As part of the fiftieth anniversary of the cultured pearl of Tahiti, in 2011, I had the honor to participate in the development of the book “History of the cultured pearl of Tahiti” founded by “La Maison de la Perle” and directed by my friend Patrick Seurot. 2 years of research were necessary and unpublished archives were presented inside.
This week I am inspired by a chapter on the relationship between the “Prince of shell collection”, “M. Hugh Cuming and the” mother “of the cultured pearl of Tahiti, Pinctada margaritifera variety cumingii.
All starts with a passion …
Mr. Hugh Cuming was born on February 14, 1791 at Washbrook in South Devon, son of a family of three. Child, he met Colonel Georges Montagu, renowned naturalist, once this contact Hugh Cuming starts to get excited for crust aceans.
With his parents, he learned the manufacture of sails and opened a business in South America in 1819. The benefits of this business will enable him to live comfortably throughout his life and devote himself to his passion: shellfish.
“The prince of shell collections”
In 1826, He gets built a ship, the Discoverer, as to collect specimens of fauna and flora and leave on 28th of October 1827. This expedition leads him in Polynesia, where he discovers our pearl oyster, Pinctada Margaritifera. In a letter addressed to his friend, Sir William Jackson Hooker, he describes the details of the trip and says he will bring back to London “27000″ natural pearls from Tahiti. In this 5 pages letter of 21 March 1832, he described his itinerary and meetings with the Polynesians.
He keeps also a diary, which reads in part :
“The Discoverer reached South Marutea for the second time on 25th January : The Meleagrina or Pearl Oyster here attains a great size the shell of an extraordinary thickness and highly usefull to the Manufacturer of Fancy goods. During my stay the Natives collected upwards of Forty Tons fit for Market, out of them I had taken above Twenty Seven Thousands Pearls, the whole weighing Thirty two Ounces.”
In 1828, he claims the identity of the variety of pintadines producing these pearls.
In 1840, after 13 years dedicated to his passion, he will record more than 3000 marine and land mollusks or freshwater macrophyte. Those expeditions earned him the nickname, in the scientific community of the time, of “Prince of shell collections.”
“The Queen of pearl oysters”
Where does, the name of the black lipped oyster producing the rainbow colors pearls, come from?
According to Dr. Henk K. Mienis, University of Jerusalem (SPC No. 81995): “The origin of Pinctada is neither Greek nor Latin; rather, it is a corruption of the French “Pintade (Guinea Fowl)“, itself derived from the Portuguese “Pintada” which means “spotted” or “stained”. ” Indeed, considering the appearance of the shell, the name previously used “Méléagrine” already specified the “guinea fowl” in Greek. Thus, it is in 1842 that the name ‘Pintadine “appeared and was Latinized by Dr Röding as the” Pinctada “.
These “Pinctada” producing pearls were naturally associated with the Latin word
“margaritifera” which appeared in the 1st century AD by Plinus, meaning. “Which produces pearls”
Although there are twenty species of Pinctada Margaritifera in the Indo-Pacific region, but this variety secreting multiple colors, was endemic to Polynesian lagoons.
Posterity to let Mr. Hugh Cuming a name, as recognition: cumingii variety …
Thus, the pearl oyster producing cultured pearls of Tahiti, is full name: Pinctada margaritifera variety cumingii … Thanks to the “Prince Cuming” !
Pearly yours !