There is another purpose for which these shells are used, which would astonish the " Truefitts," of the present day; for Grey, in his 'Australia,' mentions that amongst the contents of a native woman's bag was a mussel-shell for cutting the hair.
There is an interesting account in Captain O'Brien's 'Adventures during the late War,' of the method of fishing for mussels in the Bay of Concepcion. A man and woman in a canoe push off from the shore, to a certain depth, when the man with a long pole ascertains the depth of the mussel-bed. This pole, which has a sharpened end, is struck into the bed, and serves as the anchor or mooring for the boat; the woman, with her arms round it, makes it her line of descent. With this as a conductor, she slides or slips down, and soon reappears with her arms crossed round the pole, but with both hands as full as they can hold of mussels. Having deposited her handfuls in the canoe, she descends again and again six or eight times, until her cargo is complete. Upon Captain O'Brien's remonstrating with a man for imposing such a dangerous duty upon a woman, instead of undergoing it himself, he explained to him, that this diving was a privilege of the sex, and that no man would dare to be so unmanly as to rob a woman of her birthright. These Chilian, or Bay of Concepcion belles, sell their produce in the market for dresses and finery.
The usual size of the common mussel is about two inches and a half in length, and about half that in breadth; but in 1862 I produced two specimens from Ex mouth, which had been dredged, the largest measuring five inches in length and two and a half in breadth, the other four inches long and one and a quarter wide. Large mussels are brought from Padstow, and are sold in the Truro market ready boiled for eating, and, when cooked, the fish measures quite two inches in length; the colour is like the yolk of a hard-boiled egg and the flesh is very sweet and tender. The shells of these, measured four inches in length, and two and a half inches in breadth. Though mussels are a valuable article of food, and considered wholesome, yet many cases of poisoning by mussels have occurred; but it may generally be traced to their having been gathered from either the sides of docks, or piers, where there are copper bolts or nails, or from ships that are copper-bottomed; or else from the neighbourhood of large town sewers, the sewerage water running over the rocks on which the mussels grow. In the 'Field,' November 15th, 1862, is an interesting account of an experiment made on oysters that had become so impregnated with copper as to be as green as verdigris. They were taken from Falmouth harbour. An attempt was made to extract the copper from them; and, after putting a hundred or more into a large crucible, reducing them to ashes, and continuing to increase the heat until the copper was melted; the produce was a bright bead of pure copper, which, according to the description, would be about the size of a large pin's head. Mr. Penwarne, who communicated this article to the 'Field,' adds, that the oysters may have lain on a lode, or the copper might have accumulated from the wash of the stamping-mills. This proves, without doubt, that shellfish can be impregnated with copper or other poisonous substances, which probably would affect those who ate them. Some persons consider that mussels are unwholesome if a small species of crab (Pinnotheres pisum, or Pinnotheres veterum), which is sometimes found in their shells, is not carefully taken out; others, that they are only fit for food in the winter months; and by some on account of their feeding on the spawn of the star-fish, which is poisonous.* It is said that if a silver spoon is boiled with the mussels, and it turns black, it proves that they are poisonous, and not fit to be eaten. But, whatever may be the cause of the wholesale poisoning by these shellfish, they have been the means of saving many poor from starvation in times of scarcity. Mr. Patterson, of Belfast, in his 'Introduction to Zoology,' mentions having been informed by an old inhabitant of Holy wood, near the above-mentioned town, that in 1792, or 1793, there was a great drought prevailing, which caused much distress, and that in the month of June or July, twenty poor families from the interior of the country encamped on the roadside, near the beach to the west of Holywood, remaining there about five weeks, subsisting partly on such vegetable matter as they could pick up about the hedgerows and fences, but principally upon the mussels which are so abundant on the extensive mud-banks of the neighbouring coast. No instance of disease from this diet occurred, and during that summer the poorer classes in the village appeared quite as healthy as in other years, though mussels formed their chief food.
* ' Religious Ceremonies,' vol. iv. p. 315.
* 'British Conchology,' vol. ii. p. 109.
Some of the natives inhabiting the Patagonian Channels between the Gulf of Penas and Smyth's Channels, live the greater part of the year almost entirely on mussels and limpets, varied occasionally by the capture of a seal or small otter.*
Athenaeus says that mussels are moderately nutritious and digestible, the best being the Ephesian kind, which are particularly good when taken about the end of autumn (vol. i. p. 150).
In the Feroe Isles, the large horse-mussel, Mytilus modiolus is eaten, and they call it in Feroese Ova. Mr. Alder tells us that at Rothesay they are collected for food † (though not so delicate as Mytilus edulis), and in the Shetland Isles for bait, where they are known by the name of Yoags. They are also eaten in the north of Ireland, but not considered very good, on account of their strong scent and flavour; but they are capital bait for cod. In Labrador the bait generally used at the commencement of the cod-fishing season, viz., in May and June, consists of mussels salted for the purpose; but as soon as the capelings (Mallotus villosus) reach the coast, they are substituted, to save expense; and in many instances the flesh of gannets and other sea fowl is employed.‡