Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Recantation of John MacDonald

Who is John MacDonald, you may ask?

Back on May 12th 1933, ten days after the first Loch Ness Monster article was printed in the Inverness Courier, the editor evidently favoured a second opinion in the form of Captain John MacDonald who had commanded several ships which had steamed their way up and down Loch Ness for nearly 50 years. Who better to ask about what sights may been seen on the loch surface, they may have thought.

The Captain proceeded to solemnly declare that the Mackays were the victims of their stirred imaginations and had probably seen salmon at play in the waters. After all, he had embarked on nearly 20,000 trips on the loch and he had never seen a thing and he knew what he was talking about.

He also dismissed any talk about a legendary creature being known about in the loch. Why is that? Because no one had ever told him about it! As it turns out, the tradition of a Water Horse in Loch Ness was well established.

Ronald Binns in his sceptical book, reprints the entirety of the captain's letter and holds it up as an authoritative example of how to answer the "myth" that was to develop.

As it transpired, this all turned out to be irrelevant as I was studying the archives and diaries of Cyril Dieckhoff in Edinburgh recently. Our erstwhile monk and monster hunter had kept various newspaper clippings and an undated one from the Daily Mail (probably after January 1934) proved most illuminating.

The reporter had tracked down Captain MacDonald again and asked his opinion over six months on from his letter to the Inverness Courier. This is what he said:

If so many reputable people say they have seen 'the beast' one inclines to the belief that there is something in it.

The article also relates how his own daughter, Christina, claimed to have seen the Loch Ness Monster.

So Captain MacDonald came to realise his 20,000 trips on Loch Ness counted for nothing in the grand scheme of things. The truth is that you can spend your entire life on the loch and never see the monster or you can see it within minutes of arriving for your first visit. When you have a creature that spends almost its entire life in the silt at the bottom and sides of the loch, it is surprising that it puts in an appearance for anyone.

But it does and the mystery depends on those who have seen it and not those who have not!


  1. What a great thing to run across. Binns book has that tendency we find in skeptical approaches to employ information selectively, and to so with a jeer and a sneer. There are some elements of his book that I think are well-researched, but he selects some evidence and rejects others. He dismisses the water-horse tradition and presents Campbell's original Inverness Courier article as starting the "myth" of persistent and long-standing rumors of a strange beastie in the loch. Binns dismisses any such tradition with a sneer and a jeer, while your book and several others establish quite the opposite -- the traditions are detailed, established, and numerous. Period. He and Burton dismiss so much witness testimony. . . well, lets'not get started on vegetable mats, otters, and swimming deer!

  2. Not just skeptical books, but sceptical websites too. It's human nature, it is something we all have to be aware of and avoid on both sides of the debate.

    Critical thinking is to be pursued but too often fallible human reason and personalities get in the way.

  3. I believe there was an 'Inverness Courier' report of the Monster being sighted from the 'Gondolier' in '33/34 (approx.) Was John Macdonald the Captain on this occasion? It would be fascinating to know what he had to say if this was the case...

    Of course, any report of large 'humps' following a moving vessel should be treated with the greatest caution, but all the same..

  4. Reported in the Courier for 20th August 1935. I need to see the full article but it is certainly possible. A quick search doesn't reveal any link between him and the boat.

    Info on the boat plus pictures can be found here:


  5. John MacDonald was Master of the S.S Loch Ness in 1900, and stationed at Fort Augustus.