Sunday, 29 April 2012

Hugh Gray: The Man and His Monster

Last year I published an article bolstering the case for the first ever photograph of the Loch Ness Monster. I attempted to show that the picture taken by Hugh Gray did not show the blurred image of a Labrador dog and indeed showed the perplexing image of a fish like head (look right and down on this webpage). That the head is there is undoubted in my opinion as it casts a shadow on the water below it. What it means to the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster is a continuing matter of conjecture. You can view all the relevant articles here. However, I wanted to address some loose ends and add some new information in this article. 

The first is the man himself, Hugh Gray. I managed to find a couple of photographs of him which help humanise the story a bit more and bring the history of the case up to date. The first was found on the South Loch Ness Heritage website where old photographs of the people and places of that part of Loch Ness are displayed. As I was browsing the content of this interesting website, I noticed a picture of a tug-of-war team taken in 1933. One of the team members was named "H. Gray" at which point the penny dropped!

The picture below was taken by Duncan MacDonald and is reproduced with the permission of the site's maintainer, Frank Ellam. Hugh Gray is sitting at the front in the tweed jacket, second from our right (Interestingly, the man sitting at Hugh Gray's left hand side is Jock Forbes who claimed to have seen the Loch Ness Monster cross the road in front of his father's horse and cart in 1919). The picture was probably taken a few months before his famous photograph. The picture can be seen with further information at this website link. Indeed, if you scroll further down at that website, you will see a 1912 photograph of another tug-of-war team featuring a younger Hugh Gray. 

As it happened, I later found another picture of Hugh Gray in the London Daily Sketch for the 8th December 1933 which I don't think flatters him much (below). As you can see, the main banner  headline conveys the sensation the Loch Ness Monster created at the time.

Now, the debunking of the photograph has proceeded with varying degrees of credibility but one attempt can definitely be put at the bottom of the credible list and that is a piece that appears in Ronald Binns' "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved". In it, Ronald Binns quotes the 30th May 1933 Inverness Courier which describes a failed attempt by an "A. Gray" to capture the Loch Ness Monster using wire, hooks, a barrel and bait. Portraying this episode as a leg-pulling event, Binns speculates openly whether this is the same Mr. Gray and therefore should this joker be trusted. However, apart from being a Mr. A. Gray instead of a Mr. H. Gray, the matter can be laid to rest. For some reason, Ronald Binns failed to mention a key fact from the article that Mr. A. Gray was a bus driver whereas our Mr. H. Gray was a fitter at the Foyers Aluminium Works.

A more intelligent critique comes from Dick Raynor, who is an expert in photographic analysis. He suggests that the shadow of the object is not consistent with the time the photograph was allegedly taken. The position of the shadow indicates the object is somewhere between the sun and the photographer and he further suggests such a configuration is not possible given the stated facts of the case (the implication being that there is deception involved). So, for example, if Hugh Gray had been looking at the object across to the other side of the loch, then he would be facing nearer west which would place the sun in a sunset position. It is this objection to the photograph's authenticity that I wish to address for the remainder of the article.

But first, why would I wish to address something as mundane as the position of a shadow? Because this is symptomatic of the way critics treat such evidence. I call it the "Poison Speck" technique and it comes straight out of the lawyers' handbook. For you see, such pictures are not normally exposed by a big one-off event such as a hoaxer's confession or a model nessie found at the scene of "the crime". Rather, the normal procedure is to plant a "reasonable doubt" in the mind of the reader via small arguments (our poison specks). In the same manner that a lawyer will chip away at the evidence of the prosecution/defence, so the sceptic chips away until he thinks the audience has reached the point of "reasonable doubt". It may only take one or two chips but in this generally sceptical age, this carries extra leverage. When you preach to the converted, proof is not so vehemently demanded. 

So, by way of analogy, if I present a tasty and appealing pizza to you but point out that a tiny speck of something vile has been added, would you eat it? It doesn't matter if the offending particle takes up less than one thousandth of the meal, most will politely decline. Such is the tale of the tactic used and there is nothing illegal or immoral about that (I use it myself but for the opposite reasons).

Going back to the picture, we need to know three things. The position of the sun, the object and the photographer. The position of Hugh Gray can be determined with reasonable accuracy as being on the point indicated on Google Maps below. Tim Dinsdale in his book "Loch Ness Monster" visited Hugh Gray in 1960 and was taken to the spot by him. Dinsdale describes a half mile walk "along the shore" which I take to be starting from the Foyers estuary and hence use to estimate the location more accurately.

The position of the sun can be calculated from the date and time of the sighting. The date was November 12th 1933 but what was the time? My original article stated noon but there is some confusion here as other authors suggest the morning. Faced with this, I attempted to guesstimate the time. The account states he visited the local church first and then walked to the point on the shore afterwards. So he allegedly enters the church intent on keeping the fourth commandment, but leaves intent on breaking the ninth. How long was that interval? A church service would start at 1100 and took typically 1 hour 20 minutes (according to a current local minister).

He then would have conversed with fellow worshippers, walked from the church to the estuary of the Foyers river and then a further half a mile along the wooded shoreline to the sighting point. The overall distance can be seen from the postcard photograph again kindly provided by Frank Ellam's website (original link here). In the foreground is the church and he would have likely walked to the estuary along the riverside and then turned left along the shoreline trees (top left photo). Note that hypothetical Labrador dogs would not have been allowed in church - unless Mr. Gray was a registered blind person. :)

That would take us to about one o' clock which by a strange coincidence is the time he gave to the Daily Sketch reporter in our aforementioned newspaper article. Applying an azimuth calculator we get the sun's position as 194 degrees East of True North and at an altitude of about 14.2 degrees. Note that the stated time of 1300 is outside of BST (British Summer Time) which was introduced to Britain in 1912 and hence does not need compensating for.

On a Google Maps view of Foyers we can now begin to draw some lines between Hugh Gray, the sun and object (Google uses Grid North which is essentially the same as True North). But what about the position of the object? It is stated as being about 200 yards from the observer but what is not stated is the orientation between the two. Was the object due West of Mr. Gray, South West, North West or something else? No one knows and the various accounts given do not give a hint.

In that light, the remaining question is whether the object can be oriented to produce a suitable shadow given the known positions of sun and observer. The answer is that it can by placing it along a line of observation towards the sun to produce the desired shadow effect and see how that pans out with respect to the observer. The resulting map is shown below but how would we know how such an object in such an orientation could appear to Hugh Gray at his vantage point?

At this point, it's time to introduce you to "Shuggy" our stand-in Loch Ness Monster ("Shuggy" is the name for "Hugh" in the Glasgow vernacular). Since it will be a bit impractical to float a forty foot reproduction of the monster at 1pm on the 12th November 2012 about 200 yards from a ledge near Foyers, we went for the next best thing.

Since there is only a need to roughly reproduce a similar shadow, this plasticine model will suffice. It's not an exact representation of what is in the photograph, but it's good enough! I would also point out that this is not a complete representation either, since we do not know what was beneath the water's surface, so it's a part-Nessie.

So in my back garden, I placed the model roughly perpendicular to a south-north axis at 2pm (add one hour for BST). I then placed myself as the observer at a 35 degree angle from the sun line and photographed the model. The resulting photograph shows a similar shadow to the Gray photograph. The model is oriented to face side on to the viewer.

There are one or two issues such as the altitude of the sun would be slightly different compared to November and my own crouching down to simulate the height of the observer was an estimate as well. However, I hope I have proved that the shadow argument is no longer relevant as there is a sun-creature-witness orientation that is within the parameters of the case. 

One final objection may be that such an orientation would include some shoreline. The problem with this argument is two-fold. Firstly, we do not have the complete negative and what has passed down to us is an enlargement. So any talk of shoreline on the original is open to debate.  

Secondly, I visited the site of the Hugh Gray photograph in July last year and took some photos and video which I hope to put in a follow up post. Suffice to say, it was simple to photograph a spot 200 metres from me looking in that general direction which did not include any shoreline (though I appreciate my digital camera and Gray's box camera had different parameters).

As I said, a follow up post will be written in due course.


  1. Excellent stuff, as always.

    "Shuggy" is fantastic - I suggest you go into production and sell these!

    1. Thanks. I had to edit the blog to point out that it is not a complete Nessie since we do not know what was lying beneath the surface. Plus the spray that is being thrown about makes some other determinations difficult - such as the neck region.

  2. A thoughtful and scientific presentation of what has been a too easily dismissed bit of evidence. I must admit that I bought the labrador-with-stick theory long ago and never looked back. Until now, that is.

  3. Chasing Leviathan1 May 2012 14:59

    To be fair to Mr Binns (which is admittedly more than he seems to be to pretty much everyone he mentions in his book in my opinion) he questions whether A. Gray is a RELATION of Hugh Gray rather than Hugh Gray himself. It was Hugh Gray's brother who took his picture to Inverness to be developed. I think Binns is implying that this brother might be A. Gray. I guess we need to establish exactly who 'A. Gray' was to lay to rest this particular bit of innuendo.

    Also, could you please tell me where Hugh Gray's location when took his picture was in relation to the Jane Fraser Monument? The Google shot seems to indicate very close, but it's a little hard to tell. It's one of my favourite spots on the Ness and I've always known I was close to Gray's location, but I've never been able to identify it to my satisfaction, despite pouring endlessly over Ted Holiday's rather basic map in 'The Great Orm!'

    Excellent article once again. Many thanks.

    1. Yes, it can be taken that way, but I don't accept that was the motive as he labels Hugh Gray a leg puller later on, based on the "A. Gray" story I suspect.

      If you stand with the Fraser monument behind you looking at the loch, you won't be far from where Hugh Gray was, but I wouldn't swear to even being accurate to 30 feet.

    2. Chasing Leviathan1 May 2012 15:14

      I quite agree he uses this incident to cast a cloud over Hugh Gray's picture and reputation - innuendo as I said. I think there's a lot of that in Mr Binn's book. Interestingly, I wonder why he didn't go for the kill and try and track down A. Gray himself? Or perhaps he did and either drew a blank or found the result wasn't to his liking? (Or am I getting into the innuendo game now? Shame on me!)

      Thanks for the information regarding the location. Much appreciated!

  4. Excellent work. I'm glad to see these photos of Mr. Gray. It makes me wonder to what degree you and other researchers are in possession of a news clipping file on such highly publicized events. With many different reporters on the scene, there may be clues hidden in the news archives -- especially in the case of Mr. Gray's photo, which came at the height of the press coverage in 1933.
    My work on the famous "swamp gas" UFO incidents of 1966, here in Michigan (USA) revealed just this -- local newspapers of varying sizes sent their own reporters and there is a wealth of different articles and viewpoints, right down to little details from the cases and hithertofore (not a word, probably) unseen quotes and details from the witnesses themselves.
    Fantastic work, as always, Glasgow Boy.

  5. Isn't Shuggy missing something - like a long neck? He looks more like the Loch Ness hamster!

  6. Bodge from Suffolk3 May 2012 08:09

    Fantastic research & really very interesting article ..but but... well even after pouring over the picture i just can't make a 'nessie' out of it...but i can see something else with a stick !! so for me the 'gray' photo isn't of any value of proof for the existence of a large unkown creature in loch ness.

  7. Due to spray being thrown (by what mechanism is itself a clue to this creature's nature), the neck region is not visible. So I went for something similar to the head size.

  8. Bodge, I agree, fantastic article....but if that's a dog with a stick I can see through the top left section of it's head, it's got three eyes and two right ears!

    Would love to have seen this before the enlargement (as would everyone else).

  9. Actually, the "Shuggy" model is not very accurate, in my opinion, since Nessie has a long neck, but "Shuggy" does not.

    1. Ah, short neck vs long neck ... therein lies an article in its own right.

  10. Man, it doesn't matter how hard I look, I still can't see that dog. In all the photos I've seen in my life of a dog swimming, I have never had so much trouble seeing the dog :) Actually the very first thing my brain saw was an axolotl - but then I realised the whole body would have to be above the surface of the water - but that was my first impression and kind of holds with the amphibian theory.

    Glasgow Boy, I have always been intrigued by this mystery, but really just in passing. Your blog has changed everything for me. Riveting reading, I can't get enough - thanks so much for taking the time to do this amazing research and for sharing it.


  11. I think your research is excellent but I am confused as to what you are calling the shadow and what is the reflection in the water of the object in the photograph. I see both represented in the image. The tapered end of the object seen in the left side of the picture seems to cast both a shadow and a reflection--the shadow being smoother and not distorted by waves.
    To me--rather than concentrate on pulling out a profile from the over-exposed and smudged portion of the object above water, it is better to focus on the distorted profile seen in the water first, as this offers the clearist image of the smudged areas. You've done this to some extent but then your analysis goes into tracing supposed shapes and features. As far as the head and open mouth you have illustrated--I just don't see that, but what your analysis has indicated to me is that there is some sort of overhang on the right end of the object that is seen in both the reflection and is sunderlined by a shadow.

    Considering the reflection further, it seems the back of the object almost comes to a peak about midway along the main bulk and that this rise in the profile is causing or contributing to the high degree of specularity at this point.
    If I were to reshape "shuggy" to match what I see in the picture, I would keep the same general shape you've given it but give it a kind of a dorsal ridge or even peak midsection, and give it more shape to take into account the specular reflections as seen in the water--oh, and I would do away with the head all together. Thanks for providing a forum for discussion.

    1. Yes, there is further work to present on this photo, watch this space.

      I am 95% certain there is a head to the right and as you concur there is certainly some kind of "overhang". So, if the long appendage to the left is a tail (a reasonable assumption) then that make a right-sided head more likely.