gregory Pearling Company completely rebuilt the lugger on the foreshores of Broome. Under regulations of employment of indentured labour, a pearling fleet carpenter was permitted to repair or renovate a lugger, but must not be employed in the building of a new one.

One stick of the Dominion, the kelson, had been found sound and strong enough for further use, so the ‘repairing’ of this old hulk actually meant replacing everything from the keel to the cabin top. Her ribs were of cadgibutt, a local tree as tough as anything that grows. It's warped shape made it possible to cut every timber with a natural curve in it.

Only the stem post, longer and more symmetrically shaped than the ribs, couldn’t be found. Hezaburo Uneyama the carpenter made it in two pieces using a long splice so closely fitted that a cigarette paper wouldn’t fit between the edges of the splice. The shaping of the ribs and even of the stem post was done on the beach, mainly with an adze.

The PAM (1926)

From a fleet of around 200 in 1924–25, now only a handful still remain and most of those are in maritime museums around Australia. PAM is the oldest remaining lugger from that era still afloat.

She was said to be the prettiest lugger that Captain Gregory had rebuilt and the new master craftsman boat builder Uneyama paid special attention to the rebuild as it was to be named after the Captain’s daughter.

She reappears in official records in 1926 as the vessel PAM. After the rebuild PAM worked out of Roebuck Bay until 1928.

It was then that Captain Gregory became disenchanted with the local pearling masters as he wished to establish a cultured pearl industry, which the locals saw as a threat to their livelihood. Because of this he relocated to Darwin in the Northern Territory with five luggers, where extensive new pearl beds had been discovered.

World War 2 (1939 to 1945)

During World War 2 many luggers were requisitioned by the Australian Armed Forces. Those that were not were destroyed under the “Scorched Earth Policy”, so as not to give the invading Japanese transport that they could use along our coastline and inland waters.

PAM was never requisitioned by the military, but retained by Gregory and used in covert secret service missions in the Torres Straits and Papua New Guinea. He also assisted the war effort by piloting ships into Darwin Harbor and familiarizing the Naval Commanders with the coastline along the top end of Australia.

Captain Gregory retained ownership of the PAM until his death in 1942.

His daughter Pamela married an American Naval Officer, Commander Neilson, and moved to Los Altos, California. Pamela passed away in recent years aged in her nineties, but not before seeing her namesake undergoing restoration.

On the 12th of December 1945 the PAM passed to Captain Gregory’s executors, Arthur Male (Merchant) and Thomas Archer (Pilot Officer RAAF). On the same day they sold her to William Dean (RAAF) and James Proctor (RAAF), both of Darwin. During this time the pioneering cultured pearl company Paspaly used the PAM.

Dean and Proctor owned her until she was beached at Francis Bay Northern Territory in December 1960. The final official entry shows her as “stripped and broken up”. Her certificate was cancelled and registry closed on the 2nd December 1970.

That should have been the end, BUT …

The PAM Pearl Lugger was saved and had various owners and work done between 1970 and 1988, when Dan and Wendy McLay purchased her.

PAM was transported to Gippsland to begin a long and persistent journey to rebuild and restore this stunning vessel to what she once was and to comply with current survey standard.

5 Comment(s) - Average Rating 4.4 / 5 (Show All)

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- 03rd January 2023

Once you’ve lived and worked on or under one, you never forget. They live breathe and have an addictive smell.
So rare today so my heart felt congratulations, and thanks for keeping Pam alive.
Best regards, Jon

A relation of ours

- 21st January 2018

Captain Clement Gregory was a relation of ours on our Mothers side. I found this article very interesting and informative.

Date correction

- 04th January 2017

Just a point about the picture of the Pam at the end of the wharf. The new wharf and sheds weren't built until about 1956 so this has to be later than that and not during WW2.

Admin Response: Thanks Andrew, we have corrected that.

The dream has been achieved

- 13th September 2015

What a fantastic achievement you have both done in restoring the Dominion/Pam and in continuing to write the history of Pam 050

An accomplishment I could only dream of.
You have rewarded me for the effort of rescuing Pam from the beach of Francis Bay.
As the first “dreamer” I spent months on the beach working to get Pam back into the bay.

I had well prepared her for a storm and anchored up the creek of Francis bay.
Along came cyclone Tracy with no regard and sent the Pam back into the mango swamps.

From there I rescued her for the second time and refloated her back in the bay.

Now was the time to pass her onto the next “dreamer”.
I could only dream on that one day somebody would achieve what you both have now done.

Regards, Noel McDougall.

Great History and Herstory

- 12th August 2015

Stories are what brings things together, I found the history of the pearl lugger very interesting. Wonderful in fact that such a relic has been restored. Congratulations to you both. I must bring my son for a cruise sail one day. He's a bit of a sailer, little boats at present!

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