The 'brilliant shells' of Shark Bay: The emotions of shell-collecting

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On his second visit to Australia William Dampier visited Shark Bay in August 1699. Here he discovered an array of familiar shellfish such as ‘mussels, periwinkles, limpets, oysters, both of the pearl kind and also eating-oysters, as well the common sort as long oysters’. Dampier also collected ‘an infinite number of highly extraordinary and beautiful shells’, in a wide ‘variety of colour and shape, most finely spotted with red, black, or yellow, etc., such as [he had] not seen anywhere but at this place’. He eagerly ‘brought away a great many
of them’, but later lamented that he ‘lost all except a very few, and those not of the best’ quality.2 Dampier’s short account of the shells he found in Shark Bay tantalized the French zoologist, François Péron, who accompanied the Baudin expedition (1800-1804) which visited Western Australia in 1801 and 1803. Péron was determined to find and collect these ‘extraordinary and beautiful shells’ himself when he first visited Shark Bay in June 1801. His account of shell collecting is laden with emotional terms, charting the elation and disappointment he experienced while collecting. Although Péron’s account was unusually verbose, he was not alone in evoking emotional terms in describing shell collecting. Moreover, such accounts must be read in conjunction with the affective language used by early European explorers, particularly the French, to
describe the Western Australian landscapes and seascapes more generally. These early naturalists’ accounts suggest that we read collecting as an emotional practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-36
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Western Australian History
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


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