Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Lachlan Stuart Photograph (Part Four)

On the 15th July 1951, readers of the British newspaper, the Sunday Express, were greeted with the sensational headline below. Coming to this final part of the Lachlan Stuart case reminds me to look back at what has been written on this blog. The first two parts introduced the story from 1951 and went into the allegations made against Stuart by Richard Frere. This evidence against the photograph was rejected on the grounds that it was inconsistent and contradictory.

The third post examined the claim that the sun was visible in the photograph and was hence taken in the evening rather than the morning as claimed. This was dismissed as unlikely based on the position of the alleged sun in the picture being inconsistent with the date the picture was taken.

In fact, I have been asked why I am critiquing the critics' arguments instead of positively discussing the arguments for a Loch Ness Monster in the picture. In my opinion, that is not a valid point. If I think someone's arguments against a picture are weak or simply wrong, then I will point them out. Now it is acknowledged that such dismantling does not prove the object in the picture is our legendary monster but there are two points to be made.

Firstly, such arguments against this or any other evidence weakens it in the eyes of those who read it but do not have the resources or inclination to dig deeper. The counter-arguments presented on this blog will inform readers more and allow them to make a better judgement.

Secondly, moving a photograph out of the "proven hoax" category into the "inconclusive" category is good enough for me. After all, how am I or anyone meant to prove that the object in the picture is a plesiosaur, giant salamander, outsized eel or paranormal tulpa? Again, I leave readers to form their own opinion.

So putting aside the claims about Richard Frere and an evening sunset, we are left with only one final objection, which is the issue of the shallowness of the waters around Whitefield and the corollary that such conditions are amenable to a hoax (such as our oft mentioned hay bales). That parts of the shore are shallow has been on the record for over a century and Constance Whyte, who was at the scene of the photo within days, acknowledged this in her book "More Than A Legend" in 1961 (p.12):

Mr. Stuart thought too from its movements and ability to manoeuvre in comparatively shallow waters that the creature must be propelled by limbs as well as a powerful tail.

However, despite her examination of the location and the witnesses, she did not come to the conclusion that the shallowness of the water was a problem and stated (p.10 of 3rd edition):

I could not put forward this photograph with more confidence if I had taken it myself.

Likewise, after blazing the photograph across their front page on the 15th of July, the Sunday Express sent two journalists up to Loch Ness days later to conduct their own investigation. Their names were Brendan Kemmet and John Quigley and the fruit of their labours was a follow up article in the next edition of the 22nd of July (banner headline below with picture of the Stuart family).

Whyte, Kemmet and Quigley were on the shore examining the area and assessing the story against what they saw. It is to be noted that none of them saw the alleged hay bales that Richard Frere claimed to have seen behind some shoreline bushes less than two weeks later. If they had, we can be sure Stuart's story would not have appeared in Whyte's book and the Express would have quietly dropped the story whilst asking for their money back.

The journalists cross-examined Taylor Hay and Lachlan Stuart and could not shake the men's testimonies. Stuart himself said he was prepared to swear on oath what he had told them and at the end the two journalists headed back to London to prepare their article of vindication.

Steuart Campbell, in his book "The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence" suggests Taylor Hay may not be as real a person as made out when he cleverly points out that "Taylor Hay" sounds similar to the phrase "Tale Of Hay" but the fact that Hay spoke to Kemmet and Quigley suggests he is a real person.

The leading Loch Ness spokesman of that time, Maurice Burton, states in his book "The Elusive Monster" that he spoke to Lachlan Stuart the following September and tells us he visited the site to take some comparison photographs for what he describes as "the most important" photograph. He comments:

I have made a number of comparisons, both on the lochside below Whitefield and with photographs taken during my visit to Loch Ness, of objects of known size and known distance from the shore, and I see no reason to modify the estimates of size made by Mr. Stuart.

However, it is unlikely that Burton met Stuart at Loch Ness. Witchell's "Loch Ness Story" tells us that both men were guests on a BBC television panel program on the Loch Ness Monster which was broadcast on the 26th September 1951. So it is more likely that Burton met and talked with Lachlan Stuart in London and his visit to the Whitefield site was nine years later when he visited the loch in 1960 to gather material for his forthcoming book.

Burton's own conclusion is that the photograph belongs to the "phenomenon associated with the term Loch Ness Monster" and says "we have to  look elsewhere than among the prehistoric animals to account for it". I take that to mean Burton thinks there is a perfectly normal and rational explanation for the photograph but had not made his mind up as to which one was most appropriate!


So much for the initial investigations of the time. But going back to the shallowness of the waters of Whitefield, these depths were surveyed in 1903 by Sir John Murray as part of their general survey of Scottish lochs. Their survey map for Whitefield is shown below.

If we look at the depth of the loch at the point where the path up to Lachlan Stuart's croft meets the main road, then the depth is 68ft (~21m) at 175ft (~54m) from the shore. The actual profile of the loch sides underwater is a gradually descending "lip" which then steeply drops to the loch bottom at some distance out. What that depth may be at varying locations up to that distance can only be known by going in and testing the waters.

In that light, a recent set of photographs was taken by Loch Ness researcher, Dick Raynor. You can see his results at this link (it might be an idea to keep a separate window open on that page as it is discussed here). The bottom line of Dick's article is that the Lachlan Stuart photograph is technically not difficult to reproduce using hay bales.

Now to employ a phrase Dick once used on another website (below), I have to be the harshest critic of the evidence presented against this photograph.

That is my position exactly. I am open to the possibility [of things waiting to be discovered - Ed.], but I have to be the harshest critic of the evidence presented to avoid being lumped in with the absentee gullible bloggers. 

Looking at Dick's analysis raises one obvious question to me - why didn't he reproduce the original photograph?

By that I mean, why he didn't line up the two bales of hay with two of the original humps and (for lack of a third bale) have his colleague stand in the position of the third hump? The closer to the original picture, the greater the visual impact. Dick would know that as a photographic expert.

But instead we have a picture of a man with two small hay bales either side of him occupying less than half the area occupied by the three Stuart humps. Though Dick says the aim of the experiment was not to reproduce the original photograph, I say "Why not?". It is unclear from Dick's statement whether it was a case of his team "would not" or "could not" reproduce the original photograph. It is further unclear whether an attempt to move the haybales further to the right would result in them disappearing under deeper water and render the whole experiment questionable.

Dick says his experiment proves that Lachlan Stuart's ducks or humps do not metaphorically line up. Unfortunately, neither do his humps.

Perhaps a better photograph will turn up. But even then it should not be assumed that this was the spot where the photograph was taken. In fact, no one knows where the exact spot is and guesswork would be involved depending on one's initial assumptions (e.g. did Stuart hoax the picture or not). When I was there last October, I took a series of photographs over a length of about 60 metres which could also equally be spots where the picture could have been snapped. This series could have been extended for a lot further as progress is made southwards down the shore.

But the problem with the pictures I present above is that each successive hump would be further out from the shore and more difficult to keep at a "hump-like" height above water. I present my own two overlays here and wonder if hay bales could stay high enough in those locations? Note the second photo is panned further out from shore to show the overlaid humps further out.

The other issue is the distance of the objects. I asked Dick how far the bales were from the shore and he gave a range of 7 to 12 metres. However, Steuart Campbell, who also has some skill in photography has this to say in his book "The Loch Ness Monster - The Evidence" (p.32 of 2002 edition):

Making certain assumptions about the camera, it can be shown that if the objects are in the water they are about 21m away and about 6m long overall. From the fact that the camera was aimed at Urquhart Castle we know that it was pointed at about 45 degrees to the shore; this puts the nearest object to the shore still 11m from it. At that distance the water is too deep for it to be a rock.

This however puts the rightmost hump even further out. I emailed Steuart and asked him how he came by these results and he kindly sent me his original calculations. These put the rightmost hump at just over 15m from the shore. In summary, at an estimated distance of 21 metres, this is potentially three times as far away as the low end of Dick's estimate.

If  Steuart Campbell's calculations are correct, Dick Raynor's humps are too close and probably in the wrong place. Moreover, if the objects are 21 metres away, his haybales would appear smaller at that distance and smaller than Stuart's humps. It's all about assumptions and I suspect you pick the ones which suit your case. Once again, let the reader make his own mind up.

Elsewhere in the article, Dick continues to advocate Richard Frere's "confession". We have dealt with this elsewhere.


His final point is the persistence with claiming the photograph was taken in the evening. Again, we dealt with the alleged evening sun in the picture, but Dick doesn't mention this as he takes another tack. First, he states that his evening photograph (in which you can see the sun) is similar in shadows to the Stuart picture and claims this is proof that the Stuart picture is an evening picture. My first reply to this is that the Stuart picture is actually brighter than his reconstruction shot and for some reason the Stuart picture he uses is a bit darker than the one I have below which is taken from Constance Whyte's book. It all depends which version you use from what book/website/etc.

Secondly, Dick can prove his is an evening shot because the sun is visible. In Stuart's picture, no evening sun is visible. Along these lines, Dick Raynor takes the commercial photographer to task who developed the Lachlan Stuart film for advocating a morning time for the snap. You can read Dick's argument at his website.

Not having expertise in photography but at the same time not being satisfied that Dick's explanation about orthochromatic film was the only (let alone the best) explanation, I sought opinion and advice from those who also have some skill in this area. That indirectly includes the man who developed the Stuart photograph, John MacPherson via both Express articles. He says:

The film appeared to be perfectly normal  in every way. Mr Stuart said he took the snap at 6:30am and the picture of the monster was dull enough to have been taken at that time. The negative development took nearly twice the normal time owing to the light conditions at the time of the exposure.

Unlike the rest of us who debate this subject sixty years later, Mr. MacPherson had access to the negatives and the best prints and he gives his opinion on the poor clarity of the hills in the second Express article:

I know something about times and lights, and I also know the locality where the picture was taken. I would say that the film was perfectly consistent with a 6:30am snapshot. It was not a very good picture. These little box cameras have limited performance. In this case the camera seems to have been moved.

You can disagree with MacPherson if you wish, but you cannot deny he was closer to the subject material. The phrase "limited performance" offers a clue to a simpler reason for the poor light levels in the photograph. Consumer cameras at that time were indeed limited in their performance. A look around the Internet for 1950s cameras gives an entry level camera that would be simple in the extreme. Indeed some would offer only one setting for aperture and shutter speed that reminds me of those disposable cameras you pick up for your kids these days. Others might have two or more settings which elicits two speculations.

It is to be noted that Lachlan Stuart had limited knowledge of photography as he states that the camera had a spool winding problem which had to be corrected by his wife after each exposure. According to the second Express article, there were five previous exposures on the film and these were family snaps. If we assume these were taken in typical summer afternoon light conditions, then it is possible that when Lachlan Stuart ran down the hill in haste to take his picture, the shutter speed was set for sunny afternoon conditions rather than the early morning. This would, of course, result in an underexposed picture lacking the desired details of the remote hills.

Speculation number two kicks in for a camera with only one setting for aperture and shutter speed. You bring that into an early morning situation and again the picture could be underexposed. So the issue here is not low light levels due to a late evening shooting but low light levels due to an inadequate combination of aperture size and shutter speed.

But, as pointed out by those I emailed, underexposed film can be compensated for at the development stage (but I am told with an increase in contrast and graininess). Fair enough, let us assume that was done - though I wonder how this increase in contrast and graininess contributes to a lack of detail in the picture. One other opinion raised was that the film may be fogged due to the camera being inadequate. In that light, I requote MacPherson:

It was not a very good picture. These little box cameras have limited performance.

In other words, the lack of details could easily be not down to dark conditions, but it being a rubbish camera. This is further exacerbated by two facts from the Express articles. Firstly, Lachlan Stuart states that the winding mechanism on the camera was faulty (confirmed by Quigley). Secondly, he said it was bought for him "many years ago" by his wife. Could it be this already old and decrepit camera was further bashed in some way which damaged the winding mechanism but also affected the exposure mechanism in a way that would always render pictures less than they should be? In the light of these observations, I don't think one is compelled to consider an evening setting for this photograph.


There was one more minor mystery concerning this location which is of more historical interest. When the Loch Ness and Loch Morar Project had a look at this photograph and its location around the early 1980s, they mentioned seeing fence posts in the water indicating the shallowness of the shoreline. When I was there I saw no fence posts and assumed they had long gone (though admittedly I only looked along a few hundred metres of shoreline).

However, a look at ordnance survey maps from various years reveals no piers at Whitefield. What could these wooden posts have been? An answer was perhaps forthcoming in a 6 inch to the mile map from 1862 which reveals a potential boathouse in that vicinity long ago. The boathouse is the grey rectangular box on the shore above the big letter "C". It is also located opposite where the small forestry road from Stuart's croft would have met the main road.

There is a further confirmation of this by the presence of old stone steps at the very same location which I photographed (below). Clearly, if you have a boat house, you will need ease of access via a path and steps from the main road.

What this boathouse looked like exactly we may never know but there are old boat houses still around the loch such as this one at Knockie near the Horseshoe crag (© Copyright John Allan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence - original link here).

And these ones ... (original link).

The boat house posts were gone when I visited in 2012. They were still visible thirty years earlier but what was their condition in 1951 when Lachlan Stuart took his picture? Were they higher and did they extend further out? This raises one final question since Dick seems to have taken his picture around the same location. If he had been transported back to 1951 and taken the picture from the same spot, would boathouse posts have appeared in it - unlike Lachlan Stuart's picture?


I have probably written more words on the Lachlan Stuart photograph than all the Nessie books on this picture put together. Whether that amounts to a hill of beans or not is down not to me or any other presumed "expert" on this subject. It's down to what you (plural) think of it.

The mystery and, perhaps to some extent, the reality of the monster is not driven by "experts" but by the collective attention of the public who have held it in their consciousness for decades. Therefore, the veracity of the Loch Ness Monster does not depend on whether the Lachlan Stuart photograph is a genuine mystery or not. As far as I am concerned, the creature continues to make its way through the murky bottom silt and hopefully this blog will make its way to the next subject in this most fascinating of mysteries.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Seal Seen 50 Miles Inland

In a previous article on the monster spotted several times on the Beauly Firth (which the River Ness connects with Loch Ness), we wondered about how easy a creature could get up the River Ness to our famous loch.

Now only a couple of weeks later we hear of a seal in England which has forged 50 miles inland to a local lake. The YouTube clip is below.

Note how it tackles a river bank against the water flow. If a seal can do it, what about a Nessie? Mind you, the seal seems to have needed the river to be in spate. The BBC report is below (original link here).

Seal seen at Drayton Lakes Reserve - 50 miles from sea


A seal is thought to have swum more than 50 miles (80km) along a flooded river to an RSPB nature reserve, where it was filmed "hopping" into a lake.

The marine mammal was filmed in a YouTube clip, published on Sunday, in a lake at Fen Drayton Lakes Reserve, in Swavesey, Cambridgeshire.

Graham Elliott of the RSPB said it was a "surprising" but not unique sighting.
"You occasionally get seals in the River Ouse near St Ives but I've never known of one here before," he said.

"The surprising thing was to see it leaving the river and hopping over the bank, entering the gravel pits area."

Thought by experts to be a common seal, the footage shows the seal battling to cross a barrier to get into a lake on the RSPB site.

The 29-year-old man who captured the footage said he initially thought he had seen a dog when he approached the area while on a walk with a friend at about 13:45 GMT on Sunday.

The designer, who wanted to be known as Robjn, said: "At first sight, I thought it was a dog in trouble but as it came up for air I could see it was a seal. 

"It was swimming up a ditch that links to the Great Ouse. In the video, it is swimming from the ditch up into the flooded field.

"It had a few tries at different points of climbing the bank but in the film was the successful attempt. After that point we didn't see it again."

Water levels have remained high following recent heavy rain in the area, leading to the river flooding nearby fields.

Mr Elliott said the creature could prove to be a "great visitor attraction", although it has not been seen since the footage was taken.

"If anybody does see it, we'd love to hear the news," he said.

"It was probably just exploring new views."

Mr Elliott said the RSPB would monitor the situation and there was no apparent cause for concern.
"It's perfectly happy in the lake with plenty of food to sustain it. It's not a threat to any other wildlife and hopefully it will find its way out the same way it came in," he said.

"If it can't, we'll then consult with the RSPCA to make a decision on what will happen next."

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Another Car Accident at Loch Ness

I sometimes wonder if drivers are indulging in more Nessie watching that road watching as the road to the Castle is not exactly difficult to navigate. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. From the Inverness Courier 31st December:

FIVE people had a miraculous escape when the car they were travelling in went off the road and plunged 100 feet into Loch Ness.

The single vehicle accident happened shortly after 9.30 this morning when the cer was travelling on the A82 between Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston.

The stretch of road where the accident occurred has some of the highest points above the loch with almost vertical drops in places.

Emergency services including police and ambulance attended but amazingly all five occupants of the car escaped relatively unscathed despite the 100 foot drop from the road to Loch Ness.

They were all taken to Raigmore Hospital where they were treated for minor injuries. Their names have not been released.

The A82 was closed for a short while around 1.00pm while the car was recovered from the water and winched back on to trhe road and taken away on a breakdown truck.