Monday, 23 August 2010

The Motives of Marmaduke Wetherell

There is one aspect of the Surgeon's Photo Hoax theory that has always puzzled me and that was motive.

If we go back to the 1975 newspaper clipping that started Alastair Boyd's investigation we get an insight into why it is alleged that Marmaduke Wetherell faked the photograph. According to his son Ian in that clipping, the Daily Mail had gone cold on Wetherell's expedition and had dropped it much to his father's chagrin.

In response to this, Ian quotes his father as saying "All right, we'll give them their monster". This was all meant to set in train a chain of events leading to the pictures being offered to the Daily Mail via the link man Kenneth Wilson.

All perfectly plausible, but wasn't something meant to happen next? You get the cold shoulder from the Daily Mail, you fake a photograph and sell it to them, they get the media sensation of 1934 and the rights to the iconic image of Nessie for decades to come. Was that the intention of Marmaduke Wetherell? Did he plan to give the Daily Mail the glory of the best picture of Nessie ever?

Somehow I do not think so.

I don't read in the Boyd/Martin book what Wetherell planned to do once the picture was published but it is not hard to guess. The most reasonable explanation for all of this was revenge. He would fake the picture, wait until the Mail was basking in the glory of it and then expose the picture to a rival newspaper. Thus the Mail is jeered across the nation and Wetherell dies a happy man.

Quite clearly this did not happen and I am not the first to question the whole alleged motive because of this. If Wetherell did not follow through on his plan - then was there ever a plan? Now at this point we again enter the realms of speculation because all the main protagonists in this story are dead. When an explanation is offered for something (i.e. the photo was faked for revenge) but these discrepancies appear then the supporters of said theory are obliged to come up with some explanation even though it may not be the probable one.

So why didn't Wetherell apply the Coup De Grace? Why did he snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory? He died in 1939 so that gave him about 5 years to finish the execution of the plot but in my opinion the best time to strike was when the iron was hot and the picture was experiencing high publicity in 1934.

So what could have gone wrong for Wetherell?

1. Did he perhaps approach rival newspapers but they refused to take the bait? Hardly likely considering the ribbing other papers gave the Mail over the hippo tracks Wetherell "found" (see Boyd/Martin book).

2. Had he perhaps intended Wilson to come clean but then the good doctor got cold feet? Possibly, but why not then do it himself or one of the other plotters such as Chambers? Surely our intrepid game hunter would not let the prey escape so easily?

3. Was he perhaps afraid of his reputation being panned if he declared himself? So why didn't he confess when he knew he was dying of cancer with nothing to lose?

Whatever explanation is conjured out of the air, this is another question mark will hang over this story. The motive was revenge but revenge was not applied despite Wetherell's great desire to do so. It is all rather like watching a movie where the plot is going along well but at the very end the crooks don't get caught or the lovers do not live happily ever after.

And while we are on the subject of that 1975 newspaper article there was one or two points made in it that made me think. The relevant text is this:

"Then it was just a matter of winding up the sub and getting it to dive just below the surface so the neck and head drew a proper little V in the water. I took about five shots with the Leica, then suddenly a water bailiff turned up. I suppose he had heard voices and thought we were fishing. Dad put his foot on the monster and sank it, and that was that."

Now this matter of trying to produce a V-wake is contradicted by the actual photograph above which evidently shows a stationary object with no wake and rather a concentric ripple around it indicating the opposite.

Furthermore, we are told by Ian who was actually claimed to be there (as opposed to Spurling who allegedly made the model but did not go to Loch Ness) that the whole session did not last hours but was interrupted in which time five shots were taken as the submarine went "just below the surface". Why is this important? Because it makes no space for that troublesome second Surgeon's photograph to be taken. Again, that photo is unaccountable by this hoax theory.

Do I have any conclusion regarding the whole matter? There are inconsistencies in the story which a good lawyer could get an open verdict on if there was a "Nessie Inquest". I won't say Christian Spurling and Ian Wetherell were lying but neither could I say they were truthful. There are questions which leave me asking questions but I would have to find a real motive for why they lied. I won't pursue that line for now but neither will I let the matter lie there.

For now, digest these thought on my blog of the last weeks and draw your own conclusions.


  1. Some very good points for consideration. I's say however that they don't take away from the story of the picture being faked, they are monor points. e.g. the mising wake might just be because the wind up mechanics ran out of energy and the model stopped.

  2. Chasing Leviathan3 March 2012 at 13:25

    Slightly off-topic here I know, but I wondered if people could help me out with something - namely the whole 'hippo foot hoax' that lead allegedly to Wetherell faking the Surgeon's Photograph. The accepted wisdom seems to be that Wetherell and Pauli were responsible for the hippo prints, but others suggest they themselves were hoaxed by someone planting the footprints for them to find. To what extent (if any) has this been cleared up?

    I've also seen photographs of what has been alleged to be the infamous hippo foot itself (variously described as an ash-tray and an umbrella stand). Is there any hard evidence that this is the actual item used in the hoax or is this simply conjecture?

    As to why Wetherell didn't deliver the Coup De Grace regarding the Surgeon's Photograph, my best guess (and that's all it is I hasten to add) would be fear of legal action by the Mail. Even when he knew he was dying he may have been worried about the legal position exposure would land his son and stepson in. Pure conjecture I know, but I wonder if the conspirators weren't taken aback by what a sensation the picture proved to be. Perhaps they reckoned the stakes had been raised higher than they liked and decided it was best to keep quiet.

    Many thanks for any help you can provide with the above.

    1. The hippo foot is in possession of the Wetherell family so I think it is a fair bet it is the same object You can see a photo of it in the Boyd/Martin book.

      Good point about potential legal action by the Mail. One may wonder why they didn't think about that in the first place, but who can tell what would have gone through the respective minds of Wetherell and the Mail's legal team.

  3. Some good points, indeed. I'd say they DO detract from the "hoax" story. Things just don't add up. Too many unanswered questions, the "revenge motive" theory being chief among them. We can't say that the photos are definitely genuine images of something unknown, but I'd still say that's more likely than this particular hoax story. By no stretch of the imagination has the Surgeon's Photograph been "proved to be a hoax", as seems to be the common accompanying tag since Spurling's tale came out.

  4. Also - I thought Wetherell was the party who was duped by the hippo prints. He submitted photos of the prints to the Daily Mail as being those of Nessie, was embarrassed when the true source of the footprints came to light, and then developed his thirst for revenge - which, as we read above, went unslaked.

    1. I refer to the comment above about the hippo ashtray which was in possession of the Wetherell family. As it turns out, the ashtray can now be viewed at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit.

  5. I'd feel I got one over the paper if I got them to publish it, and I'd also enjoy keeping the story going once it went huge. To me the silence is very consistent with a long term hoax at the paper's expense.

  6. I'm glad to see this blog is still going. My question is -the story says at one point the shape is on the back of a submarine and seems to be in deep water yet the info says "Dad put his foot on the monster and sank it, and that was that." after they were seen. How can this be so? It's a minor point yet I have a question of the truthfulness of the story.

    1. I would not think deep water was required to float the contraption.

  7. It's possible Nessie actually popped her head up and thats why there are circular ripples around the neck of the object. Possibly Wetherell and the others decided it's in the best interest of Nessie to let people think it was a hoax. And Wetherell went to his grave happily keeping this secret.

  8. One last question concerning the ripples and waves. On the Loch how large are the waves on a normal day? Does this photo look correct or is it a close up trying to convince people that the animal is in deep water when actually it's a mini boat in shallow water? Because the man said he stepped on it to hide it. So it has to be in water below knee height to be able to step on it. Not plausible if you consider this is all do in under 2 ft of water. I'm thinking the craft would have been seen by the bailiff. Unless the water is mud, the baliff would have seen the object just inches below surface. Maybe a person with the knowledge of the lake and it's wave pattern may be able to help settle this question. Thank you

    1. They can vary quite a bit from nothing to a few feet in stormy weather. This photo was taken in what looks like relatively calm weather. There is not much to deduce from waves as far as I can see. A weather forecast for the day would be useful (though the wind tunnel that is Loch Ness can exaggerate what is predicted by nearby weather stations in calmer spots.