Sunday, 30 October 2011

Classic Sightings - Gordon Powell

Date: June 21st 1936
Time: 5:30pm
Location: Urquhart Castle
Witnesses: Reverend Gordon Powell
Type of sighting: Head, neck and two humps in water

Following on from our tale of the monk and the monster, another man of the cloth is behind our latest classic sighting. This sighting is not one that can be found in the standard Nessie text books but it nevertheless has all the qualities that constitute a classic sighting as we shall relate.

In fact, this story may well have remained in a dark corner if it was not for the labours of Paul Cropper. Paul, though he believes there is something unexplained in Loch Ness is primarily a Yowie man. For those who wonder what a Yowie is, go to Paul's website at this link. The following transcript and photographs are under Paul's copyright.

Paul had heard that a man by the name of Gordon Powell in his native Australia had seen Nessie and made arrangements in 2001 to interview him about the sighting. By then, Rev Powell was long retired but the memory of the event was still there for Paul to record.

The Reverend Doctor Gordon Powell himself was born in 1911 and was ordained into the ministry in 1938. It was a scholarship to Glasgow University in 1935 that brought him to Scotland. He went on to a successful ministry in Sydney as well as a popular radio ministry. He died in 2005 aged 94.

Gordon Powell begins with the background to the sighting in 1936:

I was a student at Glasgow University at the time and I was with two other students. We were on a camping trip around Scotland and we’d camped beside Urquhart Castle. And one of the significant things I found in investigating the whole thing was that the local people have a superstition that Nessie brings bad luck and the only way to avoid it is to not talk about seeing it.

I took my wife back in 1960 and hoped that she would see it as I did. And I said to the young man in the Drumnadrochit Hotel, I’ve seen the Loch Ness monster and I was going on to explain I wanted my wife to see it. And he shook, he really trembled all over, he said “don’t talk about it, don’t talk about it”. And he refused to talk about it.

Well, by the extraordinary coincidence there had been a death in a family that morning, we were all theological students and we’d gone to church, and I’d say the service lasted from 11:00am ‘til after 3:00pm. It was a six monthly communion service and half in Gaelic and half in English.

And anyway, we met Mrs MacDonald who was distressed because her brother-in-law had died and she couldn’t get to the house. And the other two chaps offered to drive her there. And they left me alone. I was writing a letter home and I was sitting on the bank and it was a perfect day for the viewing.

The paragraph concerning his wife is a paranthetic about his second visit to Loch Ness in 1960 but I can concur with his statement about local fear of the monster having researched the Water Horse aspects of the creature for my book.

Then the Loch Ness Monster appeared to unsettle his quiet solitude.

The sun was behind me and the water was so calm that in Urquhart Bay it was like glass. And I happened to look up just in time to see a disturbance in this glassy area, and then a head came up like a calf. From that distance I couldn’t see any horns or ears, it was very smooth, the head, and a long neck. And then it looked just the one way and then looked straight towards me, and then it looked at what was ahead. And my theory is it spotted a school of salmon.

It was the salmon season of course, the middle of summer, and it chased something anyway, whether it was salmon or something else, at tremendous speed. And at least three humps came up, possibly a fourth, and there was a lot of spray. It was very much alive. It was very large. It swam very quickly, it bucketed along the surface very quickly and after … well I grabbed my camera and I took a picture after it had gone I suppose perhaps two or three hundred yards, and then it swam on for a similar distance and then dived.

I wrote in the letter a few minutes later that it looked like an enormous eel to me. But then I thought about all the spray that it sent up and I thought well an eel wouldn’t send up a lot of spray, something with flippers might do it. And well that was as I saw it then.

Wondering what he had seen, a subsequent visit to London helped form an opinion:

A week or two later or some … no, it was on the second trip I was in London and I went into the Victoria and Albert Museum and I didn’t know what I was going to see. But I went into one room and I gasped “..there’s Nessie!” It was a skeleton of a plesiosaurus and it had a long neck, a small head, a long tail and a big body with four flippers. And there it was in skeleton form. I don’t know if it was a plesiosaurus but it … some people say it could be. I suddenly thought well this is a … be surviving for about 50 million years.

Helpfully, Gordon drew a picture for Paul of what he had seen which is shown below with the man himself.

The form of the beast seen is very much the classic sighting - long neck, small head and a number of humps following. Paul asked for more details concerning the sighting. Powell said the creature emerged beyond the centre of the bay at over 500 yards and moved nearer until at the point of submerging for good, it was only 200 yards away.

The head and neck were visible mainly at 300 to 400 yards. The neck was estimated as six feet out of the water.

The duration of the sighting was put conservatively at between 30 and 60 seconds.

Gordon also mentioned that he took a photograph of the sighting. Did he capture the head, neck and three humps on film? The answer is "
No" in the sense that no such detail is visible on the print but it is reproduced here for completeness. The arrow marked "1" is where the creature first appeared and "2" is where it was at the point of the picture being taken.

Mr. Powell supplied a better picture with further comments attached which we reproduce below.

So ends the story but I add my own research and thoughts at this point. Firstly, a trawl of newspaper archives revealed that this sighting had featured in a 1977 article on churchmen and monsters. The article is from the 7th September edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. The text of his sighting is below which pretty much agrees with what he said to Paul Cropper 24 years later.

The water was calm like a mirror. Suddenly there was a bulge in the bay and this thing shot up; its neck was about six feet long and a foot thick. Its head was smooth, without horns, and reminded me of a calf. The body was dark brown or black. The creature looked around, dived, and swam at great speed towards the castle. There were three or four humps. I grabbed my camera and took a picture which showed the wake. My reactions had been slow because of the shock.

Reverend Powell then quotes Job 41:31 from the Bible concerning Leviathan:

He makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.

A fitting Biblical allusion to the power the Loch Ness Monster is said to exert on its surrounding waters.

One final comment by Gordon Powell in his interview with Paul led me down a final avenue of research. It was this comment:

Next day in the newspaper, three other people reported seeing what I saw at the same time in the same place.

Naturally, if one witness corroborates another's story then that lends weight to the overall testimony. Mr. Powell does not state what newspaper he read so some guesswork is involved here. I went to the Inverness Courier microfilm archives at the National Library of Scotland and examined the issues beyond the 21st June 1936.

As it turned out, the next edition of the paper on the Tuesday ran an article in which three reports of Nessie were claimed over that weekend. Two were on the Saturday but one was on the Sunday in which Mr. Powell claimed his sighting. The newspaper relates thusly:

One of the best views of the "Monster" was obtained on Sunday afternoon by Miss H. MacFie, 5 Porterfield Bank, Inverness, and Mr. J. Fraser, Firthview, Auldcastle Road, Inverness. They were cycling along the east side of the loch in the direction of Foyers, when suddenly they saw a large object rise about the middle of the loch and travel in the direction of Urquhart Castle.

Although a considerable distance away, both were certain it was the "Monster", for it created a great disturbance in the water by splashing. They watched its movements for fully four minutes before it ultimately stopped, and seemed gradually to sink below the surface.

It would seem that Mr. Powell's sighting took off from where Mr. Fraser's sighting finished as his creature headed off towards Urquhart Bay. The time of this sighting is merely stated as the afternoon which could place it anywhere between noon and 6pm (depending on how you define "afternoon"). So it is possible the two groups of witnesses were witnessing two parts of one overall Nessie journey.

An effort to resolve this matter further could be made by examining other Highland newspapers for that week since the Courier was not the only paper which took an interest in the Loch Ness Monster. I will update this posting if I find anything of interest.

But we are happy to add this "new" sighting of the Loch Ness Monster which lay hidden from the standard Nessie text books and web sites for years and again we thank Paul Cropper for his diligence in bringing it to our attention.


  1. Absolutely wonderful! Thrilling to see this level of scholarship at work. It's easy to think that all the research has already been done and is presented in the "standard Nessie texts," which I read over and over and continue to absorb. I also, just got your book this week and am enjoying it very much, and it brought me to your site (though I'd run across your blog here some time back). I've been compiling source material on water horses and folklore using Google Books, and share much the same view that you express in your book. Well done - and this post today is just fantastic. I've often thought how much I'd love to go through the archives of the Inverness Courier or the Scotsman and see what other angles are in the record. I'm also curious if Dom Cyril Diekhoff's diaries made it into the Library of Scotland collection when the Abbey shut down. Have you found it? Is there more in it than what Constance Whyte quotes?
    Once again - wonderful!

  2. Thanks, and credit again to Paul Cropper since it is mainly his work.

    As regarding my book, glad you are enjoying it - don't forget the review. :)

    Cyril Dieckhoff is a bit of an unsung hero having quietly gathered Nessie data over the 30s and 40s via local interviews. Constance Whyte had access to his diaries for her seminal book "More Than A Legend" in the 1950s so I presume she published the "best bits".

    I do not think his diary would be in the Nationa Archive but I will check. It is more likely that it is still with the Benedictine Monks since it is personal material. I will follow that up.

  3. Thanks - I'm very curious if his diary is still available, and what additional material it might contain -- or if he had other files based on his interviews. Are there still some books at the Fort Augustus Abbey? I got on-line and found that, if I recall, the Abbey is now a hotel or retreat center? So glad to see your book and blog - I've been reading about Loch Ness since I was a kid.

  4. The Abbey is now residential flats, so it is cleared out. A pity, it was a venerable old place when I regularly visited in the 1980s.

    Most of the Abbey books were sold privately or archived at the National Library of Scotland. Of course, most would be of a theological nature. The rest went to another Benedictine Abbey.

  5. The time of year, behaviour, speed and splashing point towards it being a family of sawbills like in the video at

  6. Just looks like a bunch of birds to me ....

    Wouldn't fool anyone with half a brain. How did the rest of that video go, did they fly off in a very un-Nessie-like manner?

    Head like a calf, arose out of glassy still water, 20ft long with 6ft neck (he's got the castle beside him as a height guide), no humps then three humps come up, dives down for good.

    I could go on but will stop there.

  7. Just checked, private Fort Augustus material is here in Edinburgh! Will continue to pursue ....

  8. Went to Loch Ness last year and stayed in one of the Abbey apartments - ideal!

    Also a small point - the witness is unlikely to have seen a Plesiosaur in the V and A that would be the Natural History Museum just up the road.

  9. Glasgow Boy - I was looking through Costello's book last night and he (and perhaps Whyte, too - I have her book on my table here) has a few letters (one translated from the Gaelic) that were sent to Dieckhoff. And just glancing through Whyte just now, she uses the phrase "among Dom Cyril's papers," so it looks like not only his diary, but that he kept a file, too. I get the sense that Costello and Whyte mined his work pretty deeply, but you never know the extent of his collection. Somewhere along the way in my Loch Ness studies he emerged as a fascinating figure to me. I'll be curious as to what you find, and if they're accesible at a library, they'll be part of my dream Loch Ness "expedition" I plan in the coming years. Thanks so much for a great blog, Glasgow Boy.

  10. Whoa thats cool mann :)

  11. I visited Dores recently to see some friends. They told me they had seen something but didnt feel easy talking about it in fear of being mocked. There are loads of people all the same who have seen it and kept quiet for fear of been labled and idiot or whatever, I trust my friends and I know they dont lie and wouldnt make up a story like that, there is something wonderful there, and Im not on about the pub in Dores. The report was seeing a very large tail like thing only 20 to 30 feet off shore swishing from side to side but no fish like tail. The length of what they saw of the creature must have been about 10 to 12 feet ( a very long Sturgeon?) the whole sequence only lasted about 15-20 seconds and froze everyone who saw it fixed looking at this amazing thing. But the really weird thing was the the follow up to this. Almost as soon as the strange thing disappeared into the dark unknown depths of the Loch everyone heard a very deep humming sound getting closer and closer and only to see a swarm of bees flying by, really odd and so loud they could have been on motorbikes. It has been know that the energy given off from the Loch itself and those creatures who reside their are exceptional as they absorb the energy through the 750ft deep fault line. Go and visit Dores. I dont work for any tourist board or have a guest house but I do have friends there and its all true.