Mr. Alexander Birnie of Wellbank, as a young man, was engaged in pearl fishing off the coast of Western Australia, where after a most adventurous career and hard work, he succeeded in making a tidy fortune. He owned three luggers, with which he carried on the work of pearl fishing, and a schooner, the”IVY”, a vessel of 60 tons register, upon which he sailed himself, and which he used as a tender between the fishing fleet off the Lacepede group and Fermantle, where he resided. On 26th November, 1896, Mr. Birnie had a very had a very narrow escape from being drowned. The schooner struck the Pender Reef and when some planks finally burst the crew spent several hours in the rigging before they affected a escape to the mainland where a Japanese fisher picked them up. The ship and stock were lost. In 1898 he built the schooners DORA and M.S.W., and in 1903 built the schooners PEGGY and CULVULLA.
When he retired from pearl fishing, Mr. Birnie returned to his native land and purchased the estate of Wellbank. He was the son on George Birnie and Alexandria Bruce. George was the Harbour Master and a shipbuilder in Peterhead. In June 1924 Alexander contributed 2,000 pounds to build the George Birnie Memorial Bridge, across the Ugie River to the Peterhead Golf Club.
Photos of the “Pearl Kings”swords: Courtesy of John James Birnie