John Louis

John Louis

Australian-built in Broome for pearling.

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.


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


4.39 m


1.73 m


35.6 tonnes


Male & Co, Broome, Western Australia


Carvel, jarrah planking, karri frames, white gum decks, oregon spars


Auxiliary gaff ketch


6-cylinder Volvo Penta marine diesel 78 kW