Sunday 26 August 2012

The Lachlan Stuart Photograph (Part 2)

Having spent probably too much time examining pictures which are suspected and definite fakes, I come back to the classic Lachlan Stuart photograph which, it must be said, has its fair share of critics as well. This next instalment is actually a response to the previous article which examined the claims of Richard Frere. In summary, four different versions of his claim that the photo was hoaxed can be found which understandably casts doubt upon the whole matter.

However, I received an email from an experienced Loch Ness researcher who made two points. Firstly, he referred me to a piece in Rip Hepple's June 1988 Nessletter in which Loch Ness researcher Alastair Boyd had written to Richard Frere asking him to expand on his hoax revelation. This can be found in Nessletter number 88 which I had actually scanned in preparation for inclusion in the Rip Hepple archive and is reproduced below. In this letter Frere refers to the Loch Ness Monster with the character "?".

Dear Mr. Boyd,

Thank you for your letter concerning Stuart’s photograph of ? As you say many years have gone by since 1951 but I happen to remember clearly a meeting at Loch Ness side, in the vicinity of Whitefield cottage, with a man who represented himself as Lachlan Stuart. At that time I had a timber business and was in need of an additional horse for timber dragging. I had heard that, Stuart had such a beast, or could put me in touch with one, and our meeting was arranged by a third party. I met with Stuart in early August.

We discussed the horse but no bargain was struck, even after the woodsman had obligingly offered a dram from his bottle. Before we parted he took me down to the pebble beach where, concealed within a clump of alder or hazel, I was shown, on my promise of silence, three or four bales of hay (as supplied for horses) and some strips of tarpaulin. I was told that these were the ‘humps’ of ?. m S. was proud of his joke, in which he saw no harm, and he was greatly surprised that his photograph had come out at all, as it was taken ‘near dark’ I did not enquire at what margin of the day it had been snapped.  Stuart considered ? ‘a load of nonsense’ and poked fun at those who took it seriously.

From this you can see that I did not participate in the hoax, although, perhaps, my silence until recently may be construed as that of an accessory. At that time there was little genuine interest in ? and nobody to which sightings might be reported. Stuart referred to ‘his mate’ who may, or may not have been the elusive Taylor Hay. From the third paragraph of your letter I gather that you have read Steuart Campbell’s book. When I say that I find this is a totally convincing denouement of an example of unmatched human credulity you will see on which side of the fence I sit. Thank you for writing to me.

Yours sincerely,
 Richard Frere.

Nicholas Witchell also had this to say in a later edition of his book "The Loch Ness Story":

"Because, as certain newspapers would put it, I can now reveal that a couple of weeks later Lachlan Stuart took another Loch Ness resident, who is known to me and with whom I have confirmed the following details, on a stroll along the beach and showed him the bales of hay and sheets of tarpaulin which he'd used to manufacture his Monster. They were hidden in a clump of bushes. The man who was shown these props gave Lachlan Stuart a promise of silence and since, over subsequent years, he was never interested or impressed by all the hoo-ha about Nessie, he never thought to break his promise and reveal the reality of the photograph as it had been shown to him. That he has now done, and I'm grateful: it is important that the record be clarified and corrected as much as possible."

This may seem to clear things up but problems still exist and not least the issue of Tony Harmsworth being told a different story by Richard Frere (that he had secretly watched Stuart setting up the hoax). The emailer also suggested that Tony had misremembered the account and that his uncertainty is actually mentioned in his book ("Loch Ness, Nessie and Me"). This might seem to put the matter to bed but I do not think this changes the main problem of conflicting accounts and the ultimate reliability of  this evidence.

If we firstly examine the letter sent to Alastair Boyd, there are some clues in the letter which present a new problem. Frere states that he was running a timber cutting business at the time he met Stuart and he also said he was looking for a second horse to pull the timber. These two pieces of information can help us pinpoint when Frere claimed to have met Stuart.

You may recall that I had used Frere's own autobiography ("Beyond the Highland Line" - cover above) to dig deeper into this controversy and I again refer to it here. On page 121 of the book, Frere mentions his first venture into this business after various other business exploits had been dropped and his friend:

"proposed a plan of his own. It was that he and I should look for a contract cutting timber."

This marked the beginning of Frere's long involvement in the timber business. But when did this timber cutting business begin? An examination of the chapter and a reference on the next page undoubtedly places the birth of the business in 1953.

"Today a skilled man using a powerful chainsaw can cut down a whole forest in next to no time but in 1953 these things were in their infancy."

That would imply he had his meeting with Stuart in August 1953. But later on in page 142 he actually refers to the problem of finding a second horse and states he had been looking for such a beast for "over a month". The previous page places this incident in February 1954. That would imply that August 1953 was too early and August 1954 would be a better date for meeting Stuart. Either way, this implies that Lachlan Stuart had apparently taken Frere down to the beach of the photo two or three years after the photograph was taken in July 1951! Were the hay bales and tarpaulin still hidden away at this "infamous" beach up to three years later?

What is more, if Frere had communicated with Nicholas Witchell ("with whom I have confirmed the following details") that he met Stuart two weeks after the event then he was contradicting his own autobiography! Once again, which version is to be believed - two weeks or two years after the picture was taken?

A further damning statement can be found in Steuart Campbell's book "The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence" who attempted to track down Lachlan Stuart years later. The Forestry Commission had no record of him but the croft had certainly been let by them to him. Campbell then states:

"However, by 1952 he was no longer there."

If Frere said he met Stuart at Whitefield no earlier than August 1953 ... that is a problem according to Steuart Campbell's book.

Perhaps some may accept this two to three year oddity, but I must say I find it a bit incredulous that the incriminating items were still "in situ" after such a long time and had not been moved away from prying eyes. The other strange part of this story is the very fact that he hid these hay bales. Consider the problem, you have three haybales big enough to simulate humps ranging up to five feet across. How do you get rid of the evidence?

Hiding behind thick foliage is an obvious solution but it presents a catch-22, how do you get these massive bales of hay thru the dense thicket? You may suggest the obvious that they "went round the back" or something like that but Frere says they went down to the beach to see the bales which implies they were not far back into the growth. Having been at the site myself back in late May (picture below), my memory of the area leaves me thinking the vegetation is rather thin for this task and leaves me asking why Lachlan Stuart did not do the obvious, simpler thing and roll the bales back to a discreet place at his croft?

That question could be argued about all day but it is a big risk to me to hide the incriminating evidence so close to the "scene of the crime". Indeed, we know that within days of the photo being taken, Constance Whyte and two reporters from the Sunday Express were on the beach checking the veracity of the story and found nothing. I would take that to mean there were no hay bales hidden at the beach. In fact, I always found it strange that they never noticed the surely visible straw that must have fallen off these hay bales as they were rolled around and were washed back onto the shore.

But what about the suggestion that Tony Harmsworth had misremembered the other version that Frere had related to him? Unlike Frere above who says he clearly remembered his meeting with Stuart thirty seven years before, it is suggested that Tony Harmsworth got his details muddled over a similar time period.

There is indeed a degree of uncertainty in what Tony says in his book but I would suggest this was because the introduction of the other Frere story had muddied the waters rather than indicating a pre-existing doubt. However, Tony sticks to his guns in his book by saying "I am pretty confident my account is correct". In fact, I think this idea of misremembering can be dismissed because Tony Harmsworth was saying the same thing 25 years before. In his book "Loch Ness - The Monster" published in that year of 1985, Tony Harmsworth has this to say about the Lachlan Stuart photograph on page 5:

""Recently a highly respectable local person has claimed he was present when the picture was being set up as a deliberate hoax".

A defective memory may be at best plausible thirty years after he spoke to Frere, but after only five years? I think the burden of proof lies with those who hold this position and we can conclude this article by contending that the Frere saga continues to be a contradiction and hence unacceptable as evidence.

Part Three can be viewed here.

The author can be contacted at


  1. Whether Lachlan's photo is genuine or fake I (obviously) have no idea. But it doesn't matter how long I study it, I just can't figure out how one could make bales of hay and a tarpaulin look like that. I don't believe Frere for a second.

  2. "S. was proud of his joke, in which he saw no harm, and he was greatly surprised that his photograph had come out at all, as it was taken ‘near dark’ I did not enquire at what margin of the day it had been snapped."

    GB to go by Frere here the whole thing was initially a light hearted joke carried out almost on the spur of the moment by Stuart hence his surprise the photo'd come out at all.

    But I've shifted bales of hay and it can be a backbreaking business (though maybe Swedish hay's more susceptible to gravity than Scottish!) especially when protective but unweildy weatherproofing tarpaulins become involved and not exactly the sort of thing conducive to practical jokes especially carried out in the dark when there's not only a chance the point of the joke the hoax photo you want to create mightn't take but you'll invariably trip and stumble and run the risk of breaking your neck or your back carrying it out!

    But as soon as fun boy Stuart's carried out the 'joke' Frere's immediately back to his axe grinding everyone who disagrees with his take it's an obvious fake's a moron and even the light hearted mirthful prankster Stuart's suddenly considering the whole thing ‘a load of nonsense’ [in which case why carry out the 'joke' in the first place?] "and poked fun at those who took it seriously."

    The more I read about Frere though the more convinced I become his bitterness isn't just at those who can't see what he insists's perfectly obvious the photo's a fake.

    It's also at anyone who in some way thwarted his various ambitions including his plans to start a timber cutting business.

    And he actually states he'd approached Stuart in the hope he'd help him with the second horse he needed adding "We discussed the horse but no bargain was struck" as a result of which his business seems to've failed to thrive.

    This's underlined by Frere making great play how much easier things would've been for him if only he'd had a chainsaw like those used by later period timber operators.

    In other words was Frere's story a form of revenge against someone he viewed as having let him down?

    1. Well, I would not read too much between the lines as to motive, I am not even going to go around calling Frere a liar. My job is to point out the inconsistencies and make the case for ignoring this evidence against Stuart.

      I'll let others judge the man.

      Who knows, perhaps the photo is a fake, but the raison d'etre of my posts thus far is to critique the critics, not Lachlan Stuart per se.

  3. I wonder about the difference between a hoax and a lie. Where is the line drawn? I don't see much of a diff.

  4. finding inconsistencies in the various re-tellings is not that strong an argument against the large 'kernel of truth' that is unquestionably (to me at least) at the heart of each version. Many studies have been made about re-told accounts of an event, and the second-hand account (actually 4th or 5th hand) bears little resemblance to the actual facts. And these re-tellings occurred within minutes or hours, not years or decades. What always struck me about this picture was the closeness to shore (the lapping waves indicate that), a hoax done in 3-4 feet of water seems not that hard to accomplish by some strong men. Your article also reminded me of the lack of sightings/photos between 1933-1939. Considering the flurry in the early 30's, it's surprising Nessie(s) largely went into hiding until 1951. Your in depth examinations are always a fascinating read, you show that the 'story behind the story' is more interesting than the story itself.

  5. Hmm, if this was a person claiming to have seen Nessie and they muddled their story, I doubt they would have been given the long line of slack that Frere has been given!

    If this was eyewitness testimony in a court case, a good lawyer would have no problem having it shredded as viable evidence.

    The only commonality between these two variants is haybales and tarpaulin!

    I will address your other point in a later post.

  6. Looking at the shot of the location GB posted in the previous blog, I was struck by something: is the view in Stuart's photo looking across the loch towards the north shore, or southwest toward the bay?

    1. It's looking roughly west towards Urquhart Bay on the opposite shore.

    2. Thanks! I find these articles to be fascinating, as no one has seriously examined the classic photos with "a detective's eye" in many a decade.

      I hope to see an examination of the Shiels pics in a later piece?


    3. I'll probably do something but not really looked into it!

  7. I'm never sure why we have professional sceptics. Over time we appear to have been conditioned to ask less questions, which I suppose helps those in power. It possibly emmimated from the UFO fever during the cold war, that no government had any control of. Anyhow, we have a press that ridicules anyone who dares to think differently (and to be fair, the only reason that Nessie comes under that banner is because the notion has been rubbished time and time again). I imagine that Mr Frere has an agenda, I just don't know why that should be. And the same goes for the rest. I don't know why Loch Ness or any potential unexplained creature bothers them, and it seems to really bother them. The thoughts of believers seem to churn them up, for why, I have no idea.
    With regards the photo itself, it doesn't look like an animate critter to me, due to lack of ripples. But I wouldn't make up stories to discredit the photographer.