Edward ‘Yankee Ned’ Mosby was a Civil War veteran and naval deserter from the United States who, according to family legend, came to Australia aboard a whaling schooner in the late 1860s. Upon his arrival, he made his way to the Torres Strait region. In the mid-1860s he worked for John Jardine, the First Administrator and Magistrate of the Torres Strait Islands, at Somerset near the Albany Passage supposedly on an early pearling ship gathering beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers).
Eventually he made his way in his own boat to Masig Island, now known as Yorke Island. He lived among the islanders, learning more about the pearl and bêche-de-mer trades, and marrying local woman Kudin, who he affectionately called Queenie. They had four sons together.
Yankee Ned established arrangements to work with the locals to harvest pearls and sea-slugs for themselves, instead of working for foreign pearlers. This made him more popular with some people on the island but he was not yet seen as a leader. After a clash with warriors from Mer (Murray) Island in which Yankee Ned organised a successful defence, the community of Masig Island came to accept him as a leader. He introduced new methods of gardening, built roads and established a western education system for the children of the island.
As he aged, Yankee Ned allowed his sons and grandsons to take over the family pearling business. After losing his leg to an infection from coral poisoning, Ned could no longer fish or dive. He retired to a European-style house he had built on the north side of the island. According to legend, after Yankee Ned noticed a foreign pearl diver watching him as he counted his pearls, he apparently buried the treasure in order to protect it and told no-one of its location.
Yankee Ned died in 1911 at the age of 71 and was buried in the cemetery on Thursday Island. His legend remains alive among his descendants on Masig, as does the hope that Ned’s buried pearls may one day be found.